I’ve been writing a long post about politics. It’s detailed, and wide-ranging, and it criticizes everybody in politics for various things, and I think it’s pretty much guaranteed to make lots of people mad.
I’ve been down this road before, though. I’ve written many, many posts like that over the years. Looking back, I’m not sure there was much point in it. I espouse my views, and in the best case scenario, the people who agree say “Yeah” and move on. The people who disagree keep on disagreeing. I don’t think anyone does anything different as a result of reading political blog posts.
The other day, I jokingly said on Twitter:
What if all our problems *can* be solved by politicians giving speeches, it’s just that no one has given the right one yet? pic.twitter.com/DxnwjTjZKE
— Berthold Gambrel (@BertholdGambrel) September 12, 2018
I wrote that after watching yet another politician bemoaning the state of the country, for what felt like the millionth time. You could make same joke could about political blog posts, though. There are so many of them written every day. You’d think if things could be fixed by blogging, it would have happened already.
Longtime readers may have noticed I’ve dialed back the political posts a lot over the last couple years. It’s ticked up a bit again recently but it’s nothing like it used to be. Politics was nearly all I posted about back in, say, 2011. But lately, I’ve shifted to posting more about writing, entertainment, and criticism.
That’s not an accident. Those subjects produce far more rewarding and engaging discussions than political blogging does. And for a simple reason: people enjoy it more. Pat Prescott, my fellow blogger and longtime reader, can probably comment on this, since he’s been with me since the days when the blog was heavily political.
I used to enjoy writing about politics. Or I thought I did, at least. But at some point, once I realized I wasn’t really changing anything by writing about it, I started to lose my zest for it.
The funny thing is, most people are way more open to new ideas, creative reinterpretations, and even harsh critiques, when it comes to the world of fiction and entertainment than they are when it comes to real-life politics. I include myself in that. There are people who lose themselves in the political intricacies of totally fictional worlds while holding the most simplistic and unexamined views of the world they live in. I mean, there are probably people who could tell you they understand both sides of the Geth/Quarian conflict, but couldn’t do anything beyond parrot the talking points of their preferred real-life political party.
That sounds kind of harsh, but I don’t actually mean it to put people down. People like what they like, and wishing they liked other things is like wishing we all had wings and could fly.
Life is too short for petty, futile political disputes. If 2016 did nothing else, it taught us that you can spend your entire career studying politics and still get everything totally wrong.
That’s why I decided it was time to shift my focus to things that were more rewarding, both for me and for my readers. Things like book reviews, and art, and writing fiction. (Now admittedly, I did put some allegorical references to my politics in The Directorate. I figured that way I could say a few things in a way that was entertaining rather than stridently preachy.)
Clausewitz said that war is the continuation of politics by other means, and there’s no doubt that politics is inherently combative. Which means everyone tends to be in fight mode when talking politics. Sometimes that’s appropriate, but it makes collaboration nearly impossible. I sometimes think that asking for cooperation in modern politics is almost an oxymoron.
If you can get people out of the political sphere, however, you’ll usually find a lot of room for communicating, making deals, and exchanging knowledge that is useful to everyone involved.
As a result of the shift from political blogging to topics like writing, I’ve met all kinds of wonderful writers and readers. And in many cases, I have an idea of their political leanings from following them on social media. I have readers and authors with widely diverging views—and I’ve learned plenty from each of them, especially the ones I disagree with.
So it might be that that the key to improving political discourse is… not to engage in it so much. It’s easy to hate people when you know nothing about them other than their politics—but if you’ve already met through some other common interest, it becomes much easier to see their side of things.
Well, I appreciate your switch to reviewing, both for the positive mentions you’ve made of my books and for books you’ve brought to my attention that turned out to be great reads.
Thanks, Audrey! This is what I mean about reviews being more rewarding for me and my readers. I would never have found your wonderful books otherwise. 🙂
Our societies have become so polarized that virtually any form of political discourse becomes heated. Sadly, I recall the time when this was not the case. Consequently I refrain from it completely.
So true. Thanks very much for the comment! 🙂
“So it might be that that the key to improving political discourse is… not to engage in it so much. It’s easy to hate people when you know nothing about them other than their politics—but if you’ve already met through some other common interest, it becomes much easier to see their side of things.”
You said it, brother. It’s why I try to avoid the off-limits-at-the-dinner-table topics of politics and religion on social media and in real life. It’s a surefire way to shut down any decent chance at communication or fellowship. As soon as you trigger someone through a keyword associated with their core beliefs, a filter comes down over their eyes and ears and anything you say is going to be tarnished by that filter. I’m just as guilty of that as those around me…I’m sure there are hundreds of anthropological theories explaining why we do it. 🙂
That being said, I always enjoy reading what you have to say, no matter what the topic and I’m sure much of that is due to the fact that I’ve gotten to know you outside of those sensitive issues. So you’re doing something right, Berthold! Keep it up.
Thanks very much, Phillip! 🙂
I used to be highly political, but after six years of Bush I found I was repeating posts almost verbatim. Figured it was kind of useless. I posted my thoughts after Trump was elected because it caused a rift with a long time friend and it hurt. I’ve since deleted that post. You’re right in keeping with subjects that we can agree or discuss without get heated over them.
Yep; I had the same problem where I felt like I started repeating myself.
I used to love to get into political discussions with people and we’d even laugh about some things if we didn’t agree. Now it’s all too upsetting. There’s too much at stake, especially environmentally, and the focus should be on issues like that – on how we can all move ahead while making things better (no matter what political party we might align ourselves with). But instead everyone keeps arguing about ridiculous things. So book reviews sound good to me!
My sentiments exactly! 🙂
This is a great post. We are in a time of such hatred and I have chosen to stay away from political discussions. It has brought out the ugliest traits in people, yet, as you say, when you get away from politics, the same groups of people can engage in other meaningful dialogues. That’s encouraging.
Indeed it is. It’s one sliver of hope, at least. 🙂