As a part of the attempt to tie everything in life together, from time to time one needs to focus on politics.
Politics is garbage. I understand this. But it pays attention to me, so I need to pay attention to it. Politics forces me to care, because I would like to have at least a little say in what’s going on.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed my own shift in my relationship to politics, moving from the emotional end of the spectrum towards the more pragmatic. Of course, emotion still plays a part, and it’s all on a sliding scale, but I have identified three distinct phases that can be seen as milestones on this journey.
But first, let’s talk about where this touchy relationship with politics stems from. I’m not going to talk about individual issues or policies, just politics as a concept.
Emotion Über Alles
The funny thing about politics is we like to pretend that it’s some sort of dispassionate battle of ideas, where we are hashing out the best way to govern ourselves, maximizing liberty and equality for all. This is a total fallacy.
Any view of politics that posits man as a rational being is destined to fail. Politics is emotionally charged, just like everything else us humans do. Here’s an example: You can take a Democrat’s positions, ask a bunch of self-described Republicans if they agree with them without telling them where they come from, and you will get a whole bunch of them agreeing that the positions are good. But when you tell them that those are actually the talking points of some Democrat politician, they’ll say no way and turn the ideas down.
And yet eventually, you do come to a point in life where all you wants is for what works to happen. For example, look at the refugee situation in Europe. It is clear that the European Union’s immigration and border policies are not working, and in fact are actively harming life in its member countries. In fact, they’re a catastrophe, leading to a spike in terrorist attacks and sex crimes, and generally destroying social cohesion and the European way of life. And yet what are many European leaders doing? Keeping on the same course while doing nothing to stop the harm to their own citizens. It’s no wonder that the people of Europe are so fed up with their elite’s refusal to do what actually would help Europe: control their borders.
See what I mean about politics paying attention to you?
The same happens here in the United States too; don’t kid yourself. In addition to immigration, we have questions about taxation and regulation, foreign labor, military interventionism, healthcare, and just about everything else you can imagine. No leader likes to admit mistakes (this notwithstanding). Did George W. Bush ever admit that going to war in Iraq was maybe not his best idea? Has Barack Obama ever admitted that Obamacare, or getting involved in Libya didn’t quite work out as promised? Of course not. Admitting failure is anathema to a politician. It’s anathema to most of us, actually. Because we are not rational human beings.
From top to bottom, from the leader of the free world to the down-on-his-luck panhandler down the street, we all largely react on emotion. Which brings us to the three political phases, moving from the emotional and rigid to the more nuanced. And I’ve noticed this shift in most people my age.
Here are the political phases as I’ve identified them.
The Three Political Phases
Phase I: Incoherence: You’re into politics, but you really don’t know what any of it means. And so you do what most neophytes to anything do: Listen to and imitate more experienced or cooler people. If your parents are Democrats, you’ll say you’re a Democrat too because you want to fit in. Or you’ll be a communist because you’re into Rage Against the Machine or whatever. Maybe you had an uncle who really loved Ronald Reagan and so you identify as a Republican, even though you don’t know anything about conservative politics.
If I have to pick a starting age for a lot of this, I’d say 12 or 13.
Lots of people never grow out of this phase. In fact, I’d say that most don’t, at least not here in the United States. Many pay attention to politics at the most superficial, emotional level or vote for a candidate based on a decision they make a week before the election, usually on looks or what some celebrity retard says.
But you’re more mature than this, so you’re not here anymore.
Phase II: Ideological Purity: Right around late high school or early college, a lot of people move towards an ideologically pure rigidity, bordering on the religious.
These tend to be your College Republican or College Democrats or members of the Socialist club or what have you. I identify college students in this phase because that is around the age where we transition into adults seem to be really want to belong to something bigger than ourselves. And since religion, especially Christianity, is being systematically scrubbed from the public sphere, we need something to latch onto. And as politics has many of the same trappings as religion, often deliberately so (ha ha Mr. Stalin), politics becomes that thing.
In Phase II, you’ve usually done your own digging and drawn your own conclusions, either building on or rejecting what you’ve been told. But being young, you’re more prone to either/or extremism: Everything your candidate or party or philosophy says is right and must not be questioned. Everybody that disagrees with you become the enemy. And you know what you do with the enemy: get them!
I think we’ve all been at this point before. I saw this with my friends and myself when we were in college. I got to college right before the 2000 election, and graduated in the summer of 2004, so I saw a lot of heated political debates. Most of them involved people talking or yelling at each other, articulating their points but getting nowhere. In other words, less a debate, refuting assertions point-by-point with evidence, and more shouting matches.
While in the midst of Phase II, I and many of my peers never admitted any wrong.
Many people, often those who work as political pundits or consultants, never get out of this phase.
Phase III: Ideology + Practicality: Some call this “pragmatism,” which implies “doing what works.” I take a slightly different tack with this phase and say that “doing what works” is still tempered with and guided by principles. It might “work” to abort the mentally handicapped, say, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a Republican on board with this.
You still have your guiding principles, in words, but you are much more willing to modify them, tweak them, or admit that the other side may actually have a point.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have really brought this to the fore. The fact that many of their voters overlap is telling. Both men are pretty much giant middle fingers to the system. This is why you’re seeing both the far left in the far right rail against globalism. Most never would have thought that opposition to globalism would be a core Republican tenet in a presidential election!
Phase III is where I’ve found myself. There are lots of things I used to hold dear but have found myself questioning and even rejecting. As I’ve aged, I’ve also found myself reacting with far less emotion to politics and spend more time considering the opinions of those I disagree with, even though I haven’t been won over. I’m not looking to convert politically; I just want to understand the other arguments.
If there is a Phase IV, I don’t quite know what it would be. The absence of ideology? That’s impossible. Much like dogma, everybody has some kind of ideology, even those loudmouths to proclaim that they do not. Hint: those people are liars.
The interesting things about this progression is not that emotion goes away. Emotion never goes away. It just gets recognized and controlled. Emotions are information–you usually feel the way you do about something for a reason, and gut instincts are worth listening to. But it never pays to completely rely on emotion when it comes to politics, because we all have to live together, and the decisions we vote on have long-lasting consequences, not just for us but for the future generations.
All artwork in this post is by Yoshitomo Nara and is used without permission. If he requests it, I will take it down.
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