How Much Should Politics Occupy Our Minds?

Well hello there, internet. It’s been some time since I posted to Reason and Politics. My time was not wasted, however. Summer was wonderful this year in Colorado and I spent quite a bit of time in the mountains. I went to Sonoma, twice, and signed up with several fabulous small wineries for automatic shipments (ask me for recommendations). I recently spent two weeks in Europe, travelling from London to Madrid with quite a few stops in between.

As far as my return to writing goes, its fairly simple. My favorite American columnist, David Brooks, also took a break from writing (albeit much shorter than mine). His return to The New York Times has inspired me to dip my toe back into the blog-o-sphere.

Now then, since Brook’s column has served as my writing smelling salts, lets begin there. In his column, he addresses the issue of how much mental space ought to be devoted to political issues:

…there are those who form their identity around politics and look to it to complete their natures. These overpoliticized people come in two forms: the aspirational and the tribal. The aspirational hope that politics can transform society and provide meaning. They were inspired by the lofty rhetoric of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address. The possibilities, he argued, were limitless: “Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty.”

Then there are those who look to politics for identity. They treat their partisan affiliation as a form of ethnicity. These people drive a lot of talk radio and television. Not long ago, most intelligent television talk was not about politics. Shows would put interesting people together, like Woody Allen with Billy Graham (check it out on YouTube), and they’d discuss anything under the sun.

Now most TV and radio talk is minute political analysis, while talk of culture has shriveled. This change is driven by people who, absent other attachments, have fallen upon partisanship to give them a sense of righteousness and belonging.

This emotional addiction can lead to auto-hysteria.

I think Brooks correctly identifies the problem of over-dwelling on politics: tribalism. America is strangely becoming segregated in terms of political persuasion.

So how can one find the balance in life? As a blogger and political junkie, I’m particularly interested in this question. Brooks has some advice:

I figure that unless you are in the business of politics, covering it or columnizing about it, politics should take up maybe a tenth corner of a good citizen’s mind. The rest should be philosophy, friendship, romance, family, culture and fun. I wish our talk-show culture reflected that balance, and that the emotional register around politics were more in keeping with its low but steady nature.

That sounds about right to me. In my experience, when politics come up I run into two kinds of people, the kooks who believe ever Fox News or Ed Schultz conspiracy theory they hear, and people who could not care less about politics. My motivation for this site was to write for those people who like to intelligently and politely discuss and debate the issues. I know you are still out there, so lets get to work.

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6 Responses to How Much Should Politics Occupy Our Minds?

  1. Barneysday says:

    Welcome back. I awaken early each morning, and after putting the dog out and making my coffee, spend maybe two hours or so on the News. NY Times, TruthDig, Huffington Post, and Washington Post usually. Interested in politics, opinion and business. But I do find after a few hours, I get so disgusted with DC, and I include both partys, that’s its time to put the news down, and get on with my real life.

    Brooks’ conclusions are very close to reality, sad to say. Even Carson used to have a variety of guests, from deep thinkers to deeply hilarious comedians. How much that venue has changed, for the worse, I fear.

  2. Brian says:

    Excellent post. I couldn’t agree more. I have to check myself occasionally as I tend to trend toward a more tribal response to certain things. Being on the left side of the spectrum, the vitriol of the far right is hard to escape at times. I wish we could get the money out of politics, the politics out of “news” and return to real journalism in the media. I hope those days aren’t gone for good…

  3. john zande says:

    I work for the NYT’s, editing/distributing online content for client News portals down here in Brazil. Brooks is great, but the overall level of commentary (political and other coming out of NY) has slipped badly in recent years.

    Good to see you back.

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