Life On Mars

This lecture… will necessarily disappoint you in a number of ways.

Katherine Murphy has written about the life (or lack of it) experienced by our politicians. I’ve been pondering politics a lot recently – especially Max Weber’s* Politics as a Vocation. The material life of politics interests me a great deal – because I think you need to understand how the mechanisms work to appreciate the whole.

One thing about those who focus on politics in a city like Canberra is that they tend to forget about the rest of the world. Another article strayed across my field of view yesterday from the HBR:

In researching the book The Happiness Track, we found that 50% of people — across professions, from the nonprofit sector to the medical field — are burned out.

Now 50% feels a smidge on the high side but not by much. Politicians are not alone in feeling burned out. It is now the default setting for many of us. Yes, federal politicians have to travel a lot – but so do many professionals. Yes, politicians have to work long hours – but so do many professionals. Some of this is technologically driven. In Australian political history, 2007 will be remembered not for the ALP’s election win but for the release of the iPhone. Smartphone have fundamentally changed our relationships and our boundaries to our work. Of course, they only do so if we choose to let them. Which if we mostly do because if we don’t someone else might get there first.

There needs to be a broader conversation about the place of work in our lives – and politicians could well lead this if they stopped being cautionary tales.

This stress has a flow on effect on the “talent pipeline” of new politicians. Di Natale, Washer and Combet all note that getting people to sign for the political life is growing ever harder. Arguably this is also true of institutions such as banks, law firms, consultancies – where a grinding work schedule is seen as increasingly unattractive. These organisations can salve the pain with piles of cash and many grads do join them for a few years to fatten their CVs and trim their debts. However even these organisations are having to dramatically re-think their approaches to both attracting new staff and keeping working parents. Could an MP ever do a job share? Although as Matthew Da Silva’s comment here indicates – political parties have a long way to go to make themselves more attractive.

The impact of social media on politics has been.. mixed. Ten years ago I would have strongly recommended that  politicians should be on social media. Now I would strongly recommend that they don’t. It chews up time like a wood chipper. Don’t end up like Steve Buscemi in Fargo. This issue is unique to politicians – who now have all the visibility of celebrities with few of the perks.

Behind all this remains the growing disconnect between political parties and the electorates that they want to represent. This is deeper than just smartphones or late nights or rude Facebook posts.

It seems that most of my long form writing these days is triggered by Meanjin articles. So I bunged them a subscription. Only fair.

*No, he has nothing to do with BBQs, sorry.

This is part of the Into The Maelstrom series.

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