an old friend of mine and i have been having a friendly email debate the last couple of days, a little of which i'd like to share with you. basically it goes like this [my remarks in green, and nothing's been altered other than the omission of a friend's name]:
just out of curiosity, what do you think about the notion that if you don't participate you don't get to complain?
I think there's a name for that logic fallacy, but I can't remember it. I should have paid more attention when I was a philosophy major. Or just hang out with the [name withheld] brothers more often.
But I do have some pat responses: have you ever complained about the taste of food you didn't make? Have you ever complained about anything that you didn't participate in the creation of, because that's essentially where that logic goes. And to say that not voting is not participating is only one part of the truth -- you're still participating because you're bound by the laws of the land. You've just recognized that the political system in a democracy is essentially a way to focus attention away from the real problems -- who has the money. The ones with the money are the ones that matter, the ones that set policy, control and value currencies, influence the price of goods etc etc. And they aren't elected, they're born.
Politics is the wool pulled over your eyes :-)
Oh yeah and I don't complain much to be honest. The biggest problem in my view is the falling value of the dollar and that's really got very little to do with presidents and congressmen (and the ones it does have to do with aren't ones you can vote for, like say the ones in China). Of course I could be lazy and wrong. who knows?
"you mean my whole fallacy is wrong?"
-marshall mchluan, in 'annie hall'
i hear you... i don't believe that politics is the wool etc. but i hear you.
i guess my thing is that i complain a fucking lot and i feel like i'm only entitled to do so because i'm engaged and i pull that lever every two or four years. you follow? i do, of course, recognize that the aristocracy and subsequent avarice of those individuals in this country is largely the problem, the 'elephant in the smoke- filled back room' if you will. but still, i can't [nor am i saying that you are] surrender to cynicism and it's attendant apathy. 'cause then, in my mind, i'm no better than the hippies in the haight who ask me for money, the hipsters in williamsburg who care only about their next pair of tight black jeans and ironic ms. pac man shirts, or the rich kids who work for nothing and who's very parents we're talking about in the first place. you dig?
never said i wasn't a self- righteous didact, though. you gotta give me that. also you should come out and visit sometime.
he also, in a further email, goes on to say this:
[and] I've been wanting to open a store in Athens, I don't have a name yet but the slogan will be 'for all your hipster needs' and the only item I'll carry is a full line of white belts.
so...what do you think? i'm interested. i've written in the past on my obsessive need to feel engaged. and i do believe that "surrender[ing] to cynicism and it's attendant apathy" is dangerous and to be avoided to at all costs.
but, i can't help wondering: why do i care so much?
in a sense, i genuinely envy my friend, who is by no means unengaged but at the same time does not share my hybrid hope for a better tomorrow/ self- righteous partisan rancor.
he goes on, in an even further email, to say this:
I don't vote, I never have voted and I intend to make it to the end of
my life without voting. Any time someone learns this about me they
seem somehow offended, so here's my reasoning.
I don't vote because I am happier when I don't get involved in
politics. The political system is at its core divisive, pitting an
"us" against a "them," which to my mind is an unhealthy thing to do
and in the end leaves me feeling isolated from, rather than connected
to, the people I'm sharing this planet with. So I have chosen not to
participate. (As a corollary, I also reject just about any 'ism' you
can think of for the same reasons).
As we're all aware, there are plenty of problems in the world and a key
element of the political process seems to arguing about who has the
best solutions, which not only fails to actually implement those
solutions, but further divides us up and draws focus away from the
actual problems (which the conspiracy- minded among you will argue is
deliberate though I personally don't have the heart for such
If we really wanted to solve the problems we would try every idea we
could get our hands on, even if we didn't agree with them. That we
don't do that and instead argue about the solutions has bred into us a
very corrosive cynicism.
So I don't engage in political debate (of which voting is one form)
because it seems counterproductive to its own aims and because it
creates needless division between people when in fact what we need is
to recognize our interconnectedness. At the end of day your political
beliefs say very little about you and frankly, aren't that interesting
-- they're really just a socio-cultural way of acting out basic
mammalian territory disputes.
...which i think, more or less, is a reasonably thoughtful and cool way of thinking about things. and my friend hits on something even more interesting to me when he states, "at the end of the day your political beliefs say very little about you". is that true? [additionally, did i just channel chris farley just now?]
but seriously, is that true? i'm not sure.
so let's recap thus far: why do i feel the almost intractable need to be hyper- engaged, to the point that i'm on news sites ten times a day starving for headlines and analysis? and why do i get so emotionally involved, especially around election time but basically always, with what's going on in american politics? and, finally, what, if anything, does that say about me?
i was thinking about this in the car on my way home from my volunteer gig tonight and was relating our different worldviews a bit to my taste in and love of music, in particular [in this case] mainstream music, as opposed to more fringe-y acts-- coming up with cute little quips like 'while i love both, i'd take the beatles every day of the week over beat happening', etc. but upon further post- tofu dinner ponderance i realize that to do that marginalizes him in a way that i consider neither fair nor accurate. nor does it explain the differences between other, less politically- savvy friends of mine's worldviews who are otherwise way more mainstream than i consider myself to be.
i then thought of my father-- also an extremely engaged actor in the never- ending show that is american politics [though we disagree on mostly everything]-- and wondered if it was a nature versus nurture kind of thing, that i was born into a house where the news simply was always just on and somebody was always screaming at it over something, and that that kind of thing is just in my dna. and that may be a part of it, though chelsea clinton may not be into politics, i don't know, and the bush twins certainly don't seem to be.
but i think it may just come down to this: hero worship. my heroes have always been people like john lennon, joe strummer, 'bloom county', charlie chaplin, r.e.m. circa 'lifes rich pageant' and 'document' , and my father-- outspoken activists all-- and that's who i've at least partially modeled myself on as an adult. what does that say about me? i'm not sure. i'll let you decide.
i guess i've figured out that what i think is cool is to be engaged and outspokenly active because the people who i think are cool were/ are engaged and outspokenly active. like cary grant said: "i pretended to be somebody i wanted to be until finally i became that person. or he became me".
who are your heroes? what did they do with their lives?
ps. special thanks again to my friend scott for humoring me through this [and for the oh- so- true onion link]. like i told him earlier today [via email], "if one- tenth of what i put out there is one- tenth as profound as i was hoping for, i'm basically satisfied." well he helped engender this whole thing today and i'm going to bed smiling.
also i'd like to reprint his hilarious joke:
q: why do hipsters always suck at karate?
a: they always quit after they get the white belt.
addendum: i would hope that this goes without saying but it occurs to me to say it anyway-- what i believe to be right in this world has only been infuenced to a certain point by these other, aforementioned, people. it would gall me to think that anyone thought otherwise. there, i said it.