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Communicating when & how it matters.

It seems to me that one of problems with someone like me becoming over-educated in the political sciences is that it somehow becomes the case that you become less and less able to talk with people about things that matter, as you become more and more adept at communicating with other scholars over things that probably don't matter at all.

This is something of an irony. After all, at its base, politics is much about the art of persuasion and negotiation over matters of significance. But "significant" is not an objective term, which can be scientifically determined to apply to certain issues and not others. For an issue, an activity, a dream, or an experience to be significant, it must be significant to someone. Moreover, it must be significant to someone; to a living, breathing being in the living, breathing world. Moreover, for that significance to rise to the level of the political, it must become a presence in the public world -- it must come crashing into the town-square and become a significance to many or all. It must announce, "I'm here", and inspire many eyes to turn towards it with the intention of unraveling its meaning, and dealing with it in the best way possible. Politics is thus about coming together to figure-out things which we determine to be significant, and then determining the best, most just, most fitting way to act upon them.

What politics cannot be, however, is significant to no-one. An issue which is not considered significant cannot become political, for insignificant issues don't inspire anyone to do anything. However, in our times, there are three types of political insignificance: that which is insignificant because it is too small, because it is too important, or because it is too unimportant. Small matters escape our notice, and unimportant matters don't inspire us, so it is no small wonder that they don't become issues of significance to us. Important matters, though, loom large. They sit in the midst of us like monoliths and demand attention. So how can they be in-significant? How can they not be the center of attention of our deliberation and action -- of our politics?

The answer, it seems, is something like the following. Firstly, most of us are not considered, and do not consider ourselves, entitled to deliberate on matters of too much significance. Most matters that, in Canada, are handled by the federal government, are considered to be too significant to be left to the deliberation of non-experts: Economic matters, for example, should be handled by experts in finance, business, and economics. In concrete demonstration of this rationale, in the US, this has resulted in the bemusing situation in which the (now former) federal Treasury Secretary, charged with fixing the financial meltdown, is an expert drawn from the ranks of the same institutions of expertise which instigated the problem. The experts supply the experts necessary to rescue experts (and now the rest of us) from their expertise. So significant is the problem, however, that removing the experts from any point in the loop is never up for serious debate, for to risk not giving the entire situation over to the coterie of expertise might risk mistakes on a very significant matter.

Things of great significance, its been determined, cannot be left-up to mere politics. But how small must a matter be before it is insignificant enough to be a matter for public deliberation or debate -- that is to say, for real politics?

Politics begins when that significant presence has come to rest in the midst of us, and the very effects of its significance become a gravitational pole of our activity. It is shocking enough, or wild enough, or baffling enough that it draws us in -- inspires us really -- to... deliberate on what to do. Politics dies, however, and meaningful freedom along with it, when every matter becomes too significant to risk allowing non-experts to contend with it. It dies as readily when every matter is tainted with the fear of overstepping one's bounds, or making a mistake. Thus, it is imperative for political scientists above all to recall that theirs is the science of the political; the science which seeks to illuminate and defend politics as the meaningful, public deliberation on all things of significance. To do so, they may need to sometimes stop talking like experts.

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