Punchinello’s Chronicles

October 20, 2008

Statesmanship -vs- Politics

Filed under: Word of the Day — Punchinello @ 4:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

We don’t hear much about “statesmanship” anymore, do we. Instead, we hear all about politics, and maybe an increasing number of references to ideology. What’s the difference between a statesman and politician? In a word, wisdom. In more than one word it’s the difference between knowledge of craft and the wisdom of experience.

Statesmanship is the art of diplomacy. It’s an art, meaning it includes both skills and situational interpretation. It also includes reason, inspiration, and creative imagination. Finally, statesmanship includes a philosophy of life as well as a morality and underlying semantics.

Semantics is the philosophy of meaning. Sophistry is the manipulation of words. A statesman attempts to reach a consensus of meaning. A politician more often manipulates excuses. There’s a difference between creative imagination applied in a virtuous manner, and creative accounting. The latter is the imagination used to manipulate a system.

We use semanitcs and meaning to persuade people through debate and convictions. We use sophistry to manipulate people by fooling them with words.

One of the common discussions people enjoy nowadays has to do with whether or not a college degree is necessary to general success in both life and business. During these discussions, people revert back to the old expression of “book-learning.” Can we learn everything from a book? Are there some things that require learning from a book?

The hard sciences generally benefit from having books and teachers. Why reinvent the formula to find the length of sides in a triangle, when others have already developed that formula. Why reinvent a machine to cast an engine block when it’s already been done. This type of knowledge is like following a recipe in cooking. The ingredients are the same, process is the same, and even order of fabrication is the same.

But there are a vast tracts of knowledge that aren’t cut and dried. Painting a picture, for example, joins the two types of knowledge. We don’t have to reinvent a paint brush just to be an artist. Nor do we have to reinvent paint. But an artist can play with the formula for the paint and perhaps invent something entirely different. The actual painting is the creative process itself, and each artist is different.

Knowledge is transferred information (with a context). But wisdom is knowledge modified by the application of that knowledge to life. Wisdom includes personal experience — transferred experience.

Book learning tells us that water boils at 212-degrees Farenheit. Observation tells us that when water boils, it bubbles. It took actual experience to show that bubbles appear in water at a lower termperature up in high altitudes.

Science begins with life experience. The scientific method is a way to analyze those experiences to produce factual theories, which then can be reapplied. When information is captured in a repeatable way, then transferred to someone else, that’s knoweldge.

What’s the best way to fire someone? How do you fall in love? What will be the emotional results of a course of action? All of us are different enough that we’re almost unique. Our emotions are specific to our own life history and experience. Therefore, each of us will have emotional results that can’t be entirely predicted.

Politics is the process of governing. It’s the application of rules and the development of rules by which a society continues to be organized. Statesmanship — diplomacy — is the art of governing. Diplomacy takes into account tact, wisdom, human nature, and everyday life. It includes an understanding of how people think and feel (their emotions), and attempts to formulate a set of rules that everyone can live with.

The goal of diplomacy is not only to make everyone happy. Wisdom tells us that not everyone will be happy in every set of conditions. But diplomacy will attempt to arrive at a reasonable and rational compromise between two different opinions. “Reasonable” includes a desire to avoid violence.

The goal of politics, on the other hand, is to get something done. There isn’t any real philosophy of politics, although there is a morality. One moral issue in politics revolves around persuasion versus manipulation, request versus force. If there’s a philosophy behind modern-day politics, it likely would be based on greed and money.

How can we reintroduce wisdom to politics and bring back workable diplomacy? Modern diplomacy holds that the only goal is that everyone should be happy. If total happines is impossible, then the minority opinion should be more heavily weighted. This is under the guise of “protecting minority rights.” Criminals are elevated to a higher value than victims under this form of so-called compromise.

The reason conservatives wonder at Mr. Obama’s lack of experience, and liberals wonder at that same lack in Ms. Palin is that experience itself is a definitive principle in diplomacy. Mr. Obama may be a skilled politician, but that doesn’t mean automatically and also being a skilled statesman. At least Gov. Palin has demonstrated her philosophy of diplomacy in relationship to a large number of actual people.

Wisdom, by definition, can only come about following experience. Knowledge (and what we would call “theoretical knowledge”) more often is associated with book-learning. Which surgeon would you choose for a heart bypass, the one with experience or the one with several diplomas and no experience? Who would you choose to manage a business you just started?

It’s a shame that so few people care anymore about the idea of statesmanship. It all mushes together in their minds under the vague, undefined sound of “politics.”


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