The recent #indyref in Scotland has been breathtaking. The volume of sources, thoughts, perspectives, interviews and comments has been tremendous. This ongoing noise has led anyone trying to keep up struggling.
As someone who keeps a distance on such things, it was amazing to see. This amazement has carried on in the day after the referendum. But with the political argument moving now to London and Westminster village again Scottish voices appear to be sidelined as a form of English devolution becomes the big storyline. Leaving some in Scotland worried that after the “no” vote Scotland has lost its place on the London political agenda.
I was reading this morning on the concept of flow by Csikszentmihalyi. (From here on in “the Russian dude”). The Russian dude studied flow from the 1960’s through to the 1970’s publishing his book on it 1976 and more since.
He defined flow as being associated with 9 characteristics:-
A balance between challenges and skills;
Merging of action and awareness;
Loss of self-consciousness;
Time distortion; and
Experiencing the activity as intrinsically rewarding.
For the Russian dude the first three are the conditions of the flow state, (challenge-skills balance, clear goals, immediate feedback) the remainder are the characteristics of a flow state.
The more I think about the firehose* of the political focus upon the independence referendum, the more I consider it induces a state of flow in those associated with it. The links between the conditions of Flow states and the IndyRef are legion, the balance between challenges and skills, the challenge of convincing people and having the skill to pull it off well. Clear goals, the yes no disguising slightly the clear goal of maintaining/gaining power. And the immediate feedback of daily polls, a different one in each paper, and even minute by minute tracking of TV debates.
Yet the characteristics of Flow could be recognised in the performance of the politicians. Intense concentration, the hours with PR people to ensure you blandly answer the question you want to answer while subtly ignoring the one you are asked. The merging of action and activity, the loss of self-consciousness, a sense of control, time distortion and experiencing the activity as intrinsically rewarding, were demonstrably evident.
The question has to asked is a high level political existence actually a deep flow experience or is it a serious of what the Russian guy calls “almost imperceptible microflow events”. My guess is that normal politics are the microflow events, but the big things like going to war, a referendum event, are the pure deep flow. That’s what makes politics appealing, and power and responsibility desirable.
The question s how much of what goes on within this flow state is actually conscious action, and how much is just flowing. How much awareness is presented for what is happening out with the flow event, and how that is perceived by the public and those out with the flow state. If there is a difference, it provokes 2 questions.
1 – should the politicians be allowed to get to a flow state by their acolytes?
2 – if they achieve deep flow, should the politician be held to promises or pledges made in that space.
On the first one. no. I think flow can be a very helpful state where the innate person, their political phronesis all come to play together.
Considering the second one. Is more marginal. we recognise that as a society, things said in the head of the moment, can be explained by such. Buying things on the internet have special protection so it can be rejected at a later date. The agreement of Statement have an Eschatological element to them. For the politician in a flow state I think any promise, pledge or guarantee is deserving of a 7 day cooling off period, from the electorates side. How many no voters if you had to retake the vote today, would still vote no based on the reaction tot he devolution discussion which has been portrayed by westminster in the last couple of days?
Moving on requires trust and integrity, leadership and responsibility, does decisions made in flow give us that? It strikes me that flow is something which can be used well. it can help a political practitioner to say the right thing at the right time, but i have many doubts about wether the political animal one out of the flow state can always deliver the promises they made. whether the tune they make in one specific location at a specific time (Edinburgh, in a Scottish conversation) can be made real in another space, (London, in a UK conversation). Flow may allow you to operate at very high level but it also has the ability to bite you on the bum.
(*Firehose is the term applied to the whole unedited output of public twitter, delivered in real-time. very few people have this access and very few companies have the ability to process this amount of information. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/16/twitter-buys-gnip-firehose-analytics-apple-topsy)