I think of politics more or less like a joke: Those who talk within the constraints of a joke, i.e. take a joke seriously, become part of the joke.
If we go by just labels, I’ve seen more or less every end of the board. I’ve argued for everything inside the mainstream left-right to the traditional left-right and then to some of the fringe ideologies. But, just as I tire of arguing, I tire of politics – or perhaps politics was the final push I needed to just not want to debate ever again. It is not that I cannot be good at it. If I bothered, it’s actually really easy to just visualize the other person as some kind of moron and that every single thing coming out of their mouth is something that is either wrong or something that can be used against them. But why should I do that? Even if it does give me some kind of rush, I can get that same rush elsewhere doing other more productive things.
It is quite amusing when I say these things and then some of my more activism-inclined friends come up and ask me how exactly (changing whatever it is they want to change, thus changing the world in some way) is not a big deal. First of all, being right has nothing to do with being correct and truthful. Make no mistake: being “right” is a matter of feeling a rush. No debater would deny they get a rush from it – they just downplay its importance, that it’s just a side benefit to working for the greater good. Second, such a question is assuming that end will come into existence through your means. All these political groups talk about how if you join, “You, too, can become a change in the world”, when really if you look at what they’re showing to what they’re claiming, they’re today’s snake oil salesmen. Or religious zealots. Actually, if you are politically inclined, you don’t even need to use these old analogies. Just look at a political group you don’t like. I mean, really? If I start yelling and being with a large group of people in front of a white stone building, the whales will be saved? Additionally if we ignore how not effective it is, isn’t that kind of disgusting? To claim that protesting or passing laws or whatever is the way to make a change in the world is to, by default, put down all the efforts of those people who actually are making technologies or interacting with real people to actually change their way of doing things – the people who actually make a change in the world. They stake their entire lives on such things and these other people claim that by standing around and holding up wood and cardboard with scribbles, “real change in the world” will happen? Progress has never been made in the history of man through pure politicking. It has almost always been the advent of some new technology or way of using technology. That is because technologies change incentives, and thus the way people do things or want to do things. Laws change incentives too, technically. But it’s about as true as the claim that anyone is a potential terrorist. Or that what mafias do is give people offers they can’t refuse.
If your response to that is “but it is true”, then congratulations, you are just like everyone else.
But yeah, to cut an even longer story short, the format of the activist’s question is “does my motivation not matter?” That’s what it is, this “I will change what I want to change, and thus the world will change”. It applies to all dreams of all sizes. The problem here is not the dream. The problem is that they can’t accept me or anyone else thinking less of it. If someone has a problem with something you’re doing, do you ask them “what’s wrong with [your motivation to do X]?” No, right? That’s a really beta move. It’s like what that one socially awkward kid on the playground would say when he’s being criticized. People don’t normally do that in their own lives, but when it comes to politics, everybody does it?
I just think that’s really funny.
“Or it would be funny, if it weren’t so fucking tragic.”
I’ve copy-pasted my reading journals for a class I’m taking that I don’t particularly care for, as what I say in them is on the same topic I just discussed. It’s a humanities class and the journals are supposed to be about the reading for the week and help us train “critical thinking skills” (quotes because I have no idea what that term refers to – what is uncritical thinking?), but I’ve always been able to write what I want and get away with it.
“Men are compelled to compete with each other for the wages of an employer, because they have been robbed of the natural opportunities of employing themselves; because they cannot find a piece of God’s world on which to work without paying some other human creature for the privilege. “
– Henry George, The Crime of Poverty
Putting a “human face” on a story really does change its meaning. I have never cared too much about the lives and experiences of Mexican migrant workers because it is not relevant to my interests, and I probably will forget and not care relatively soon after this quarter and class ends because it still isn’t relevant to my interests, but for now, Crossing Over reminds me that they are people… just like me. Emphasis on the word “me”. It is not “like everyone else”; that would be outright lying. That seems like the conventional end for that sentence I was writing, but I really can’t say that. It’s more accurate to say they were like everyone else before I started reading the story: just other flesh bodies doing whatever it is they do.
I think that’s okay for most people. We have our biological limit at Dunbar’s Number to see other people as beings identical to we are: it is possible to sympathize and have real human relationships with about ~150 others, and that’s it. To fault ourselves or anyone else for being unable to care about every single person’s every single concern is overdoing it. The problem, I think, is in how we deal with those people we can’t conceive of as people. If we deal with strangers with respect and allowing them to become one of those 150, however temporary, then what we have is politeness and etiquette. America, at least the politically active part of America is as portrayed by the media, does not seem to have much of that. The fact that most news anchors take debate positions, that what they say is right and what anybody else believes is not only incorrect but unjust and worthy of indignation, does not help this at all. Add onto all this the whole post 9-11 mentality which the government and media has perpetrated: treat everyone as a potential threat.
That’s true. My mother could just randomly stop chopping chicken and start chopping off my head. But I don’t worry about that, along with a bunch of other possibilities, because there’s a lot of other things more probable and a lot of things more worthy of my attention. It’s impossible to have a guarantee on anything in the real world.
I think it’s the same with America’s stance towards Mexicans and laborers. While I can see that migrant laborers have their history to ground an identity in and a harsh struggle compared to our ridiculously easy lives, I really don’t think putting a human face on it will change much at all. There are human faces everywhere, it’s a matter of whether you want to look – but in the end if you’re looking at one, you’re not looking at an infinite amount of others. There’s a bigger problem here, and the best way I can word it is that there’s no respect and no politeness. American politics and TV culture treats people like “chessmen you move on a board”*, with a little indignation and moral bludgeoning on top as icing on the mudcake. The source of those yellow journalism tactics is, ironically and precisely, human faces. “You don’t support Social Security? Do you want old people to die in the streets?” “You want get rid of the death penalty? What if someone killed your sister?” The Professor talked about how “[Martinez] is a storyteller… not someone trying to push for a political solution”, and that’s why he’s popular. Unfortunately, that is probably why. He is giving political groups free ammunition.
Crossing Over is teaching me to be more respectful, though. So that’s probably good enough.
* a phrase taken from Fight of the Century: Keynes vs Hayek Round Two
I feel that there is something very backwards about the order we learn things in.
With all due respect, the Professor and others talking about how immigrants have been welcomed in and shoved out by California time and time again seem to be talking about it like it’s something special. To us, of course, it is. How could we have known otherwise? My concern is that our response is surprise or outrage, rather than “oh okay, so that’s what specifically happened” and accepting it into a perspective already existing. If we look on the level of personal interactions, people have drama all the time. Housemates might not get along because of some minor conflict over who should be doing what chores, but they head out for dinner and it’s all fine again. If you know two friends and you know they fight pretty regularly, hearing about another fight isn’t going to surprise you – except maybe the minor details. But the existence of a fight fits into the mental framework you already have of them. However if we suddenly we step into politics and history and culture, most of us are surprised when things change over time?
Just a hunch, but I feel fairly certain that this is not just a scaling problem like Dunbar’s number.
I felt no surprise at all when I heard about any of how any of the ethnic groups were discriminated against. There were plenty of things I learned for sure; I’d never heard of the Mexican Repatriation Program or the Apology Act… but even if there was no Apology Act, or if the Apology Act happened today, the overall scene and big picture doesn’t change for me. (Something that would surprise me is if the Mexican Repatriation Program was stopped and the Apology Act was put immediately into place.) But such discrimination, followed a generation and a half later by a meaningless formal apology is nothing special. It seems to be the norm in human relations. Conflict, detente, resolution. Discrimination is also the norm. Politics is simply the same thing on a higher and longer state.
So, why are we surprised?
In everyday life, we are much more efficient about accepting other people’s perspectives. It is impossible to have every person we meet and every stranger we see to be doing exactly as we like. I didn’t like it when the guy left of me on a midterm last Friday wouldn’t stop shaking his hand. I’d prefer it if my math professor was as good as the one that I learn from on YouTube. It’d be fabulous if people riding bikes on campus knew how to use roundabouts properly. But whatever, right? “Deal with it”.
This is the complete opposite in the larger social realm. People actually want to deal with it here. Don’t like how that company treats its employees? Pass a law on it. Don’t like how some people are getting abortions or some other people are getting lower pay? Protest it. Don’t like how people drive cars without paying particular attention to how they’re using it or how they just buy meat and eat it? Stand on street corners and tell them that they’re horrible people and they should feel bad about what they’re doing to the environment and the planet. Everything becomes a one sided story with one storyteller and no history and every dissenter an animal with only near-sighted material concerns. These stories are actually believed by those who hear it – that is to say, us – and then we come to a class like this or watch any historical documentary and half the people say “Wow I didn’t know that” and the other half probably thinks that as well. And then we get right back to telling those stories, like how Operation Wall Street is talking about whatever it is they talk about today.
It just feels like we’re being tooled somehow. We’re able to handle it in our own lives, but the moment we think of something as not “our own lives”, we become these headless chickens? Really now?