Sometimes people (and my own overactive conscience) tell me I should talk and write more about “politics,” particularly the sensational stuff covered in the national media. This makes me cringe.
I tend to think that by quietly advocating for a simple morality, a lot gets said without being verbalized. Life gets simpler as I get older, and I think a lot of problems disappear when we try every day to do a little better at the three Big Rules.
- BE SMART
- BE STRONG
- BE KIND
Now, I’m not going to write a treatise on morality or geopolitics. I’ll simply say that after thinking about teachings from wise mentors over the years, and after seeing the bizarre times we’ve all been subjected to (I’m talking about the vast majority of reasonable humans who don’t like the extremists that dominate headlines on all sides) — after all that, I do think local politics is a valid place for citizens who want to get engaged and make real change. It’s certainly the place where individuals and small groups have the most influence, and I see meaningful changes constantly at the local level around the country.
But in terms of the national stuff we see on tv, on the internet, in magazines — the splashy, WWE, knock-down drag-out insanity and ridiculousness — so many of the so-called “culture wars” and “identity politics” and nineteen billion -isms designed to be so outrageous as to get more “likes” or “comments” online and generate revenue — well, let’s just say that a pretty powerful pattern emerges from a careful study of current events and the past 10,000 years of recorded history.
The entertainment genre and religion that Americans call “Politics” is a distraction from the careful consolidation of wealth by the powerful and power by the wealthy.
“Politics” dehumanizes and divides the overwhelming majority of decent, intelligent people in the world; this provides cover for interest groups and corporations to redistribute wealth, sow disinformation, and harm democracy.
There are an awful lot of great minds who have tackled this in depth, from Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn to Matt Taibbi and other younger voices; an academic discussion of the Virginia School, the “Kochtopus,” the perverse way extremists on both “sides” seem to be proving “Horseshoe Theory,” and so much else is simply beyond our scope here.
But with a planet on fire, democracy faltering in the U.S. and many other nations, the worldwide rise of totalitarian trends, daily human rights crises, and an accelerating Anthropocene Mass Extinction, I simply do not feel that the meaningless circus on TV and social media is going to help real people solve real problems that really matter.
So yes. I’m sick of labels, -isms, tribes, doctrines, political cults, and all the rest of it. Horseshoe theory may not be all that nutty after all as a small number of extremists hijack both traditional “sides” in so many areas of the culture. I simply do not think the old words and labels work anymore for over 300,000,000 individuals.
We need new, more accurate labels – or, better yet, we need to stop worshiping labels altogether and embrace individualism, a lost art that we pay lip service to while living as a mindless herd to enjoy the comforts of group-think.
I have noticed something about a lot of these viral left-wing and right-wing conspiracy theories, as opposed to real-world conspiracies, which are exposed by brave reporters and whistleblowers every day. We spend so much time looking for monsters in the closet that we fail to see the repo man coming to evict us illegally. I and regular people like me will never, ever know the secrets of who runs things or how depraved things are at the top levels of wealth and power, though history indicates it’s probably awful. Still, all we need to know is that money and power often attract amoral bullies, and strong democracies help prevent sociopaths (or corporations) from bullying everyone else. I’m not interested in the latest anti-science Covid meme or the latest lazy, anti-Semitic resurrection of Nazi propaganda. (Edward Snowden has many smart things to say about conspiracy theories vs. real-world conspiracies, a term he coined).
Put simply, I think if our species is going to survive, all of us on all “sides” are going to have to put down our weapons, our precious word-games, and our ridiculous costumes and start talking to each other like human beings and working together.
Religion, and “politics,” and so many other empty labels will become increasingly meaningless if we continue to ignore existential threats that affect us all. I don’t look for salvation from the Elephants and I don’t look for salvation from the Donkeys.
As always, salvation (if it comes) is something that regular people are going to have to build for ourselves with elbow grease and teamwork.
We don’t have to agree on everything. We don’t even have to like each other. But we face an increasingly simple, stark choice:
We will either learn to work together, or we will die together.
As far as I’m concerned, that blows a lot of stuff out of the water, including all the bumper stickers and self-righteous screaming and “likes” from my old online echo chambers. We need to put away childish things. Now’s the time to be smart, now’s the time to be grown-ups.
So to summarize:
- BE SMART
- BE STRONG
- BE KIND