Thursday, November 11, 2010

Some Things to Remember

There are some things that are very obvious yet always bear mentioning. There are several that have come up again and again this election season and will probably come up many more times, because they're easy to forget when things are scary and unsure. They're worth mentioning because politics and governance aren't about winning in the moment, but about discussion over time. Politics occupy a strange place in our minds and lives - we love facts and we love proof, but politics is and always has been a matter of discussion. It's not even a matter of opinion, which in many ways would be easier. It's a discussion that humans have been having as long as we have written records and probably long before. I've had a hard time getting to a point where I can fully realize this and stop worrying about finding solutions to political problems that are so definitive that they will end the discussion once and for all. It's been hard because I am a child of the Enlightenment, and I want to believe that we can prove everything beyond a shadow of a doubt, with the magic of SCIENCE and the magic of PROGRESS. We can prove a lot of things, but politics is not something you prove, nor is it something you solve. It's something you discuss. With that in mind, here are a couple things to consider.

1. You will not die.
Politics is tied up with rhetoric, and much of our current rhetoric is guided by the media. The media has bills to pay, and drama sells. As a result, most issues presented through the media are given the same treatment as those local news blurbs about how your melon-baller could kill you dead. It's important to remember that no matter what happens - be it the collapse of the economy, representatives you hate being elected, bills you don't like being passed, whatever - you will probably not die. No matter how bad it gets, we're going to keep waking up in houses next to each other and seeing each other in public and living in communities together. This means that we're going to have to deal with what comes together. For me personally, this means maintaining communication and keeping it as civil as possible. You can disagree - and do so vehemently - but it doesn't change the fact that we're in it together whether or not we like it.

2. There is no final answer to politics, nor one final answer to ephemeral political issues of today.
Political questions don't go away. The question of slavery changes to the question of race relations in American society. Women's suffrage turns into a question of gender equity. The formation of a government shifts to the question of how to apply that framework to a growing and changing society. Politics deals with power and with the basic but complicated work of living together. There is no perfect balance for this - there are simply too many people, under our government and under others'. To stop discussing politics would be to arrive at totalitarianism, and history has shown us that even that doesn't last forever. There's no escaping the discussion of politics, and I don't even know that you should want to. As far as more contemporary questions, there's no real solution or endpoint there, either. If the Second Amendment was overturned and firearms outlawed, would we simply stop talking about that Amendment, or those firearms? Of course not. No law is a definitive proof, and even natural law requires extension to be put into use. The discussion is what matters, and it's the closest thing to an answer you can realistically hope for.

3. Very few political views are precise opposites.
Personally, I think the greatest danger in modern politics is the conflation of differing views with polar opposites. I refer again to the media at large here - particularly with the rise of what I'd call Opinion As News Media - where everything is packaged for easy and quick digestion. That's just incorrect. The abortion debate springs immediately to mind, thanks to the chosen banners of each side. Pro-life is certainly more emotional, but it's fundamentally silly as applied if you think about it for more than 10 seconds. It's the bottom line, to be sure, but it also sets the debate disingenuously. People who support abortion rights don't hate life. Most people who support abortion rights don't think abortions are awesome or weightless or even morally neutral. There's more than one life involved with a pregnancy, and that does matter. It's emotional and it's complicated, and the only way to even get close to any kind of detente is by being realistic and specific about how we think and feel.

4. Most people are not evil.
Some people are, most people aren't. I pretty much hated everything about the Bush Presidency, but I never doubted that George W. Bush wanted and thought he was doing the best things for America. I'm not thrilled with a lot of things about the Obama Presidency, but I think he wants and thinks he's doing the best things for America. There will never be a public figure - Presidential or otherwise - that every single American citizen will agree with. That doesn't mean that the people you don't like are bad people or that they're evil or that they hate America. It just means you disagree. This seems obvious, but a lot of us, and particularly the people in the media, are given to hyperbole when we are het up about an issue. You can disagree and even think people are assholes, but reducing people to caricatures of themselves with fangs and a shriveled black heart doesn't do anything for you or for the conversation. We can do better than that.

5. Being American is not contingent on agreeing with your neighbor.

Since the election, I've had a couple people tell me flat out or hint at the idea that I am unAmerican because I still support the President and I vote Democrat. Some of this has been People Being Wrong On The Internet! and some of it has been weird people eavesdropping on my phone conversation WITH MY MOM on the green line who then feel it is their business to give me shit about voting for Deval Patrick, which...what the HELL, guy?, but in every case, it's both infuriating and sad. This country is built on people disagreeing with each other and reaping the benefits of those disagreements. It's a long process, and it's a hard thing to get through, but I think what we've come out with is a pretty great government, even if it's having some issues with practice right now. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and bear in mind that we're all in this together and we're all Americans...and it's our job to set it right again.

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