Policy Over Politics: Embracing Policy-Centric Dialogue for Collective Progress

    • By,
      Monish Choudhary – Graphic Designer, Kautilya

“Low scepticism can lead to blind adherence to leaders or ideologies, while high scepticism can undermine the belief in the potential for social change.”- D. Pritchard

Politics is often a source of conflict and division, especially in a country like India, where diversity of language, religion, and culture can create barriers and mistrust among people. How can we overcome our tendency to divide the world into “us” and “them” and foster a sense of common humanity and shared goals instead?

One possible answer is to adopt a more sceptical attitude towards our beliefs and opinions and focus more on the policies that affect our lives rather than the personalities and ideologies that dominate the political discourse. This is not to say that we should be cynical or indifferent about politics, but rather that we should be critical and curious about the evidence, arguments, and consequences of different policy proposals.

Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist and author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, has explored the biological and psychological roots of human behaviour, including our propensity to form in-groups(us) and out-groups(them) based on various factors, such as ethnicity, religion, or even sports teams. He argues that this tendency is partly driven by hormones, such as oxytocin, which can strengthen our attachment and cooperation with group members and increase hostility and suspicion towards out-group members. It also suggests that the reward system in our brain, which is influenced by dopamine, may make us addicted to waiting for rewards, such as social approval or validation. These mechanisms can make us susceptible to confirmation bias, tribalism, and extremism in politics.

However, Sapolsky also emphasised that human behaviour is determined not only by biology but also by environmental and social factors, such as stress, education, culture, and institutions. He emphasised that we can overcome our biological impulses and demonstrate rationality, empathy, and morality in our decisions. He advocates a deeper and more compassionate understanding of human behaviour, a way of seeing the best and the worst in us.

One way to cultivate such an understanding is to adopt a policy-oriented rather than individual-oriented approach to politics. Policy refers to a set of rules, plans or actions aimed at achieving certain goals or outcomes in society. Politics refers to the process of making policy decisions, often involving power, conflict, negotiation and compromise between different actors. Although politics is inevitable and necessary in any democratic society, it can also be corrupted by personal interests, prejudices, emotions and ideologies. On the other hand, politics can provide a more objective and rational framework for weighing the pros and cons of different options.
For example, instead of asking whether we support or oppose a certain political party or leader, we can ask whether we agree or disagree with their policy proposals on various issues, such as education, health care, environment, economy, security, etc. Instead of relying on slogans or rhetoric to form our views, we can consider the evidence and arguments for or against different policy options. Instead of dismissing or demonising those who disagree with us on political issues, we can engage with them in constructive dialogue and debate on political issues.

This does not mean we should abandon our values ​​or principles when discussing policy. Rather, it means we need to be more transparent and consistent about how our values ​​inform our policy priorities. It also means that we must be open and willing to reconsider our views in the face of new information or perspectives. This scepticism is not a sign of weakness or indifference but of strength and commitment. It is a way of being responsible and accountable for your choices and actions. It is a way of being respectful and tolerant of the choices and actions of others.

Professor Duncan Pritchard, a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, explores both the pros and cons of scepticism by challenging outdated notions and how it can have unnecessary social consequences by creating suspicion. He distinguishes between moderate scepticism, which targets only specific claims, and radical scepticism, which questions everything. He argued that moderate scepticism, as opposed to extreme scepticism, promotes the good life and can contribute to scientific progress. It also shows how scepticism can turn into relativism if it becomes too broad or pervasive. In the Indian context, where diversity is both a strength and a challenge, scepticism can play a positive role in promoting critical thinking, dialogue and cooperation among different groups. However, it can also become a negative force if it leads to indifference or intolerance. Low scepticism can cause us to become authoritarian and dogmatic, blindly following the dictates of charismatic leaders or rigid ideologies. High scepticism can wash away optimistic values ​​in policy implementation, making us doubt the possibility or desirability of social change.

What we need is a healthy balance between scepticism and trust, between doubt and hope, and between criticism and appreciation. We must be sceptical of our assumptions and biases but also trust our reason and experience. We must be sceptical of the claims and promises of politicians and the media but also hope for the best results and solutions. We must criticise the errors and failures of policies and institutions but also appreciate the achievements and improvements.

As citizens, we must participate in the political process, but we also have the right to question that process. We have a responsibility to inform ourselves about issues that affect us but also have the freedom to express our opinions about them. We have a role to play in the development of society but also a role in the future of society.

The question we should ask ourselves is not whether our role as citizens is to think about politics or policy but how we can think about both in an informed, reasonable, respectful, and constructive manner.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.