“Just as a flower which seems beautiful and has colour but no perfume, so are the fruitless words of the man who speaks them but does them not.” John Dewey, American Philosopher
Politicians are interesting folk. Indeed, there have been many expressions used throughout the ages to describe those who – as they often like to state – put themselves at the service of their country. Understandably, they never stress service of self. However, as with most things in life, politicians come in the shape of the good, the bad and the indifferent.
Late French prime minister Georges Pompidou, in differentiating between a politician and a statesman, once said that a statesman was a politician who placed himself at the service of the nation. A politician, he added, was a statesman who placed the nation at his service.
Then, there was late British Labour Party politician and Opposition Leader Michael Foot who was once described as a good man who had unfortunately fallen among politicians. American actress and entrepreneur of the USA’s Prohibition era, Mary Texas Guinan, once quipped that a politician was a fellow who laid down your life for his country. Late Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev previously asserted that politicians were the same all over. He noted that they would promise earnestly to build a bridge even where there was no river. In the early 20th century, American columnist Franklin Adams, known for his witticisms and for the newspaper column The Conning Tower, once noted that the problem with his country was that there were too many politicians who believed with a conviction based on experience, that they could fool all the people all of the time.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect about politicians is that tussle between their pragmatism and their morality, perhaps, even their pragmatism and their God. Unfortunately, history has shown us time and time again, that in the world of politics pragmatism frequently defeats morality and more often than not diminishes the idea and ideal of God. Politicians in Barbados and the world over often carry out their actions and build a philosophy around their deeds, rather than set forth from any philosophical stance. Indeed, they frequently invent, change or vary their philosophy to suit pragmatic circumstance as they make their way in the world. In politics, pragmatism really has no creed.
We have had situations in Barbados and other countries where politicians seeking to gain access to the corridors of power, do what politicians do. They promise to build bridges over nonexistent rivers. They profess their willingness to give their lives for their country, though the citizens to whom they preach would make for their better sacrifice. They place themselves at the service of the nation but are often quick to change course and allegiances if the nation cannot be put to their own service.
It is because of pragmatism that the friend of yesterday, becomes the swine of today, especially when party or nation cannot be put to one’s own interest or service. Politicians often switch allegiances, not because of battered philosophical moorings, but because their own innate desires have not been met or their egos have been crushed. And they then seek comfort in the bosom of former adversaries while still seeking to sate self-fulfilment. And they will create any philosophy to justify their actions on Monday, even if they spoke differently on Sunday. Hence, a prodigal son returns to a fold having not been previously chased, but seeking once again to satisfy a personal desire not met when he sojourned elsewhere.
And in countries where God or the idea of a deity resonates with the masses – especially the poor – the pragmatist who utilizes God, and does it well, will always have an audience. Religion, as Karl Marx has opined, is indeed the opium of the masses. And pragmatists serve religion in ample doses to the people well. They conjure up images of conversations with their God who directs them towards many paths, ironically, none of which ever has anything to do with religion.
In the midst of pestilence, famine, drought, wars, natural disasters, massacres and destruction, the Divine takes time out of a busy schedule to visit the identity of facilitators of progress into the psyche of the pragmatist. Of course, for the pragmatist, this must be true, it must be made to sound true even in the seat of absurdity. God has always been an easy sell and the pragmatist knows this. He even believes his visions. To his credit, though, his recovery from failure and disappointment is more easily reached than the idealist. If his desires are not met in the new home, the pragmatist can easily build another philosophy and return from whence he came or seek shelter elsewhere. All the while, still praising his God.