Political Pragmatism: Unexpected Destinations, Creative Fabrications and Artful Dodgers

Having found yourself anywhere other than where you hoped you might be, just act cool and pretend that this what you had intended all along.

A strange property of systems of ideological or political thought is that they offer constitutively unclear or ambiguous paths between their declarative values and the end states they aspire to. Many Democracies (for instance) celebrate those generic Constitutional assertions constructed around the self-evident importance of free speech, freedom of assembly or various rights oriented towards the provision and maintenance of socioeconomic conditions conducive to the pursuit of happiness. What is rarely acknowledged is that the various trajectories and narrative arcs that individuals and societies trace through these chaotic Constitutional possibility-spaces generally arrive at unexpected (and often unpleasant) states of affairs in which neither freedom nor happiness exist in any authentic or abundant measures.

The consequences of these arrivals at the intermittently dystopian destinations endemic of Constitutional Democracies are, in the main (and are at least, two-fold.

First, retrospective reinterpretation of Constitutional axioms are incessant and offered to populations by political opportunists to placate psychological (as much as material) unrest. By justifying current socioeconomic circumstances of inequity as being in some sense favourable waypoints on a well-crafted and controlled journey towards that teleological endpoint and necessity provided by hallowed Constitutional axioms, it becomes possible to displace both dissatisfaction and responsibility to some indeterminate future time and other political party or person. The shifting of responsibility (as blame) to another person or political party in the present moment has precisely the same effect as this “futuring” and conceptually displaces in space what is otherwise displaced in time and is in either case the offset of actual crises and problems to a future place, person and political context. Reinterpreting Constitutional axioms provides a method of reassurance that everything we do and believe is not in vain, even when beyond the simplest and most remedial of accomplishments, it generally does appear unsuccessful and messy.

A second consequence is that burying the vanishing horizons of aspiration beneath – and into – the ad hoc fabrications and fantasies or mythologies of future attainment is a method of encrypting the myriad facts of long-term socioeconomic failures into contemporary successes. Beyond the tribal simplicities of sporting or economic accomplishments and associated context-definitions or benchmark-making, the true values of all those minor victories (that we are all as social creatures incessantly swept up and away by) is that they allow us to believe that victory, winning, resolution and closure are tangibly real. Our whole world is infused by conflict and disappointment in ways which reinterpret these failures as the necessary and inevitable stages towards a glorious future that remains as poorly-defined as do the methods and means of attaining it.

Photograph: Edinburgh, 1950, Werner Bischof.

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