Everything is political
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A friend and I were in a queue at a liquor store the other day, talking about how much our respective cars contributed to global warming and why, besides the cost of gas, it would be a good idea to car pool whenever possible. The guy in line ahead of us paid for his purchase, turned to us and said (and I quote), “Fuckin’ libertards”, and walked out to his pickup.
Now, my readers know that I am an unreconstructed liberal and always have been; this was far from the first time my leftish bent has been disparaged by a conservative. No, what made me take note of this particular encounter wasn’t even the somewhat arrested word choice which comprised the epithet; it was the fact that my (apparently) conservative interlocutor had deduced my political leanings from an overheard conversation that never once came anywhere near touching on politics. A little later it occurred to me that not long before that odd moment I had been referred to as a liberal by someone who had read an article I had written. The column’s subject? Atheism. Not anthropology, not sociology, certainly not politics. Logic was the underlying theme of the piece. Still, I was immediately branded a liberal.
Always quick on the uptake, it has gradually dawned on me how many subjects which have nothing to do with politics have become politicised. And by politicised, I really mean polarised. At the moment that polarisation amounts to: Left or Right. In this era of sound bytes, instant polls, forty-five second news clips, and as-it-happens reaction to breaking news via Facebook, much nuance has been lost; an entire political philosophy can be decided upon by simply agreeing or disagreeing with a retweet. And apparently an entire political philosophy can be deduced by reading a Facebook post or overhearing a non-political conversation.
I do it. You probably do it too. If you overhear people ridiculing the concept of evolution and agreeing that the world was created six thousand years ago, I’m willing to bet that, if we all were Americans, they’d be registered Republicans. If the people we overhear are inclined toward the view that basic human rights ought to be extended to the LGBT community, we would quickly tag them as Democrats. The lines between the political and non-political have become blurred to the point where they are now virtually invisible.
The age of the universe or the explanations for its beginnings are not a political issue…that’s a purely scientific issue. Or for those who don’t believe in science, a religious one. Whether dumping hundreds of tonnes of toxic material into the atmosphere every day has a discernable effect on the planetary climate is not a political issue, that’s clearly a matter of science. And in this case, it doesn’t even matter what one’s religious views are, it’s outside of that realm, too. But extending human rights to the LGBT community is a purely political matter. And, nevertheless, the political opposition to such an understanding of equality before the law is almost invariably justified on religious grounds.
Evolutionary biologist and paleontologist Steven Jay Gould proposed his doctrine of “non-overlapping magisteria”, a notion that religion and science can be reconciled by acknowledging that each has its place and its own subject matter. The idea is not terribly different from Christ’s own suggestion (Mat. 22.1) that what’s Caesar’s is Caesar’s and what’s God’s is God’s. That doctrine was an easy way for the religious to avoid confrontations with the scientifically inclined. There would be no need to stand on opposite sides of the town square (or liquor store) hurling epithets at one another. And the religious could go to church while rational people could continue their explorations in realty. The problem is that the religious have demanded a place at the table which they have constantly condemned as heretical.
What it all comes down to is tribalism. We have an expression that sums up the problem. The expression “the religious right” makes the problem clear. “Right” is a political position. And when that word is modified by the word “religion” it tells us that we have intrusion, far more that Professor Gould’s “overlapping”. The religious have taken the view that not only is important that they be saved, but that they insist on overlapping into everyone else’s magisterium. To further those aims, they buy into any political viewpoint that permits them not just to to practice their religion but to keep trying to indoctrinate the rest of us into their Iron Age world worldview.
And once they have bought into a particular political party’s political philosophy, they swallow the whole bolus; they can’t seem to separate the secular from the religious from the scientific. So, if you go Republican, you have to go full Republican. You’re against abortion? Fine; you have to be for prayer in schools, you have to believe that climate change is a hoax, and that a cartel of liberal intellectual elitist atheistic Jews controls the media’s content.
Interestingly this not a real example of the polarisation of political viewpoints. On the left, there are all sorts of nuances, shadings, and degrees of toeing the party line, while the right demands a homogenised espousal of the whole megillah. And as the fight for the right to contest the presidency of the United States heats up, it becomes more and more manifest that even some extreme right wingers have tried so hard to swallow that lump of nonsense that they’re looking around, desperate for a Heimlich maneuver, perhaps in the form of a newly self-reinvented Paul Ryan.
If the Republican party goes down in flames as expected (and predicted by me) at this point, they will have eight years to try and rebuild. The first thing they should consider doing is to form a party with actual ideals and positions; a political party that doesn’t demand that you abandon all reason at the door. A party whose platform consists of many planks, some of which people can buy into, some of which they can reject. A party for whom one can vote and still disagree with part of what they represent. But mostly a party that is clear as to what is political and what is not.