In The “National Interest” – So No Questions Please!

Posted by: michael  :  Category: Uncategorized

In the “National Interest” is a term much favoured by politicians to invoke support for policy implementation.  But what does it really mean – in fact, does it have meaning at all and why it is so effective?

In an attempt to answer these questions I suggest we take a step back from the grand macro-scale idea of a nation to the micro-scale.

What do we find at the micro-scale… Oh look, it’s little old me – the self! In my view self – the individual – is supreme. There is nothing higher in the whole universe. Self is capable of creating its own reality, of analysing and evaluating information, of asking meaningful questions, of making decisions, of demanding answers to name just a few of its attributes.

Now such individuals could be a damn nuisance when it comes to gathering support for policy implementation. Fortunately, there are relatively few of these pesky people about so it is best to ignore them and concentrate on the vast majority who seem keen to attach themselves to any cause that comes their way. Could it be that it (the cause) offers an opportunity to belong or maybe provides some form of identity or maybe it’s simply apathy.

But how do we make sure that the majority go along with what we want to do?

Well, it’s really fairly .simple. Let’s suppose we have what might be perceived as an unpopular policy if we allow people to do too much thinking about it.  I mean they might start asking questions and might even end up raising objections.

So we need to link the policy to something that would be perceived as a higher cause than that of the individual.

But how? No problem… just call up “in the national interest”. WoW, that’s one powerful strategy!

Its power lies in the fact that the vast majority of people will immediately equate it (the policy) with a higher calling… something more worthy than them. I mean, how can you possibly compare your own selfish interest  with that of our nation. To do so would ensure that you were deemed unpatriotic… shame on you!

But there’s more to the “national interest” power and mystery than that…
You see there’s no such entity as the “national interest”. It is intangible and can’t be consistently identified – it varies with politicians’ whim.

Saying something is in “the national interest” presupposes agreed definitions of what is a nation and what we mean by national interest.  Presumably, in the national interest implies it has the support of the nation. But what if say 5%, 10%…. 60% of the people don’t actually support implementation can the policy still be in the nation’s interest? 

Of course, we can define a nation as a loose collection of ‘odds and sods’ such that if some of them support the policy it can be deemed to be in the national interest. But what if we define a nation as a homogeneous unified group of people and some object to a particular policy can that still be claimed to be in the national interest.

See how silly this is getting!  I’m simply trying to illustrate how readily we allow ourselves to be duped by a concept that is so flexible it is indefinable. Further, we allow ourselves to be tricked into believing there are causes that are of higher worth than self.

To make this ‘entity’ (national interest) even more persuasive it is unlikely that sufficient relevant information in respect of a particular policy will be made available to enable detailed scrutiny even if one had a mind to.

So where does this leave our discussion? Hopefully, with you thinking about the issues involved. I’ll finish with my working definition of “in the national interest” – it’s a ploy used to invoke policy support when other reasons fail.

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