A Political Disclaimer: Words Mean Things

Time is awful and we should get rid of it. This is a petulant way of saying I resent getting older, for which I blame the passage of time. This is also a paradoxical notion, because I’m here to tell you that I’d much rather be 38 than 18 again. Maybe 28… nah, I’m in a better place now, both literally and figuratively. For instance, I have this blog, which I have maintained pretty much weekly for nearly two years now. Teenage me never would have had the stamina to keep that up, and I’m pretty happy with my output so far. For those keeping score, which is to say me, that’s several hundred thousand words written about works of media vaguely related to the notion of apocalypse. I intend to keep doing that, I still find it fun and challenging to write about the media I consume. Also it helps me remember what I read and play and watch better, with the extra added bonus of (hopefully) improving my writing.

Time’s a bitch, y’all.

All that said, it’s time to start mixing it up a bit, and that’s what I’m doing here. I’m still planning on publishing a couple of normal articles a week, but here in the middle of the week will be a piece of writing that may or may not have anything to do with other people’s fiction. Sometimes I do other kinds of writing, who says I don’t!? Anyway, I don’t have any solid plans or anything, but I do have a few ideas that might be fun. I might try some travel writing, or food writing, or ruminations on doing outdoorsy shit. I will probably post some original fiction at some point, if I can ever force my brain into following through. If there’s any disappointment I have about this hobby of mine is that despite being in the habit of writing, I still have trouble writing fiction. I think I’ve been trying to write the same short story for the last two years. I produce like a sentence a month and it’s just awful, so we’ll see if this helps. I hope it does. So those are some of the things I might do for funsies, and hopefully they’ll appeal to the 15 to 20 people a day who show up either deliberately or accidentally. I know my mom at least will enjoy having something to read other than reviews for books she’s never gonna read.

There is, of course, one other thing I probably won’t be able to keep myself from writing about, because it’s 2017, and we are going through some things as a country. Politics, y’all. I have them. Occasionally they seep into my articles, although it’s just as likely I’m referencing the politics of 1920’s England as opposed to whatever the fuck is happening now. We can’t hide from political discussion, however, because, and listen very closely: everything in life is political. Nothing is more frustrating than people trying to deflect discourse because they’re just “trying to escape,” or say things like “I’m not really political.” And, okay, I feel you. I get it. I’m not a political junkie, I’m not constantly watching C-SPAN, I don’t have a favorite pundit, I generally don’t read op-eds, and I definitely don’t hit up Twitter or Facebook to pick fights with people. However, it’s important to understand that just because you’re not specifically engaging in a discussion about the American political situation in 2017, you’re still a political person.

political disclaimer1

I might talk about politics in this space, but I have no desire to ever look at politicians. Thankfully, I’ve found an image surrogate for the president.

I’m going to get a little semantic, and fuck you if you think that’s an inherently bad thing. Sorry, that was aggressive, but dammit I’m a Master of English and words mean things for a reason. “Semantics” are important, and boy is it frustrating to see that word trotted out anytime someone wants to dismiss an argument. Anyway, let’s dial it back, I want to talk about what politics are, and what that word means. So I guess I’ll define the word the way I’m using it when I say that everything in life is political. I’m obviously not talking about quibbling over how the government functions. Politics, in this wide, general sense, is the way in which we engage with other individuals within a society. That’s a broad definition! But it’s an important distinction. Everyone, as an individual with their own unique life experience, has a set of values and ethics and ideas which are important to them. Those things guide almost every single interaction we have with people, and are inherent to relationships we build throughout the society in which we live. We engage with politics every time we talk about, well, anything because those values, ethics, and ideas guide our interests and inform how we act in the world.

That’s why the attitude of “I read books/play games/watch TV or movies to escape” is utterly confusing to me. Every work of art – and yes, semantics again but in this instance let’s define “art” as a creative product of humans – has a point of view. Even the most vapid Hollywood dreck (and you know I’m excited for Geostorm) is a product of a team of humans. Those humans have values, ethics, and ideas, all of which inform how they create. Obviously, some of these viewpoints are more pointed than others. I play a lot of video games, and there’s a world of difference politically between something like Super Mario Odyssey (which goddammit, I need a Switch) and Wolfenstein 2. However, both of those games has a point of view and is actively saying something about the world. I guess I’m arguing for more precision in language, which at this stage in my life I should recognize as a lost cause. Rather, I wish more people would embrace art – all of it, even bad sitcoms – as inherently political and at least try to understand why they’re attracted to a particular work.

political disclaimer3

Comrade Mario looks disdainfully at the filthy bourgeois capitalist as he runs to a meeting with the New Donk City Socialist Party.

I bring this up because I see it a lot when people are discussing media in general, and those discussions provide a reason I don’t generally actively engage directly with more specific political discourse. It’s rough out there, y’all, and I definitely understand how people can get exhausted. Not to “both sides” you, but regardless of your political beliefs – those values, ethics, and ideas that inform your entire life – trying to talk to other people who don’t share those beliefs is taxing. Especially when it seems like the person you’re talking to appears to share your basic values, ethics, and ideas but somehow draw an entirely different conclusion than you. Normally, that would be a basis for a discussion that might prove enlightening to both parties, but you know as well as I do that shit don’t work like that no more.

I’m liberal as fuck, which should surprise no one. When I get introspective and try and figure out what that is, I think at heart it’s because I’m a cynic. I know progressives get the stereotype of being wide-eyed, innocent optimists, and sometimes that’s earned, but really the tenants of 2017 liberalism are rooted in dismay over how humans treat each other. My perspective is fairly simple: due to my life experience coupled with my understanding of human history, I accept that people will treat each other terribly if given the opportunity. In order to prevent this, we need to leverage social power to protect those who are more likely to be vulnerable. Because everyone deserves a chance to live their life without someone else trying to wreck their shit up. Obviously I’m not alone in that sentiment, even among conservatives. Where it all tends to break down is during the discourse.

It’s all about the win, and while I’m not convinced that political discourse hasn’t always been awful, it’s clear the Internet has exacerbated the situation. Kind of like how climate change doesn’t create hurricanes, but definitely makes them worse. I tend not to engage online because it feels like 99% of the time I find myself not having a discussion, but playing a sport. And hey, I like sports just fine, go Hawks or whatever, but when trying to understand other people’s values, ethics, and ideas it’s counterproductive to try and win. What do I get if I win? What happens if I lose? So either the discussion immediately devolves into trying to score the most points, be it by sick burns or gotcha arguments, or the discussion becomes abstracted to the point of irrelevance. Neither situation is particularly revelatory, so why bother? It’s like debating smoke.

political disclaimer2

In this visual metaphor, I use imagery from a popular television show to depict my frustration with current political discourse. Also I’m way hotter in this metaphor.

Here’s the deal: I am more than happy to discuss world events with people who do not agree with me, but I am not interested bad-faith arguments. And straight up, conservatives do this all the time. Yeah yeah, liberals have their own bubbles and biases, but over the last twenty-five years conservatives have perfected the art of the bad faith debate. I’m running out of space here, so maybe I’ll circle back to how the “Conservative Revolution” of the early 90’s did more damage to political discourse than anything else in recent history someday. Suffice to say, the tactics have been streamlined and codified, and are used almost unilaterally among American conservatives. Deflect, obfuscate, blame-shift, and evade. These tactics are designed to “win” at all costs. The subject of the debate doesn’t matter, what matter are the rhetorical tricks. Labels “win” arguments. Finding a single error or inconsistency “wins.” Pointing out that your opponent is not able to account for very single variable “wins.” It’s tiresome and pointless. Words mean things. They matter. The way you phrase a thought is important. Until I start hearing arguments that are more than just bullet points from Fox News, I guess I just don’t see the point. And that’s a bummer.

Hey, that was kind of fun! Next week I probably won’t talk about politics, but I might! Who knows? We’ll see if these kind of articles matter to anyone other than myself, I guess.

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