One phrase I often hear in the midst of discussions is ‘let’s take the politics out of this’ and it – or its many similar variants – is almost always guaranteed to make me wince.
When someone says it, what they invariably mean is ‘let’s all agree with me’. The assumption is that the speaker’s understanding of the best way to do anything is somehow objectively correct and the only reason everyone else won’t publicly support them is because some malign force called ‘politics’ is preventing them from doing so. The speaker, of course, is not tainted by this nefarious ‘politics’, and all their decisions come from an assessment of the situation that’s totally unbiased by any ideologies, biases, perceptual filters or other things that might get between them and seeing the obvious truth.
This is all part of the technocratic fallacy, of course, and it’s believed by people at all levels of society, even members of the House of Lords. Politics is presented not as the process by which decisions on contentious issues are made, but rather as a barrier to making the ‘right’ decisions. Sure, there are issues where there is a single right answer that politics can’t obscure no matter how hard it tries but it’s a rare day when anyone wants to actually debate most of them. Political decisions are about the subjective, not the objective and taking the politics out of that decision making merely allows someone to pretend that their viewpoint is objective when it’s as subjective as anyone else’s.
Political decisions are about human institutions, and aren’t made in isolation. ‘Taking the politics out’ of an area is separating it from all context and imposing a false consensus on the assumptions that a decision is based on. Any supposedly apolitical decision is based on a series of political assumptions that established the framework for it. Consider that something like the Government’s much-vaunted independent Airports Commission had to base its decision within the political framework established by the Government – the politics might have ostensibly been taken out of the process, but it was surrounded by political decisions about just what forms that decision could take.
We all have a range of different opinions, beliefs and perspectives and even when we can find agreement on the ends we want to reach, we’re not always going to agree on the means. Politics is the process we use to try and come to agreements on things despite our differing perspectives, but the key to it is accepting that we have those differences. Claiming you want to take the politics out of something or that someone else is politicizing it because they disagree with you is attempting to sound noble in the service of an ignoble cause, wanting to short circuit the process of coming to a decision through the process of politics by attempting to impose your own view on everyone else as a pretend consensus.
It might not be a conscious process, but anyone proposing to take the politics out of something is declaring that they want everything their way and don’t want to listen to your opinion. Pretending to be apolitical is a political move.