Any time I read an article about Facebook etiquette, it states never to write about politics. You hear the same thing about parties or dates. Never bring up politics. It only will divide people.
I hate that rationale. It only divides people because we allow it to divide us, and honestly, that is what our leaders prefer. It is easy to demonize an argument or a side you don’t agree with if you don’t have to interact with someone who believes it.
I spend a lot of time reading about politics, commenting about politics, and thinking about politics. I am sure many of you wish I would stop. I am sure many of you have decided not to pay attention to any more of my posts. And that is fine. You have that prerogative. But I never will.
Politics is about people. We all have different belief structures and have different images of how the world should work. We get these ideas from many places: our parents, our faith, our education process, our friends, our jobs, and a multitude of other sources. But they come together to create our belief structure. And the way that we shift our belief structures are by living and learning from other people.
For example, I will never own a gun. I will never hold a gun. I want nothing to do with a gun. I don’t believe that I should have anything in my hands that can be triggered to kill anything. I have no interest in hunting for sport or for food and if it came down to that, I would probably just die. But I understand that my opinion is not held by many people. I have read many articles about gun owners. People who have had a tradition of owning guns, hunting with their fathers, and it gives them an identity. I may never understand that – but that may not understand why I love comic books so much. When I read about people who have that emotional attachment to guns, I understand why they want one. When I read about someone who has a gun for protection, though I may not believe it is the best decision, I understand why they want it. But I also believe that a gun owner who does respect the weapon they hold should understand the need for regulation of something that they revere, because there are people who don’t have that same feeling about it. They are people who treat the gun as a toy. It is children who get a hold of it and pretend it is like something they saw in a movie or a television program. But the difference is if you shoot a zombie in a video game or if you shoot a friend in a video game, that friend can come back into the game. So, I do believe there is a discussion there that can be had if both sides take a respectful look at why the other side is concerned.
I have a similar attachment to the First Amendment as many have with the Second Amendment. The ability to say what you want and print it wherever you want is important. But I understand the limitations. You can’t slander someone. You can’t yell obscenities at three in the morning outside of your apartment building. But for example, I believe that someone should have the right to burn the American flag. I don’t want to do it myself and would never stoop to that behavior, but I don’t believe that people should not have that right if they so desire. I understand why it upsets so many people and why they might want to ban it, but just like banning guns doesn’t solve the crime problems in the United States, banning the burning of a flag does not solve the problems of discontent in a political structure.
But if two people can’t sit down and discuss this without resorting to names, then we don’t actually live in a democratic republic. We don’t have control over the issues or what matters to us. Instead, we allows groups of people dictate what we should think. We allow the parties to define themselves and we vote for them in a parliamentary-like system. We allow money handling organizations to put on commercials and force us to believe something that generally is only half true and not be concerned with it – but we love to quote them.
I recently got involved on a Daily Herald message board discussing the deficit. I put out arguments that both sides were at fault and dismissing the claims that President Obama owns all of the fiscal problems we are currently having. I was being honest with my beliefs, but most people believed I was defending the President and at one point called me a communist because I argued that we aren’t discussing the real problems with our budget: Social Security, Medicare, and the military. And I know I am not going to change minds on a message board, but I like the activity. I like having someone push back at my beliefs and I like to be challenged.
When I was a freshman in college, I worked for Illinois PIRG. I went door-to-door raising money to shut down the coal-fired power plants in Illinois. I would annoy people during dinner to tell them of the woes of plants that are still open today. I hated the job. But I didn’t hate it because people closed the door on me. The only people I hated in that regard were those that had Sierra Club stickers on their doors and told me to scram without giving me a second breath. I hated the people who pretended to care but wouldn’t even spend a second listening to my argument. I loved the people who disagreed with me. And I would argue with them why it was problematic. I would discuss the asthma levels and cancer epidemics near the plants. I would talk about other forms of energy that were better for the environment – even nuclear (even though that wasn’t in my pamphlet). I remember one man who I talked to for over ten minutes who didn’t want to hear a word I had to say when I first opened my mouth, but he saw a kid who was doing something he believed in and wanted to hear him out. He argued with me and I argued back. We didn’t raise our voices or call each other names like we were supposed to if we were on the set of a cable news program. And in the end, he looked at me and said, I’m gonna give you five dollars, but you can’t donate it to your cause. I don’t support that, but I’m impressed with you. I smiled and thanked him. And donated the money to my cause against his wishes – but I’m sure he knew I would.
I have many conservative friends. I love my conservative friends. I will listen to their arguments any day of the week. But I want to hear them. And I want to be able to discuss them.
Our political structure is only as good as we are. It is designed as a marketplace of ideas. But we are strapped for ideas because the people in charge don’t want us discussing them and figuring things out on our own. It is far easier to divide us into red and blue states and into liberals and conservatives. We are all Americans. We were given a voice by our Founding Fathers. Use it.