A few years ago, it was pretty easy to make the case that politics doesn’t really matter. Or more specifically, that it wasn’t even possible to tell which party was in power if you couldn’t explicitly look it up. Parties come and go on a regular schedule, and if you mess up too much, you’re not allowed back, so no one strays far from the centre.
Imagine this scenario: you’re stranded on an uninhabited island. You’re there for so many years you lose count. Then one day, you’re picked up by a ship. The crew don’t speak your language. They have the internet, but it’s heavily redacted, so any names or mentions of political party are blacked out.
How would you go about assessing who is in power? Is it your team, or those idiots on the other team? What, exactly, would you look at to decipher who’s running your country.
All of this is just a long winded way of saying “yes but what difference does it really make”.
Then the world went mental.
It’s been a good couple of years for the racists, with the US, UK, Germany, Italy and many more, all waking up to the reality that brown people really are terrible and have no place mixing with us whites.
Particularly in America, it would be pretty easy to tell who’s in charge by witnessing the Muslim bans, border walls, trans folk kicked out of the army, billionaire tax cuts. These are all pretty right moves.
So I’ve abandoned that theory.
Ezra Klein is a bit of a star. He created the excellent Vox empire and is a sharp dude with a way with words. Unlike me in that sentence with all those withs.
He did an interview with Chris Anderson recently, the TED head. Chris put forward the question of how much politics really matters. How, in the world of technology, entertainment and design, politics even factored into things. Radical life extension, bringing billions out of poverty and misery, medical advances curing all sorts of diseases — aren’t politics just a trashy sideshow to all this?
Ezra went quiet, presumably the microphone not picking up the sound of his body writhing against the carpet.
Chris’ views overlap significantly with mine and it’s nice to have someone on my side who can make up for my lack of education and understanding of the world in general.
So I’ve refined my thinking from a statement to a question. Does politics matter to you?
There’s a few distinctions I’d like to make here.
Clearly Trump is an anomaly, but this is because he’s incompetent, not because he’s a republican. He (arguably) knows how to be a CEO, and is trying to run America as if it was one. If he’d won the presidency somewhere between 2001 and 2009 — when he was a democrat — he would have made just as much a mess of things. The government would probably still be shut down right now, just for some other dumb reason that ‘played well with the voters’.
I’d also like to make the distinction between “does it matter who is in power?” and “does it matter to you?”
My theme so far this year appears to be ‘unintended consequences’, and I ask you now — if following politics is a big part of your life — “what are the benefits, and what are the downsides?”.
I have one particularly sexy friend who has had a falling out with a friend over Trump’s policies.
Falling out with a friend is a bad thing. And we should avoid bad things that don’t come with good things. Right?
So what are the good things? What are you gaining from your emotional connection to politics?
Think about what really impacts your life. Your health. Traffic. Do the trains run on time? How’s your job? Your house, family, pets. Do you have good phone reception, is there enough milk in the fridge?
I can only speak for myself, and my answers are things like food and my job and my ability to go for a ride or a walk, and of course, Erica.
If this wasn’t a post about politics, and you hand’t been prompted, I suspect that very few people would list anything that is affected by which political party holds the reigns in their particular country.
Now would be a good time to think: but some people can’t get their food stamps, of course the party in power matters! And again I’d make the distinction between ‘matters to someone else’ and ‘matters to you’.
The reason I press for this level of specificity is because the negative side effects happen directly to you. Do you grind your teeth over the despicable behaviour you see on the news? Do you argue with loved ones? Do you lose sleep over the never-ending stream of lies that are frustratingly believed without question?
(I think fact-checking Trump is like throwing Skittles at Usain Bolt. It makes no difference, and his supporters just think you’re being petty.)
If the answers to the questions before the bit in parentheses were yes, yes, and yes, then I ask you: what the fuck? Why are you choosing this life?
Have you considered a life where the answers are no, no and no? Is that not something you want?
It’s within your grasp.
Would the world fall apart if you stopped caring? Shut it all out except for a blip every four years when it actually matters. Would more children be locked up in border camps if you turned off the TV? Would tradies earn $3 less an hour if you tapped ‘not interested’ when your phone proposed you read the latest on Robert Mueller?
I think it’s a tough pill to swallow, but here it is: you don’t matter. You take on the negative impacts to your life, the stress, the anger, the arguing, yet there is no upside.
If you shut it all out, your body, food, dog, loving boyfriend, they’ll all stay just the same. Planes, trains and automobiles will continue to function. Schools will stay open, you’ll still get your morning vodka. The only difference will be a boost to your happiness, your sense of peace in the world.
‘Ignorance is bliss’ needn’t always be a snarky retort.
If I could think of some clever wordplay, I’d suggest making it a month. ‘Forget about it Feb’? ‘Don’t care what they say May’? ‘Out of touch March’ — where you pronounce ‘touch’ funny?
I would love everyone to give it a crack. I think happiness is all that matters in life, and I’m pretty damn sure this would have a positive impact on people’s happiness.
When you think about it, this is a handful of people making decisions that we can have no effect on — yet we all watch on.
It’s like being on a cruise ship. We shouldn’t care how the folks up on the bridge are handling the throttle, the rudder, which radio frequency they’re using, or how they plan to bring the ship into port. We don’t need a 24 hour TV channel for what’s happening in the engine room. How this one guy Doug got something wrong with the engine holes and someone else had to fix his mistake. We don’t care about the pecking order of the kitchen staff. There’s probably unfairness going on, probably bad decisions littered throughout the day. You might even be able to convince yourself that because they set the fridge to 5 degrees instead of 3 it will have a real-world effect on real people.
But do you really want to stress about every little decision other people are making — even if it relates directly to steering ship upon which you reside?
Do you want to be that one guy with a GPS app on his phone telling everyone that the pilot is taking the wrong course and failing to understand something they teach in boats 101?
Or do you want to enjoy the cruise?
Enjoy the cruise, folks. You only get one.