Politics baffle me – it always feels like I’m coming in at the last five minutes of a two hour conversation, wherein everything important has already been understood, and people are using verbal shortcuts for reasoning and positions that have long ago been established. So whenever I tried eating lunch with the social studies teacher at my school, he would make comments intimating that anyone who wished to vote for McCain over Obama was a fool, and then mentioned a couple of tired cliches (blood for oil, hope and change, “yes we can,” etc) as shorthand for why, without ever bothering to consider that there are real, thinking people on the other side. Conservatives sometimes do this as well – the conversation is too big not to, I suppose, but it still seems somewhat troublesome, especially in groups (in my experience schools on the liberal side, and certain configurations of evangelicals on the conservative) where there is no dissent.
But what I wanted to write about wasn’t so much that, which isn’t bothering me at the moment, as my vast ignorance, and the question of weather I want to do anything about it. The fact is, people can either actually learn about politics, history, and keep up with current event – and make a point of remembering particulars – or we can bandy more or less useless opinions.
To take an example – perhaps a month ago I was disagreeing with J__ on a news item – Spain had apparently condemned President Bush as a war criminal because prisoners were tortured under his administration – I said that that sounded nutty, and J__ said that it was justified. I can’t accurately say that either of us argued anything, because we didn’t. We asserted. I can’t much speak for J__, but on my part I couldn’t have argued, properly speaking, even given time, paper, and interest, because I would have had no idea not only what exactly happened, but even what sources to trust to correctly report what had happened. And even given some understanding of that, I have no understanding of law, international relations, or morality as applied to government. As a Christian, I would say we ought to love our enemies. Part of loving our enemies probably entails not torturing them, even if it results in death. Which is one reason we’re fortunate that the Church is not a government. That very powerful governments *are* run by democracies with majority Christian populations is confusing to me – Christianity is not pacifist, for many great Christians have been soldiers. But militarism is not entirely congruent with it either, since killing is tragic even in a good cause. Sometimes it’s necessary – but never desirable. But I’m glad *I* don’t have to decide what is and is not necessary – that would be terrible. Democratic theory states , however, that in some degree I am. Democratic citizens should have informed opinions on these matters. As I never follow any issue intently enough to have any but the vaguest idea of the particulars entailed, my opinions are obviously not well informed. Do I have an obligation to do something about that? Should I read Christian political theorists (which ones?) and the news? What news? From what source? I don’t especially want to, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an obligation. In answer to my fellow teacher’s sneers my only response was a timid assertion that I didn’t think President Obama would be a fantastic president, and that he was overstating his merits. In the process I sounded more cynical than I really am. I didn’t even get to the point of bringing up the actual reasons I had for not supporting him – that didn’t have much experience, that he was likely to spend government money on things that the government has no right doing, that I disagreed with him on abortion, and that, in general, I’d prefer some unlikely to be able to rally congress to change much of anything.
When I’m living in my parents’ house I end up listening to a lot of talk radio – and while the ones my parents listen to sound reasonable, I don’t learn much there either. At best I listen with half an ear, and forget any facts they cite an instant later. I hardly want to pay greater attention, because that is not conducive to inner peace, and seems like a waste of attention besides. If I never had the radio on again I don’t think I would be missing out on anything important.
So what is it – do I try to become an informed citizen or not? Is it worth it? It’s certainly not going to work by perusing blogs and having talk radio on in the background. Or is this one I can just sit out, and accept whatever happens?