Abandon the Search for Meaning in Politics, It Won’t Come.
Pause for a moment and ponder—does the trivial portion of political discourse truly matter in terms of your own happiness in life? Genuine contemplation of this question could benefit everyone from that fearless warrior for truth, Jim Acosta, to a Senator on the floor and to anyone who experiences political stress. Clearly, policy matters. I spend a third of my waking hours running a political publication, I know policy matters. What I speak of is the everyday, never-ending feed of political squabbling. It’s exhausting. You know as much as I.
Marcus Aurelius, a philosopher-king if there ever was one, in his guidebook of sorts to the Stoic’s way of living, Meditations, advises to “Keep a list before your mind of those who burned with anger and resentment about something, […] Then ask yourself how did that work out? Smoke and dust, the stuff of simple myth trying to be Legend …” This is the Stoic’s view, and we can all benefit from shifting perspective in the way Aurelius might prescribe.
Why not, when Donald Trump releases a typically petty and inconsequential tweet, simply laugh about it and consider the adverse effects over-sensitivity and egotism have on his life. After all, how does his scorn for linebackers taking a knee affect your pursuit of happiness? Why not disagree with him politically and also pity him for how enslaved he is to his own ego? Why not, when someone greets your admitting to a conservative bias with contempt, laugh and take the opportunity to clarify your beliefs? If they persist in an illiberal way, persist in a patient way. Continued frustration indicates an inability to truly listen. After all, it is likely that upon hearing that trigger word, “conservatism,” they think more of Steve Bannon than of Thomas Sowell. An inability to listen indicates that you are unwilling to alter your opinion. An unwillingness to alter your opinion means either that you are in full understanding of either side of every issue or are uninterested in the true betterment of society. I am not aware of anyone in the former group. So admit when you are in the dark on something and concede when you are unsure whether the data supports your logic. This strategy rarely results in long-term frustration. In fact, it’s a wonderful debate tool as well, for it communicates genuine interest in the truth and exposes an opponent who lacks it.
Perception, it’s important to note, is equally essential. And, above all else in my mind, I find the notion of discovering meaning in life in the realm of American politics to be an entirely unfulfilling quest. Truth is, we live in a wondrous society: inequality before the law is near non-existent and the ability to pursue happiness without interference from the government endures (though in this editor’s opinion it could use some tweaks).
Overall, we are free. Free to choose our work, free to choose our family, free to raise children and teach them how to employ the freedoms with which they are privileged and endowed.
We are free to choose, yet what is it that we too often choose? We choose to wallow in fruitless partisan skirmishes.
Why is this a bad thing, you ask? Consider for a moment what change outside of a spiked blood pressure that you’ve spurred in a screaming match over policy. Consider what contribution to society you make by tweeting obscenities at Trump or hurling mean spirited remarks at the sensitivities of so-called snowflakes. Unless you deem your fleeting senses of catharsis contributions to the greater good, you’ve contributed nothing. More importantly, consider how much you have learned about the world and about yourself in those instances…
Of course, there is a need for the discussion of politics; and there is certainly a place for passion in those discussions. It matters. It matters and yet, at the same time, it also definitely does not warrant however much time you spend arguing uncivilly on Facebook. I must say: I fall victim to the same fits of sensitivity, of outrage, and of pettiness even still.
But it’s my intended perception—that most people want the best for themselves, for the country, and for its people and that a genuinely respectful discussion of ideas will result in such a realization—that guides me away from the stressful, defensive tirades and toward friendly inquisition. No one can claim even consistency, let alone purity on this front, not Socrates, not Abe Lincoln, certainly not me, but a shift in perspective makes all the difference.
Now, before I am accused of neglecting some entity for whom any one policy benefits, let me point out that such an accuser should first ask themselves what lead them to their claim. Was it a genuine observation stemming from what I’ve written to this point? Or was it a more perverse motive—one stemming less from what I’ve written and more from a search for confirmation?
For extra measure on the topic, though: There is a dire need for outrage over injustice, over a lack of freedom, over a lack equality in opportunity for any individual in the country. No average individual would genuinely disagree with this, though they may be caught up in the idea that they are defending themselves from a personal attack (the result of warped perception, yet again).
From observations both of my own behavior and that of others, I hold that the latter is often the case. Here’s another thing I’ve noticed: that approach is neither fruitful for any cause nor does it add genuine meaning to life. How could the search for opportunities to confirm one’s own virtue or correctness possibly lend any further significance or happiness to your existence?
Humans are instinctively inclined to act illogically when their preconceptions are challenged. It is the basis of tribalism and the foundation of identity politics. Rather than inquire and chip away at the truth, our instinct is to double down, to get louder and more accusatory. It is inevitable, but we are exceptional beings. We overcame the need to hunt and gather during all our waking hours. We overcame the need for a monarch to give order to society. And we overcame the destructive idea of racial superiority. The next step in the process is a similarly important one, for it pertains to the happiness of every American. Godspeed.
This piece is adapted from one of the same name in the Fall 2017 edition of The Arch Conservative in print.
—Nick Geeslin is Editor-in-Chief of The Arch Conservative.