How To: Remember Why We Bother

Politics is a gross, messy thing, like cleaning cat litter or moving dripping garbage or doing your freshman bio fetal pig lab barehanded because you don’t have latex gloves that fit. And just like those gross, messy things, politics is necessary. You could ignore the cat litter or the garbage or the fetal pig lab, but consequences will pile up in ways that will only make the final and inevitable reckoning worse.

In the middle of partisan rancor and shouting matches at Thanksgiving, it’s easy to lose sight of why we bother with politics. That goes for those of us who like politics too. Sometimes, politics feels too terrible, too malign, too petty to deal with. Yet the more we look away, the worse it gets. Without us, politics becomes the leftovers at the back of the fridge that have been there almost long enough to gain sentience.

Since none of us want encounters with Fred, our former meatloaf, we need to take steps to deal with politics now, as it is, in all of its disgusting glory.

First, keep your worldview in mind. The best thing about a worldview is how happy it can make you. I personally enjoy thinking about a better world with the features I most enjoy about today with all the progress I hope to make tomorrow. Even if it’s not for me, the idea of an incredible future for the next generation and the one after that keeps me focused and capable of engaging the now.

Second, remind yourself of improvements. The lives we live now were once someone else’s dream. I have clean water from taps, safe buildings, internet access, an eLibrary app, food without contamination, and a judiciary that can adjudicate any breach in those positives. Those didn’t spring into being, perfect and wonderful: they were built, through legislation, by the work of people before us, and they’ll be maintained as long as we remember to care for them.

That brings us to the next step, and one much more significant than the first two. This isn’t about how we think; this is about how we act. Take one thing that you appreciate today that needs attention and maintenance. It can be K-12 education, the environment, tax rates, infrastructure, civil rights, civil liberties, incarceration, or even why they put that tag on mattresses. Then ask yourself: how does it work? Find out. At the very least, you will learn about other people who care about this issue, who is an expert in the field, news stories done on the issue, who is responsible for legislation on this issue, and its history. This doesn’t have to have a deadline: even reading up for 30 minutes a week can get you caught up really quickly. If one subject isn’t grabbing your attention, move on to another topic that is more interesting.

Finally, compare what you do understand and want to what your elected officials are doing. They don’t necessarily have to fix the issue immediately (that’s a recipe for disappointment), but they do need to acknowledge that there are problems that need solutions. Example: we still have massive power outages in several parts of the country when there are storms because we still run our electrical grid above ground in many places. We could move all these wires underground with a little engineering and a bit of investment, but that’s not happening, costing us millions (billions?) each year in lost productivity and patching the problems. If you live in a place with above-ground power lines, who has a plan to deal with this? Have they explained the benefits and downsides? Will this help with the world you imagine?

A lot of politics is noise. The grossest, most disgusting stuff is done to make us believe or disbelieve certain things, to warp our understanding, to mislead us about where our country is going, and who is responsible for it. The easiest way to avoid the muck isn’t to turn away – the cat litter will not clean itself or get better with neglect. We must be clear about what we want from government, what compromises we’re willing and unwilling to make, and we must push our elected officials for clear answers to the problems we see.

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