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Why I’m Ignoring the 2012 Election (mostly)

I honestly think I’m going to sit out the 2012 elections. I’ll vote, of course, but I’m going to try to avoid arguments and day-to-day news.

I just can’t see the point. I’m not talking about apathy. I have very strong opinions, as anyone who has talked to me about this junk knows. But I honestly don’t know what the point of arguing about an election actually does. I don’t know what paying attention to day-to-day politics does.

Usually, in one of these debates, the supposed point is to convince the other person to vote for your candidate of choice. Short of the occasional political equivalent of being born-again, however, when does that actually happen? If you’re lucky, you end up with a fun and engaging intellectual exchange. Too often, though, people get bogged down with identity politics and inconsequential bullshit.

For those of you who will jump head-first into this election season (masochists), here are my suggestions:

  • Always ask yourself, “what would convince me that I’m wrong?” There should always be something — perhaps many things — that would convince you that you’re wrong. If your answer is “nothing”, you are not engaged in a real debate, and you’re not being intellectually honest. If the only thing that will convince you is extremely far-fetched to the point of being effectively impossible, you’re also not thinking it through. And if you’ve ever said, “If [politician] told me that 2 + 2 = 4, I would not believe them”, at best you’re not being funny (it’s a tired joke). At worst you’re betraying irrational partisanship disguised as humor.
  • Remember that “liberals” and “conservatives” are your family, neighbors, co-workers, etc. They are good people who want to live in a just society. No one wants to ruin the country. If you assert that “liberals” or “conservatives”, or even a “liberal” or a “conservative” are evil, you being uncharitable, even dishonest.
  • If you’re going to pay attention to political news, avoid the day-to-day news cycle. That means no cable news. The job of cable news is to retain viewers so that they can retain advertisers. That doesn’t mean they are complete bullshit, but it does mean they will gin up controversy over trivial “news”. In fact, any shallow political reporting should be avoided, whether on television, radio, the Internet, etc.
  • Don’t pretend that radio/opinion show hosts are in any way objective. If you’ve ever said, “just listen to [personality] for a while” or something along those lines, think about what that means and why listening to a radio show can, over time, convince you of their point of view.
  • Pay attention to your own reaction when you see an “R” or a “D” next to someone’s name. Be honest with yourself. Does it color your interpretation of what they’re saying? Remember that the easiest way to bullshit others is to bullshit yourself.
  • This is not the most important election. Even if it is the most important election in the history of the republic, anyone telling you that is trying to manipulate you. Recognize that come election season, candidate X , despite what many people will say, is not the most liberal/conservative or radical/reactionary candidate in history. If you believe that, you’re being manipulated. If you say that, you’re being manipulative. And you are, for all intents and purposes, wrong.
  • Patriotism is not a legitimate political position. It is a sentiment. An often harmful one, at that. You can love your country and love your ancestry, but recognize that it’s a personal preference; a sentiment. Saying, “America is the greatest country in the world” is a meaningless statement at best. It’s about as intellectually relevant as “Tacos rule!” I’m not denigrating America, anymore than saying the same thing about the statement “X-Files was the best sci-fi show ever!” means that I don’t like the X-Files. I think my mom is the best mom ever. That doesn’t mean that anyone who disagrees with me hates my mom or that I should throw a hissy fit.
  • Talking about “character” is usually an appeal to your irrational prejudices and biases. “Restoring dignity” and the like are similar.
  • Calling a candidate an idiot is mean-spirited and extremely unhelpful. Claims to intellectual superiority ring about as true as statements of superiority by school-yard bullies. Moreover, it’s fallacious and losing strategy. George W. Bush’s supposed intellectual deficiencies did little to keep him out of office.
  • Do you make fun of soccer moms? Latte-sipping liberals? You’re being an ugly bully and you’re spewing prejudicial bullshit. Correct that.
  • Are you conspiracy-minded? Have you used the term “Manchurian Candidate” to describe any politician? Realize that you are not being “open-minded” — you’re likely suffering from confirmation bias.
  • Are you a single-issue voter? You’re free to do that, but you’re being lazy, and you’re likely a hypocrite.
  • We don’t live in tribes anymore, at least not in American society (outside of street gangs). Recognize that our brains haven’t adjusted to this reality. That’s why we argue so viciously. That’s why we care what celebrities and politicians do/think/fart. Try to keep things in perspective.
  • Your political hero from yesteryear was much more liberal/conservative than your memory admits.
  • There aren’t two sides to any argument. There are many, many more.

I could go on, but I’m rambling.

I’m not saying that these things will help you win arguments, or even keep you sane. It’s precisely these things that make me want to avoid this sort of discussion at all. It puts you at a disadvantage, because almost no one follows most of these “rules”. I certainly have a hard time following them.

That said, I will get into the occasional discussion. I can’t help it. At the end of the day, I live for good arguments. I feel like I’m getting dumber if I don’t engage in these sort of discussions on occasion. But I won’t debate stupid “political” nonsense other than to call it out as exactly that: nonsense. I try to be respectful (or at least diplomatic) but I have no patience for appeals to emotion, conspiracy theories, slippery-slope arguments, etc. And that’s what dominates election-season discussions.

I recognize that plenty of family and friends don’t like to debate with me, precisely because I have a low tolerance for certain lines of discussion. I probably need to work on that.

To a larger point — do political arguments ever make people happy? Does it ever accomplish good? If so, is that enough to balance out the all the negatives that usually result?

And (to people I know personally) do you really want me to hide or block your posts to facebook/twitter because you buy into and repeat nonsense? It’s entirely possible that that doesn’t bother you. In which case, go nuts. I probably won’t block you, but no promises.

(As an aside, part of my motivation for writing this stems from something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately — the propensity for people to be mean, especially on the Internet. This is well-travelled ground, but I find myself increasingly irritated and upset when otherwise intelligent, kind people say hateful, stupid things. Do you say nasty things about hipsters, soccer moms, “guidos”? Do you say nasty things about celebrities? Have you ever called someone a “fanboy”? Do you think most people are stupid? If so, you may want to ask yourself some serious questions.)

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One Response to “Why I’m Ignoring the 2012 Election (mostly)”

  1. Vanessa Says:

    I’ve followed your site off and on for a long while now, and this is the first thing that has brought me “out of the closet” so to speak and prompted me to post. I have to say, this is brilliant! And, though I have a higher tolerance for political discussions than you do, it does make me miss talking politics with you. I hope that all is going well in your life and that you enjoy fewer and fewer political “debates” in the near future.

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