The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Political hopes

We fought for a decade, corruption and greed
It gave me a purpose, a reason to breathe
But now that it's over, now that we've won
I still sit in my bedroom, alone with a shotgun

To think of my family no longer compels me
With all things in common they'll manage without me

\~ Pedro the Lion, "A Simple Plan"

If I understand David Bazan's lyrics correctly, this is not a weak Randian critique of communism. He's not saying "communism will cause a deficit of responsibility leading to suicidal despair." Communism in this example could of course be replaced by any other political utopia for the same effect. What Bazan conveys here is the plain truth that human happiness does not subsist in our politics. I think this truth is obvious on its face, but the political forces in this American life are desperate to turn that truth on its head.

I am always tempted to liken engagement in politics by the non-ruling class to a spectator sport. Everyone picks a team, they get excited at the playoffs, one side wins, and everyone chills out in the off-season. However the intensity for many is a bit too high for the analogy to hold (except perhaps in the case of European soccer). It is not a sport, or even civic duty, but it's personal.

People get so angry about the outcomes of our democratic process. And I'm not saying that outcomes cannot be genuinely bad. Politics can have real consequences which affect our happiness. Yet this cohort of political enthusiast get in an existential funk when they do not get their way, even for inane issues. Politics becomes a 24/7 battlefield, and every insignificant vote, or statement, or advertizement becomes an outrageous scandal. I just do not have the energy to be outraged all the time, but some people are addicted to it.

This frenetic political posture is encouraged by the political class because they directly benefit from it. Outraged people are more likely to give money, volunteer, and storm internet message boards and blogs. At the same time, I genuinely think our political process is damaged by the heightened drama, where every single vote must become an epic struggle to accommodate each side's ideology.

Why do people allow themselves to get so excited? I think it is the lie that happiness is rooted in politics. If only gun control was less, or welfare was more, or abortion was restricted, or there was single-payer health insurance - then I could really be happy. But even total partisan hegemony cannot bring true happiness nor shield from pain.

Politics is how we live together. It is not the essence of human happiness but a tool to help us get along. Let's engage in politics as required by conscience and pragmatism, but let's not rest our hopes in it. Political outrage can be reserved for situations wherein it is truly needed, but let's invest our energy in positive and not adversarial relationships with our neighbors.

Category: politics