Why I Hate Talking Politics

Those who know me know I’m a very political person. I have strong views, and I think about politics a lot. I’ve tried to keep the political content of this journal to a minimum though, for the same reason I avoid talking politics in social settings.

I hate political discussions because they rarely result in greater understanding. I know some people advocate “promoting dialogue”, but I’ve seen precious few political dialogs where the people involved actually learned from each other. Most often they just talk past each other. All too often tempers are raised and the participants go away angry and with their view of the “other side” reinforced.

I’m no centrist. I don’t believe we can all find a happy compromise in the middle ground. But I do believe that at core, most everyone has the same goals in mind, albeit with wildly different ideas about the best means to achieve that end. We all want a world where people don’t kill each other, where humans can find fulfillment in their own way without impeding other’s fulfillment.

What I hate about political debate is that it has a way of making us believe that because the opponent has a different idea of how to achieve that world, he or she doesn’t really want that world at all. Politics makes monsters of us all – cold, inhuman and insane. We start to see the opponent not as a person, but as an abstract concept, or as simply one face of a group. Political debate seems to lead to the objectification of each other. We are so ready to believe the worst about people. Especially when they are a stranger on a podium, or on the radio, or on TV, rather than a smiling face across a coffee table from us.

I know that the temptation is very strong for me to call those who think differently “stupid”, “uneducated”, “crazy”, “evil”. It’s a natural human urge to boil things down to us vs. them. It’s easy to think of the Left as barking moonbats, the Right as money-mad theocrats. I’m way too easily tempted by those stereotypes.

And it hurts me to see others applying the stereotypes. It hurts watching people on the left accuse Conservatives of being selfish imperialist theocratic racists, just as it hurts watching people on the right accuse Liberals/Progressives of being loonie America-hating perverted terror-appeasers. It hurts because all it accomplishes is to create more anger, more hatred, more one-dimensional misconceptions, more strawmen.

I’m not saying we should all agree – I’m saying that in general people want the best for other people. They want a peaceful world. Their intentions, at core, are good. No, I’m not saying everyone’s selfless, but I believe that most people’s selfish needs are complementary, not conflicting. Yes, I’m an optimist, an idealist, and a romantic that way.

I think people, by and large, do what they do and believe what they believe because they honestly think it’s for the best. Including our leaders and pundits. Even George Bush. I don’t think they are insane or bent solely on death and destruction, profit, fame, and domination. Greedy? Egotistical? Almost certainly. Power-mad? Sometimes. But nobody really knows the mind of another; anybody who pretends otherwise is selling something. Ultimately we can only judge people by the fruits of their actions and words, which may require the long view of history in order to be fully surveyed.

And that’s really the crux of my argument – making assumptins about your opponent’s ambitions, motivations, education, and attitudes is presumptuous and brings dialog to a screeching halt. It makes an object of a human being. It accomplishes nothing. And until I can find a way to foster political discussion which does not provide such fertile ground for presumption, I’d rather just avoid it.

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  1. *sigh*
    I can so relate to that. You’ll notice I rarely, if ever, discuss politics in my journal either. It would be lovely to be able to have dialogues like the ones you describe – everyone involved having walked away learning something. I don’t know why people insist on always demonizing those with differing points of view – it makes me sad, because we *all* lose so much. 🙁

    1. If people don’t agree with you, you should be able to agree to disagree with them. Otherwise just remove their winey asses off your friends page 😉

      Be proud that you HAVE an opinion.
      <3 exo

      1. I wish it was that simple. 🙁 I *am* proud that I have an opinion. I’m by no means *ashamed* of my opinions. Unfortunately, this tendency to demonize people one doesn’t agree with is fairly pervasive, and what’s worse, people often do it without realizing it.
        I’m all *for* free and healthy debates. I’m not for political shitfights breaking out in my journal.

  2. The ancient Masters
    didn’t try to educate the people,
    but kindly taught them to not-know.

    When they think that they know the answers,
    people are difficult to guide.
    When they know that they don’t know,
    people can find their own way.

    If you want to learn how to govern,
    avoid being clever or rich.
    The simplest pattern is the clearest.
    Content with an ordinary life,
    you can show all people the way
    back to their own true nature.

    If a country is governed with tolerance,
    the people are comfortable and honest.
    If a country is governed with repression,
    the people are depressed and crafty.

    When the will to power is in charge,
    the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
    Try to make people happy,
    and you lay the groundwork for misery.
    Try to make people moral,
    and you lay the groundwork for vice.

    Thus the Master is content
    to serve as an example
    and not to impose her will.
    She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce.
    Straightforward, but supple.
    Radiant, but easy on the eyes.

    Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching

  3. I did lapse in my conduct, and whether or not ‘he did it first’ doesn’t fully excuse that. I did however, have enough sense, as did he (she said intending it as a compliment, not a dig) to abandon the advancement of the political discussion with him once we had gotten to the point of making negative comments.

    and high five to you – I am all about the long view to history 😉

    1. Let me just make clear that this post was not directed at you. It’s another post that has been brewing for a long time, which needed just a little more provocation to finally give me the impetus to write it out.

      And I’d like to admit for completeness’ sake that I committed the precise offense that I complained about, albeit not directed at anyone in particular, in my initial post (“Go read some history…”). My only defense is that it’s my journal, dammit 😉

      1. Let me just make clear that this post was not directed at you.

        I didn’t think it was actually. I figured it was more of a collection of things causing a need to state a general principle. But I also figured it made sense to own up to my part of that, however minor. Its cool that you saw yourself do it, though in your case it wasn’t directed at anyone specific.

  4. I can very much understand this. I don’t like to discuss theology or politics or other such subjects with people very often. It’s very rare that anyone actually listens or changes their mind so what’s the point. On the one hand I want people I know to understand my beliefs and respect them but on the other hand it’s just to much work to try to talk to people about them.

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