Thursday, 29 March 2007

MIrror Image

In the same way that children imitate adults, our codes of behaviour are intimately linked to our surroundings. I know this is stating the obvious but it has serious implications for what we might term the integrity of the self. Nowhere is this paradox more striking than in the political environment.

Theoretically, at least, parliaments are a forum in which people of opposing, or certainly varied, lives and inclinations are brought together as representative samples of the population. Given that citizens of the modern industrial state cannot participate in democratic decision making at all times (unlike, say, the ideal of the Athenian demos), our elected representatives - in the true sense of the term, which suggests the mirroring of social pluralism - are delegated much of the responsibilty for exercising public reason.

One might expect, therefore, that the political environment would be one in which individualism, or certainly tribalism, triumphed over shared culture. Politics, after all, thrives off difference. Yet regardless of their outward rhetorical opposition Socialists, Greens, Liberals, Conservatives and the rest interact in a way determined by the institutional culture they share. Which leads me to the conclusion that either the political world moulds individuals in its own image or it simply attracts individuals with similar qualities, however incommensurable their ideologies may appear to be.

Further, staff learn from their 'masters'. The strategy, the double-dealing, the thrill of the chase, and the love of winning which characterise the modern political process (and led Alisdair MacIntyre to conclude that it is no more than civil war carried on by other means) are also present in relations between employees. Not only because the barrier between private and public life is blurred in the aquarium atmosphere of politics, or because when people spend so long in the office that they call it 'home', the outside world gradually fails to penetrate. The issue at hand is often one of mutual inteligibility - people speak in the language, and within the cultural practices, that they all understand.

However pragmatic it may be for people to relate according to these shared cultural norms, the result is often that other aspects of our personalities are massively under-emphasised (and in certain cases, I sometimes think, extinguished completely - particularly among workaholics). In time, the part can take on the appearance of a whole and the world shrinks accordingly.

That is why work-life balance is so important. And so is having a little time to reflect. Otherwise, the selves we inhabit prove no more than reflections - or projections . of the environment we inhabit. And what integrity is there in that?


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