“Politics” is just Gossip

(Except when it’s just social status whoring. Then it’s even worse than gossip. But I’ll talk about that later.)

When Sweden is having the same issues with immigration as France and the US, I find it hard to believe the problem is Obama.

It’s probably the Hajnal Line.

All my life (or at least since I was 12,) I have been surrounded by people claiming that it is immoral not to closely follow politics. So as a middle schooler I dutifully memorized the Supreme Court Justices, my Congressmen and Senators, all of the candidates for President and Vice President, members of the state government, even our ambassador to the UN (even though that guy probably has zero independent decision-making authority.)

I went on to major in political science, which has to be one of the most trying to prove you follow politics majors out there. But I realized rather quickly that I was more interested in what makes countries (and people) tick than in the exact names of the guys in charge. I would rather read about hunter gatherers, neurology, or genetics than about what Congress did yesterday. The Supreme Court changed and I forgot the names. I moved, Bakunin in hand, and failed to learn my new Senators. Political economy and philosophy were my constant companions, not the news.

Throughout, I felt guilty. Yes, I followed all of the latest online trends, yes, I participated in daily, often quite vociferous political discussion with literally almost everyone I knew, but I couldn’t be bothered to learn my Senator’s name and so I must be failing my duty to be an informed citizen. Sooner or later, I was bound to be uncovered for the politically ignorant immoral bum I am.

And yet, somehow, so much seemed not to really matter. Primaries came and went, and what was the point of learning all of the names when I was just going to vote for one of the two guys at the end? I remember my friends who loved Dean, only to have their hopes crushed when he didn’t get the Democratic nomination. So why bother?

So the other day, an older conservative relative sent me Ben Carson’s book, “One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future,” which I began reading out of politeness. I find Dr. Carson an affable writer–he seems like a well-intentioned guy.

The book calls (among many things) for people to pay more attention to politics.

Since almost 100% of people I know are already quite vociferously following politics, to the point where “outrage fatigue” is a real thing, what is the bloody point of asking us to follow it more?

Of course, the exhortation isn’t meant for people like me; it’s meant for people who don’t follow politics. Saying you should know the names of the people in charge is trying to translate politics into a form that will be recognizable to people who watch TV or read magazines in order to learn more about Kim Kardashian’s ass. It’s politics as gossip: OMG did you hear what Senator so-and-so wore to the Senator’s event? OMG  did you know that the President had sex with someone? Hey did you hear what Congressman so-and-so said about stuff?

Unfortunately, this is a terrible model for understanding politics. Politics is not socialite gossip. It’s fine if you want to memorize all of the names and personalities–whatever floats your boat–but this is not the same as understanding the political system. Why do the US and Sweden have very similar political movements, with very similar effects? Do we have the same president? The same Supreme Court? No. And people who try to understand politics as gossip aren’t going to figure this out.

And since all of the smart people are already following politics so much that you can’t goddamn escape it, we’re talking about trying to get a bunch of dumb people to vote more based on the assumption that somehow thinking about interest rates in the same way they think about celebrity butts will lead to good public policy.

Jesus effin’ Christ, no it won’t.

I am through with feeling guilty.

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5 thoughts on ““Politics” is just Gossip

  1. One of the first things I assess when I meet someone is whether they think in terms of larger patterns or are instead preoccupied with trivial distractions and fleeting fashions. Most of the time I am disappointed, especially when someone is otherwise smart yet still thinks small.

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  2. I’ve been slowly reading through your blog. You have some super fantastic post that really make me think. Giovanni Dannato might not want to toot his own horn but I will. He has some of the clearest explanations of complex problems I’ve seen. He’s a really sharp guy. A lot of your post are like this also. It shows someone really understands when they can take a complex subject and make the root of the subject easily understandable. Doesn’t mean that the explanation will cover all the ins and outs but it does convey the structure in a clear unambiguous way.

    Giovanni Dannato’s Blog

    https://colonyofcommodus.wordpress.com/author/giovannidannato/

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