Why Politics is More Than a Game
By Dennis Loo (12/7/13)
Expanded 12/7/13 8:30 pm PST
Both those who follow politics and those who don't follow it are likely to agree that politics resembles a game. Partisans in this country who align themselves with either of the major political parties or with third parties tend to see things in terms analogous to how sports fans see their own teams and that of their rivals: horrah for my team (party) and boo for the other team (party). When the other team is offsides then the ref should have called it, but when my team is offside, well, they just weren't!
Trending for the last two days on Twitter, for example, is #LiesObamaToldUs. Among those tweeting are a fair number of GOP partisans who repeat the rightwing's favorite beating-a-horse-to-death themes - Obamacare, Benghazi, and Obama allegedly not being an American citizen or Christian or pro-capitalist. The tweets are mixed, however. Yesterday most that I saw (since there are so many, it's hard to know the exact proportions), including my own, were critical of Obama from the Left, for his violations of civil liberties, bailing out big business, persecuting whistleblowers while claiming he's for transparency, assassinating people with drones, and riding roughshod over due process and the rule of law. Some of Obama's defenders bemoaning the trending topic accused other posters of either being racists or of being naive about the fact that politicians lie. Apparently some people think that lying by their leaders is acceptable and nothing to tweet about since "they all lie." One might then wonder what such "realists" think about the fact that they are alright with being lied to all of the time and why they aren't up in arms about a political system that is merely a charade and aren't furiously demanding that things be made right. That their government is assassinating people, including hundreds of children, and has suspended the Fourth and to significant degrees the First Amendment, and is fiddling while the world burns from Global Warming, such folks seem okay about.
All of which goes to show that what is true and what is being done - no matter which party the POTUS is affiliated with - are largely overshadowed in the minds of all too many people by their own partisan sympathies. If it's a GOP president like Bush doing the killing and destroying of due process, and I'm a GOP fan, then it "don't bother me." If I'm a Democratic partisan and it's Obama doing the killing and the destroying of due process, then that's "alright by me."
Politics is more consequential, however, than whether the Lakers or the Thunder win. While mainstream media encourage the popular view of politics as a game between two teams, the GOP and the Democrats, and its framing of politics in that fashion does contribute mightily to people seeing it in those misleading ways, choosing sides based on party preference is a terrible way to determine what one should do.
If it's a crime when it's being done by a Republican - e.g., using drones to kill innocents, invading and occupying countries against international law, suspending due process and torturing people - then it's still a crime when a Democratic president does those same things. And if you were in the streets protesting when Bush was doing it then you should not stay at home and make excuses for these same or worse policies when it's Obama doing it. The fact that he's black doesn't make what he's doing any better than when it's being done by a white president. The fact that Obama can talk eloquently about what it's like to be suspected because of your skin color doesn't change the fact that he counsels people to accept the outrageous legal murder by George Zimmerman of Trayvon Martin.
Facts are facts and the truth and objective reality are still truth and objective reality. Seeing these things through rah-rah my team's interests is wrong, not only in sports (where it is relatively more understandable and forgivable even if it's still wrong) but especially in politics. You cannot understand politics if you think of it in the simplistic terms of sports team rivalries. Because society and nature and their inter-relationships are very complex and life in general isn't simple but very complex, then trying to think about politics and acting in politics in simple black and white terms is very wrong.
When you add to this the fact that because all too many people are used to thinking in simpleminded ways about partisanship - this is my team vs. the other team - and that they think the choices are bifurcated - I have to choose one side or the other, there is no other place to be - they will accept crimes when they are committed by "their team (party)." When American political life's overall trajectory is both major parties trending towards fascist norms, then citizens will find themselves neck deep in complicity to crimes committed in their name. If you do not fight against wrongs, no matter who commits them, then you will eventually, whether you want to or not, accept these wrongs as your own. You will be unable to recognize yourself over time and how far down an exceedingly bad road you have traveled, because you have sacrificed truth for partisanship.
It's rather difficult to get people to think about politics at the level of the complexity that it warrants. Even sports fans will engage in much more nuanced, detailed, and sophisticated discussions about athletic factors such as game strategies and tactics, various moves and counter-moves on defense and offense, styles of coaching and playing, the history of the game, the specific strengths and weaknesses of different athletes and how they respond to specific situations, players and teams' records over time, and so on, than they will about politics. When it comes to politics all too many people, from both the right, left, and center, think in far too simplistic terms. The political arena is one in which to an almost unparalleled degree officials attempt to mislead people about what they are doing and why. By contrast, if one, for example, is trying to learn how to master a skill such as playing an instrument, the master practitioners of that instrument are not systematically trying to fool you about their professional techniques. Even in the absence of their attempts to mislead you, the way that public officials seek to mislead you, it is famously difficult to become a master of a musical instrument. How much harder must really understanding politics be if the ones doing it actively are not trying to teach you the ropes but deliberately trying to misinform you about critical aspects of the process?
“I’m not saying that people will believe everything being said but they believe that people in political power at the very least believe their own words. You may look at a controversial issue being discussed by someone in political power and think, well maybe I don’t completely agree with that, but if this person who must know a lot about it truly believes in what they are saying, then it must be somewhat true.”
This quote comes from a student of mine. She is hitting upon an important aspect of the thinking going on in many people’s heads: even when people might not completely agree with statements by their favored party officials, whether the Democrats or the Republicans, or third party representatives – they are powerfully influenced by those statements. Even if the statements at first glance would otherwise in the absence of political officials asserting them, seem outrageous (the ongoing claim that Obama’s not U.S. born or that global warming is a hoax, for example), the comments are coming from officials who supposedly know a lot about the subject. People think they would not be saying these things unless there’s some truth to it, they sound as if they sincerely believe it themselves, and therefore they must be at least “somewhat true” because how else could and why else would they have come to those conclusions?
Politics is more complicated and more impactful than sports, even though sports itself has important political and even ideological implications. Politics need to be studied deeply, certainly at least as deeply as sports. Particularly avid male sports fans can cite to you chapter and verse about so and so players and teams and rivalries, but when it comes to politics, they suddenly lose their high sports IQ and trade it in for below average IQ about politics. Even those who are political junkies and even among those who study politics in depth tend to suffer from a lack of profoundity in their political analysis. To really understand a phenomenon you have to have a theory that illuminates the below-the-surface dynamics which is where the truth lies, otherwise, even the most engaged political analyst is going to be largely restricted in his or her analysis by what political actors say is their motive rather than what is really going on beneath appearances. That is, in fact, what most political analysts do, even many on the Left, and why their analyses are of limited value. That paucity of good analysis and information based on piercing theory is one of the reasons for this website and the book that it grows out of, Globalization and the Demolition of Society: to treat politics and related matters (everything is related to it) with the degree of complexity and depth that they require. There are a lot of articles on this site and exploring it is well-worth your time and that of your friends and relatives. Bon appetit!