Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On Paying Attention vs Writing About It

I have been trying very hard to avoid politics of late.

For much of this past year I have been immersed in political matters, particularly those of Wisconsin. When there are people in your own government working to undermine not only the policies that have made your state and nation prosperous, safe and worthwhile but also the values, traditions and institutions that made such policies possible, you really have no choice but to get involved. I have marched. I have written, here and directly to the various political leaders who claim to represent me. I have written to the local paper. I have organized.

This is what democracy looks like.

But I am not, by nature, an optimist. I grew up in Philadelphia – pessimism is my birthright. As I watch the baseball season tick down, for example, with the Phillies guaranteed home field for the duration of the playoffs and possessing the best rotation in the sport, I remain firmly convinced that not only will they not win the World Series this year but also that they will figure out a way to lose the one they won back in 2008. And when I look at the political situation these days, it just seems to me that the thugs are winning. It always seems that way to me.

They cheer at the thought of the uninsured dying. They boo American soldiers for being gay. They insist that disaster relief be held up for partisan advantage and offset by further cuts to the very people they should be helping. They are a moral disgrace, a political outhouse, and a savvy and powerful minority hell bent on destroying the United States of America and replacing it with the sort of backward authoritarian nightmare that, with a single change in religion, would not be all that different from the goals of the jihadists in the Middle East.

That sort of thing wears on a body, and especially this semester I find I have precious few mental reserves with which to deal with it.

When I was on vacation in August I was unable to keep in touch with political developments, and you know what? I felt better for it.

With the presidential elections in full swing now and the recall campaign against Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) about to get underway, I don’t suppose I can avoid political issues for much longer. I may not be looking for politics right now, but politics is very much looking for me – and it will find me eventually.

And when it does, look out.

But until then I will go about my days and try to focus on what is in front me. Sometimes you just need a break.


Gristle McThornbody said...

Truer words were never spoken. I find that when I don't follow politics obsessively I: A) get a lot more other stuff done, and B) don't walk around in a funk about how hateful and spiteful and greedy everyone seems to be, which is good because most people aren't, but it can sure feel that way when you're constantly immersed in reading about whatever new douchebaggery the Teapublicans are up to.

Hmmm. Interesting on the optimist/pessimist thing. I've always been an optimist by nature.

David said...

Yes, this semester I have so many other things I need to get done that I don't have time to follow politics as closely as I did earlier - but that, too, is a source of stress, since I feel I should, as an American citizen, be keeping a close eye on what those sad clowns are doing. It's a quandary.

I've never understood optimists. I cannot figure out how they see the world that way.

Gristle McThornbody said...

I know the main gist of your post wasn't to discuss optimism vs pessimism, but I find this really fascinating.

"I've never understood optimists. I cannot figure out how they see the world that way."

Don't know what to tell you on that one except that I've always figured that more people in the world are decent than not, so slowly but surely we should continue to make progress as a species. It's not as fast as I'd like, but there are very civilized (usually at least partially socialist) countries all over the place full of good people living good lives.

Also, I've always had enough of everything to consider myself extremely lucky compared to a major chunk of the world. I've never lived in a war zone. I've never had to wonder where my next scrap of food or drink of clean water was coming from. I've never had to worry that if I get sick I won't be taken care of. I've had a good education. Stop rolling your eyes; I'm getting to my little Mary Sunshine point in my own sweet time. I guess all that and more has given me a sense of security and a feeling that anything I put my mind to is possible if I want it badly enough. And I realize that if I believe that about myself, and if this life has been possible for me, there's no reason to believe it can't be possible for all of mankind. God, I'm making myself sick with this saccharine glop, but there you go.

As far as politics right now, I realized that knowing every detail, every stupid thing that somebody said or did, every lie that someone told, every mean-spirited law that someone passed in some State I have no control over, and on and on and on, was such overkill and so overwhelming that it didn't warrant as much attention as I was giving it, so I stopped.

I try at this point to keep abreast enough to just maintain a big-picture sense of what's going on and who's a completely hateful idiot. I figure at this point it's fairly safe to assume the Republicans are going to continue acting like spoiled-rotten three-year olds for the next year. As we get closer to the election and the candidate field is narrowed, then I'll start digging in deeper again.

David said...

The optimism/pessimism thing is interesting.

On the one hand, I would have to agree with you – I generally like people and I have found that while 10% of them aren’t worth the space they take up on the planet, the other 90% tend to be decent folks, and 9 out of 10 is good odds in any league. And I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life. I have always lived in the security of middle-class comfort – not wealthy, but by no stretch poor. I have a wonderful family and a good number of friends with whom I enjoy spending time. I have led an interesting and relatively scar-free life. And aside from some minor career instability these days (it would be nice to have a job that lasted more than the 17 weeks of a semester) I can honestly count myself among the world’s favored.

On the other hand, I never expect any of it to last. And I’m enough of a historian to know how much of an outlier I am. This is an exceedingly fragile world, a world whose veneer of civilization is exactly 24 hours and 3 meals thick, and for most of human history it was a remarkably unforgiving place. In many – most? – places it still is. I just don’t make the leap you do between “this is possible for me” and “this is possible for all.”

But this is in a real sense beside the point. I’m just not convinced that being an optimist or pessimist has much to do with one’s circumstances. By all rights I should be positively Panglossian, if that were so. And yet I find myself drawn inexorably to the melancholy and the bittersweet. There’s a lot of it about. What’s the old poster slogan? “It’s not your position but your disposition that makes you happy!” Trite it may be, but still there is some truth in that, I think.

Crosby Kenyon said...

Politics? Take a look at Go to the archives for the Sept. 21 issue and find where Vermont vs Vermont Yankee(Entergy) have rested their case and await the judges decision. Do you think politics will play a part, and will this have national implications?

Actually, you don't have to take the time to answer. I live in Vermont, and your post ricocheted off something and hit me.

David said...

I don't know if it will have national implications, but it seems pretty clear to me that politics has already played a part in that.

Vermont seems like a very good state to live in, actually.