However, the emergence of civilizations, in various parts of world, permitted dense population to settle in one particular area, especially where domestication of plants and animals is possible. This settlement, or city, facilitated diverse people and/or groups with different objectives, characters, personalities, fears, and desires to interact and compete for resources. Each person and/or group endeavored to outmaneuver other individuals and/or groups in order to maximize his/her wellbeing while minimizing his/her suffering. In this perpetual state of self-loathing, progress was impossible since each person/group strives to get ahead, even at the expense of others.
The primary cause of the competition and conflict stems from the desire to have access to resources, be it material, natural or social; to rule the government; to enact favorable laws, etc. In other words, to become the decider of who gets what, why, when, and how? The most important and difficult aspect in politics is solving the “who gets what?” problem, which requires deep understanding of political process. The difficulty stems from the attempt of pleasing each group in order to prevent chaos, suspicious, and outright war.
All groups involved should feel that their concerns and demands are fully or partially satisfied, respected, and protected through bargaining and compromise, without which resolution is almost certainly unattainable. This is not to suggest that competition and conflict are appalling per se. Rather it is to assert that competition and conflict is not only an inherent characteristic of human nature, but also an essential ingredient for progress. Therefore, it is unfeasible and counterproductive to dispose of it. Nevertheless, the manner in which a group manages their competition and conflict defines their fate. Here is where politics comes into the limelight. So, what is politics?
Politics is the art and the means through which competing factions formulate, safeguard, and modify constantly the general rules under which they interact and operate. It is the mechanism of conflict resolution and also the willingness to bargain and compromise in order to attain the productive desired objectives, which, to a greater or lesser extent, manifests itself in almost every aspect of our lives. To illustrate the art of politics, the following scenario will suffice. The eminent English political theorist James Harrington provided the most illuminating scenario of real politics. Harrington informs us the story of two teenage girls who have one undivided slice of cake. They girls do not have a scale to divide the cake evenly and both of them refused to accept less than exact half of the cake. Without a scale, it is impossible to divide the cake evenly. Let us pause for a moment: how would you solve this predicament? Now, do you find any solution?
Suddenly, one of the girls suggested a solution. “Divide,” said one to the other, “and I will choose; or let me divide and you shall choose.” The girl who chooses to divide the cake would not be able to divide it evenly since she does not have a scale. She would most likely make one portion of the cake bigger than the other portion and the other girl who makes the choice would most likely choose the bigger piece. In this case, the girl who divides the cake would not complain that the other girl takes the bigger portion since she is the one who divides it.
This story illustrates the art of politics. It is purely bargaining and compromise in action.
Abdi Hussein Daud (Minneapolis, MN)
(The author has obtained B.A. in Political Science/Global Studies from the University of Minnesota and currently pursuing Masters in Health and Human Services Administration at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)