First of all, nobody has asked me. My opinions on many topics have been freely available five days a week for nearly a decade. I’m also a committed news junkie. If someone wanted to know my opinion on a political issue, I’m sure I would have been approached. The question then is not whether anyone else thinks I have something of value to add to a discussion, but whether I think I do.
I’m no expert. I have a bachelor’s degree in history, and I have plenty of interesting observations to make about historical trends from antiquity through the Dark Ages through medieval times through the Enlightenment through the American Colonial period through… well, through the present. That’s why I have a household rule that we only discuss pre-Industrial politics. It’s a good way to preserve friendships and maintain a comfortable social setting. Avoiding modern political discussions is the reason we don’t have a double-headed axe embedded in my dining table.
The trouble is, as laypeople, we can’t do much more than follow other people’s reportage. We watch our preferred TV news shows, follow our preferred comedians, read our preferred blogs and news websites, listen to our preferred radio stations and podcasts, and read our preferred magazines, newspapers, and nonfiction books. We fall into one of 2.5 ideological camps, and when we’re exposed to materials from another team’s viewpoint, we go straight to disgust. We’re so polarized that we can only really feel contempt for the Idiots Who are So Stupid as to Believe That Stuff. But it’s not like we’re doing original journalism or any kind of research or investigation ourselves. I include myself in this, of course.
Never read the comments. If I ever stitch another sampler, that’s probably what it will say, and I’ll hang it on the wall above our desktop computer. We had learned not to read the comments of articles before we became active on Facebook, where the problem is nearly as bad. It’s very like a radio. Tune in to a specific station and hear a set type of material. Turn off the radio and turn it on again three years later, and the content will be much the same. I swear I have read the same discussion 20 times, with the same participants holding all the same views and linking to all the same sources, with only the specific current event differing slightly. We’re not changing each other’s minds. All we’re doing is digging in our heels and confirming our own biases a little more every passing day.
In my personal acquaintance, I believe I know two, maybe three, individuals who are truly politically independent (and none of them are me). I would say I know maybe a dozen whose insights are at least somewhat original or who seem able to moderate productive discussions. I follow these conversations, but I almost never have an opinion that hasn’t already been stated by someone else. The vast majority of the time, when I stick my oar in, I wind up wishing I hadn’t. The proverbial “friend of a friend” always seems to show up, and for whatever reason, we feel more comfortable being antagonistic and confrontational with people after that extra degree of separation. All that happens is that I walk away determined to avoid getting sucked into another can’t-win “discussion.”
We can’t agree on universally acceptable sources. We can’t agree on protocol or ways to moderate “debates.” We can’t remain civil. We certainly can’t sway away from our innate ideological feelings. Nothing - absolutely, literally nothing - that we hear or read is ever going to move us into one of the other 1.5 politico-emotional camps. Most of our interactions in these matters are going to result in either loss of respect for people we used to like, or simple confirmation of everything we already thought and believed. What can possibly be gained from this?
As a kid, I overheard my parents having passionate discussions about the news most nights of the week. When we got together with other people, though, I don’t recall this happening. These were private matters. People socialized in person much more often in the 1980s and previously. I was 30 before I started to be widely aware of my acquaintances’ political leanings. This wasn’t because I was unaware of current events; it was because it just didn’t come up in conversation. Things have changed. They’ve changed in an ugly way. I really wish we could reverse direction and learn to lean toward each other, and I think that’s only possible when we change the subject and avoid lay discussions about topics that can only end in mutual irritation.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.