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February 20, 2014

Are We Getting Too Political About Everything?

We discussed James Poulos' assertion that the right is making "everything" political on the podcast (which will be posted tomorrow).

I have a few thoughts. First, we generally tend to make fun of the left for reading a Political Message into every mundane act. Mary Katharine Ham related a story of a FaceBook friend who had -- oh no! -- been forced to buy Barilla pasta because it was the only gluten-free brand available. He had the vapors as he attempted to seek advice as to which gay cause he should donate to, to expunge himself of sin. (Barilla's CEO said a half year ago that he wouldn't feature gay couples in their ads, as the brand has a brand identity of traditionalism and traditional families.)

But are we following the left in this nonsense by ourselves overreading politics and ideology into things we, of all people, should know are fundamentally human in nature?

That is to say: It is the left which asserts -- or believes -- that people are essentially their ideology. The left asserts that someone is "good person" simply due to that person believing the right things; the ideology requires no actual action, just belief.

Thus, the left conceives people's primary identity as one of ideology, and conceives of humanity as being primarily ideological beings.

One the right, we generally say that ideology is important, but is hardly the sum of any man or woman. Chiefly ideology is important to the extent it creates real world goods, freedom of thought, freedom of worship, freedom to pursue a gainful trade without interference, and so on.

Freedom, in fact, to pursue happiness.

The right has been, historically, against this idea of humans' highest aspiration being a matter of purity of ideology -- that "The personal is political," as I think Gloria Steinem asserted -- and has championed at least three aspects of humanity as being more important than ideology (the metaphysical/religious, the familial/generational, and the ethical/moral; others may add the philosophical and intellectual).

Ideology, in fact, is chiefly important to the right to guarantee freedom to pursue these other aspects of human endeavor.

Sonny Bunch has also written on the emptiness of an entirely politicized life.

I do agree, as you know. One of the reasons -- you've probably gotten sick of me saying this -- but one of the reasons I post Honey Badger videos, or encourage people to post sci-tech stuff, or why I love the book thread, and the gardening thread, and so on, is that I do find a life which is full of nothing but politics is, sadly, empty of anything else.

I don't wish to define myself in such a manner -- I am ideological, but I am more than just ideological -- and will actively fight against being defined as nothing more than a vessel for ideology, for transporting it one from the ideological wellsprings to others' buckets (so that they may in turn deliver ideological water to others).

Is ideology important? Again, of course it is.

But is everything ideological? Surely not.

It occurs to me that attempting to be more than walking poster-board of ideological beliefs is a far more useful political posture in terms of outreach and persuasion. "LIVs" and swing voters and independents pride themselves on not being overly ideological -- they tend to scorn what they detect is "just ideology" from a party or politician -- and so anyone who permits himself to be defined as purely ideological has no chance whatsoever of persuading someone who prides himself on being ideologically flexible.

As silly as we find Barilla Panic Guy, an outside observer would find us pretty silly in asserting that virtually any evil that befalls a man is due to "liberal values" or the like.

We know better than that. We know human beings are more complicated than that -- which is part of the reason we resist so vigorously the One Size Fits All model of the leftist state. There are too many things going on in the human mind and human experience to say "This is due to liberalism" or even "This is largely due to liberalism."

As in many things, there may be some truth here -- may be -- but a little bit of truth can be so overstated as to become false.

I'm told that Ben Shapiro, who wrote the piece Poulous complains of (laying Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death at the feet of "liberal values" or "Hollywood values"), is one of the smartest people alive, and I believe that.

I do think he's misfired here, though. I know he's smarter than this, and I think his readership is smarter than this too. I think 80% of the movement is smarter than this (and 95% of this site's readers). So I don't think we should sell ourselves short in the brains department. I don't see what good it does anyone to pretend to be less smart than he actually is.

Some will say "But some people respond to this." And that is so. But so what? They'll also respond to a more nuanced piece. They may read all the nuance out of the piece, but, having done so, they will then respond to their version of the piece.

And of course this isn't just Ben Shapiro; most on the right (in fact, most anyone who's ever done anything political) are guilty of this. I'm guilty of this (though, like an alcoholic, I'm employing a One Day At A Time recovery strategy).

At the risk of offending people, when I was young and moving towards a right-leaning ideology, I rolled my eyes when Newt Gingrich traced Susan Smith's murder of her two children to the liberal ideology. I mean, come on. This is every bit as ridiculous and overreaching as the left's (and the media's) determination to claim that Jared Loughner's murderous, lunatic rage about English grammar was somehow traceable to Sarah Palin's "anti-government rhetoric."

There may be the glimmering of a point in this statement, but it's only a glimmering; how much weight shall we put on it? I don't think the structure is solid enough to bear but an ounce or two.

I've said this before, I think, but it's important to keep our humanity and our individuality front and center at all times. We may be fighting a political battle, but it's important to always return to why we are fighting it: we're fighting the battle to preserve our dignity as human beings, our freedom which is our right as thinking -- or ensouled -- beings, and our basic individual identity which is surely more than a series of bullet-point slogans and "COEXIST" bumper-stickers. (And for those whom this is not true: I truly pity those such as these.)

I believe -- though I'm not sure -- that part of the reason the military sends soldiers back home periodically is to remind them, tangibly, of what it is, exactly, they're fighting for in the first place. That the fight is not fought just for the fight; the fight is fought for something else again.

I think we're better than this and smarter than this, and I don't think we should be shy about letting people know that.

BTW: I know why people make these connections, because I know why I have often made such connections: Because writers write, and speakers speechify. The pressure to produce results in people putting out material that they might not have bothered with, if they didn't have a speech to give,or a number of columns or posts to write in a week.

So I'm honestly not really slagging either Gingrich or Shapiro (or myself) all that hard.

This stuff falls into the category of "easy content," and writers (or speakers) love no other category more than that of easy content.

That's human nature. Everybody does it. And no, seriously: Everybody does it.

Still, I think it's a tendency that is better checked and restrained than indulged.

Newt Gingrich is, I think, a genius.

Ben Shapiro is, I think, a genius.

And it's hard for geniuses to work at a genius level at all times -- only some of us are blessed enough to make it look easy -- but still, our geniuses should keep, mostly, to genius-level stuff. Or, when they want to take a break, they can slum it all the way down to the superior-IQ gutter.

There's plenty of non-geniuses for this other stuff, this shaky stuff.

Apologies: I had a clear memory of Limbaugh making this Susan Smith connection to liberalism, but Rockmom says my clear memory is clearly false:

BTW, Ace, it wasn't Rush Limbaugh who said that about Susan Smith. It was Newt Gingrich, when he was still Speaker of the House. And it was the day he jumped the shark. The backlash to those comments was tremendous.

Apologies to Rush Limbaugh for misattributing this to him.

As for Newt Gingrich -- I think he's a genius too. (I know he thinks he's a genius.) So the same caution to him as well.

I have deleted the references to Limbaugh, except here, in this correction, and replaced his name with Gingrich's.

Apologies once again.



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posted by Ace at 12:19 PM

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