Avoiding the Toxic Politics
The election is upon us. May God have mercy on us all.
Fortunately, it should all be over by Wednesday morning. Hopefully, by a week from tomorrow the factoids, talking points, and armchair punditry will have faded into a shadow of their former prominence, and I will be able to enjoy interacting with all of my friends again.
A couple of years back, on Election Day 2010, I wrote directly about politics. I promised then that it would be a rarity here, and I believe I’ve more or less stuck to that. However, as is often the case, when I’m faced with an issue repeatedly over a short period of time, I feel a pressing need to comment on and explore it, if only to sort out my own thoughts regarding the issue. So, back down the political road I go.
I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.
– Thomas Jefferson
By far, the biggest casualty of this campaign season has been the social part of my wheel. I’ve made a point to limit conversations with certain friends because any subject is a pretext to rant about the candidate or party they oppose. Online, I’ve had to hide some people on the social networks I use. (This all includes some people I agree with, too.) I feel badly about that, because usually I don’t mind exposing myself to the opinions and philosophies of others, but the content I was seeing and hearing from these individuals was so pervasive, and toxic, that I had to temporarily limit my exposure to them.
Shortly after the conventions were finished, Gene Healy wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Examiner about how politics affects us. (Have you ever experienced deja vu? This all seems eerily familiar.) I’ve gained a lot of respect for Healy’s writing over the last couple of years. His work on how we perceive the Presidency in the modern era is well regarded. Anyway, onto the article.
I’ve long found electoral politics seedy and dispiriting, but that sensibility has lately become a debilitating affliction: like being a sportswriter struck by the unhelpful epiphany that it’s silly for a grown man to write about other grown men playing a game for kids.
I’m a little worried that he’s lost his passion, but I can echo his sentiment. I think a lot of us can. It’s a chore to pay attention to the race, let alone go to the polls, when you’ve got no faith in the outcome. Heaven help you, however, if you encounter someone who does.
…Aaron Powell and Trevor Burrus argue that “Politics Makes Us Worse.”
Politics makes us dumb, they argue, crippling our ability to “[think] critically about the choices before us.” And politics makes us mean: “[A]ll too often, [it] makes us hate each other.” Partisan passions turn “modest differences of opinion” on policy into “an apocalyptic battle between virtue and vice.”
I’ve experienced some industrial strength dumb and mean in the last few months. Not much of it directed at me. (Some of it, though.)
Maybe political ideology and philosophy are a big deal, but I’m appalled by how we’re willing to act towards other human beings over a disagreement in this area. I am shocked at how appalled I am, honestly. As a man, I recognize that our similarities to one another are overwhelming, and our differences from one another are healthy. As a follower of Jesus, I know what the scripture has to say about “enemies” and love. I expect a certain amount of respect for the living. It’s hard for me watch all of that being tossed aside over which party you prefer.
Many conservatives are convinced that Barack Obama, who holds the policy positions of your median Prius driver, is bent on destroying the American way of life. Many liberals have convinced themselves that Mitt Romney, the very model of all-American Mormon niceness, is a vicious plutocratic thug who loved to beat up gay kids in high school.
Let’s face it, these two guys just aren’t that different from one another. I disagree with them both regarding a whole host of issues, from the declared and undeclared wars in the Middle-East to the War on Drugs, and from the PATRIOT Act to big business bailouts. Neither of them will be getting my vote tomorrow.
Still, neither of them is a monster. They love and are loved. They see pain in the world, and they want to help. Whoever wins will be the leader of this country. I will respect that and pray for them.
Am I foolish or weird for saying that? Maybe, but being normal isn’t that great.
Politics makes us worse because “politics is the mindkiller,” as intelligence theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky puts it. “Evolutionary psychology produces strange echoes in time,” he writes, “as adaptations continue to execute long after they cease to maximize fitness.” We gorge ourselves sick on sugar and fat, and we indulge our tribal hard-wiring by picking a political “team” and denouncing the “enemy.”
…our atavistic Red/Blue tribalism plays to the interests of “individual politicians in getting you to identify with them instead of judging them,” Yudkowsky writes.
Once they do that, they can get away with murder…
Once we buy into the idea that the vice of the one group equals the automatic virtue of the other, we’re on the path of being dumb and mean. We let reality and rational discourse fall by the wayside as we’re swept up in rants regarding evil machinations and vile plots by those among the others. We become toxic to be around, and our friends stop coming by for a chat until after the election is long over.
If we’re willing to accept that our choices are among capable, but flawed individuals, then we can shift our perspective. We can treat the leader, and their supporters, like human beings while honestly evaluating and disagreeing with their policies. We can love each other, build with each other, and pray with each other. We can spend time loving our similarities, while enjoying our differences.
Do you have friends that you see less during an election year? Are you avoiding them? If not, are they avoiding you?
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