Welp, I’ve been served. We’ve all been served. I’m going to have to grind my teeth and read Prof. Eitan Hersh’s book, “Politics is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change”. And then I’ll have to get out of the house more often.
Many college-educated people think they are deeply engaged in politics. They follow the news—reading articles like this one—and debate the latest developments on social media. They might sign an online petition or throw a $5 online donation at a presidential candidate. Mostly, they consume political information as a way of satisfying their own emotional and intellectual needs. These people are political hobbyists. What they are doing is no closer to engaging in politics than watching SportsCenter is to playing football.“College-Educated Voters Are Ruining American Politics” – Eitan Hersh, The Atlantic
Now, I would say that I’ve been involved in face-to-face politics; but not on a day-to-day, prolonged basis for quite a while … probably since I had kids. That’s a major factor: Many times I’ve felt like I’ve been the only person between the ages of 25 and 65 at a rally or canvass. Where’s my age cohort? Probably with the kids — or avoiding the kids, but in any event living their lives in that orbit. Who can blame them?
And I always imagined that this blog — and social media in general — would be best as a reflection and a report of things we were doing in meat-space. Back when we started BMG, I was going to GBIO meetings, and Cambridge ward meetings at the encouragement of the recently-defeated Presidential candidate John Kerry, who told people to build back the party from the ground up. That was a lifetime ago — literally two kids ago. Life intervenes, as they say; that’s not an excuse, that’s just an excuse. Now I’ve managed to get myself onto Arlington Town Meeting, so woot for me.
There’s a smart person I know who grew up playing a lot of video games. And she said once that they make you feel entitled, because you feel like you’re doing something, like you’re accomplishing something, and the game gives you that satisfaction. But in reality, you’re not doing anything! Similarly, by game-ifying social interaction — clicks! new comments! engagements! — Twitter, Facebook, and blogs (old-fashioned as they are) became substitutes for real-world action. They have replaced relational politics, the face-to-face that’s necessary to break down walls, build trust and build actual real-life power to change things. So these self-satisfying forms of “engagement” may be useful to those who would keep progressives penned-up, in blue-states and blue bubbles.
But that stuff is scary, and inconvenient. (And actually right now — impossible.). Honestly, I don’t love canvassing (except when I do); and I’m not super-gregarious (except when I am); I don’t like talking with people I don’t know (except when I do), who aren’t like me (except in the ways that they are), certainly not about politics (except when I do). But this is the job that’s in front of us. And it’s normal, and even reassuring, and yes, empowering — even as we’re required to be vulnerable and risk losing.
Does this quote by philosopher Martha Nussbaum sound like politics-via-social-media?
Being a human means accepting promises from other people and trusting that other people will be good to you. When that is too much to bear, it is always possible to retreat into the thought, “I’ll live for my own comfort, for my own revenge, for my own anger, and I just won’t be a member of society anymore.” That really means, “I won’t be a human being anymore.”
You see people doing that today where they feel that society has let them down, and they can’t ask anything of it, and they can’t put their hopes on anything outside themselves. You see them actually retreating to a life in which they think only of their own satisfaction, and maybe the satisfaction of their revenge against society. But the life that no longer trusts another human being and no longer forms ties to the political community is not a human life any longer.Brainpickings: “Philosopher Martha Nussbaum on How to Live with Our Human Fragility”
On balance, I imagine that Hersh could be a bit less judgey, a bit more encouraging for people who find it difficult to get out of the house for various reasons; who are shy; or reticent. But he’s right — this isn’t simply a thing for “political dorks”, for the kinds of people who do those kinds of things. It’s for everyone, and it has life and death consequences. It’s power.
In other words, be like Kate Donaghue. And less extremely on-line. And I can attest, that one hits a rib on the way in.