“There are no dull subjects, just dull writers.”– said your pick of five writers
As they say: challenge accepted. Once a week, we test the limits of boredom and the meaning of dull. We establish whether there are, indeed, No Dull Topics.
How? With your help! Each Monday, visit the Skeleton At The Feast Facebook page to submit your dullest topic idea. Remember: PG, and no more than three words including hyphens. The last comment as of 8 a.m. CT Tuesday morning is next week’s No Dull Topic! My role? To turn it into an entertainingly readable post.
Special thanks to Orlando for this week’s topic, “Politics.”
When I asked my co-worker Orlando to name the dullest topic he could think of, I had high hopes. Come on, I thought: give it to me straight. Blood, guts, gore…this is a man who spends eight hours a day elbow deep in dead chickens, converting them into delicious deli rotisserie. I’m sure he’s seen a thing or two. I’m sure his definition of “dull” is interesting, to say the least.
Related: Orlando has previously featured in Frankenstein Writing.
He looked into the distance, or as far into the distance as the white-ish deli walls would permit. He contemplated. A few more chickens were seasoned while he thought.
“Politics”, he said finally, with conviction.
“…Politics?” I echoed with much less conviction. “Dull?”
“… because I don’t really understand it.”
He picked up the rack of chickens and disappeared around the corner towards the oven. At this point I will admit to speechlessness – a rare occurrence. The most coherent immediate thought was, “Huh.”
Politics has never crossed my mind as a possible candidate for “dull.” Nonetheless, I’m delighted with his suggestion. As I thought over the many possible angles, I realized there is one particular piece of this very broad picture which has affected my life with increasing regularity. It is the view that Politics Aren’t Polite.
Here’s an experiment. Try talking politics at your next social gathering. I guarantee you plenty of elbow room, no matter how crowded the space. Politics has somehow become tarred with the brush of Not Polite to the point where you would get a better reception if you shared the graphic details of your sex life. At least your listeners would be on firmer ground; they could offer helpful hints from GOOP or Tim Ferriss or Rocky Horror Show.
If “we don’t talk about politics” – how on earth will people learn to think about politics?
By which I mean this: the act of discussing conflicting viewpoints is the key to engaging with those viewpoints and discovering your own biases, values, and opinions. The marginalization of political discourse from polite discourse leads to polarized discourse.
Polarized discourse is completely different from political (or polite) discourse. I suspect that much of what got political discourse off the conversational plate was actually polarized discourse… and the problem wasn’t solved by forcing it under the table. No, that just guaranteed the problem was going to grow bigger and bigger on table scraps and toddlers until eventually it got big enough to rise up Godzilla-style (if Godzilla lived under tables) and fling the table through the roof1.
Godzilla aside, what is polarization? It is the triumph of dogma over individual citizens’ thoughtful engagement with their best interests, each other, and their form of government. It leads to mental illiteracy in the halls of power.
So how do you rein in a runaway polarization problem?
Well. You actively go out and foster political discourse in its place. Because polarization is the opposite of “active exchange of ideas.” Polarization can only thrive where there is no communication, no debate, and no exchange of uncomfortable observations.
If you’re really worried that “the center cannot hold”2, don’t accommodate the comfortable illusion of a politically-neutral society.
Polarization happens when all the nice normal people (ha) are busy “not talking about politics” because “someone might be offended.” This means that the only people still talking about it are the ones who are not nice and not normal3.
In short, it drives any political discourse straight into the domain of the desperate, the socially marginalized, or those who already see themselves as beyond society’s reach and regulation. Desperate people don’t always make wise choices. But really, they have few other options. That’s the definition of “desperate.”
Related: Insurance Is Not A Poetic Thing
Let me be very clear. I am not saying, go forth and troll. I am saying: politics matters because it shapes human life. Politics has exactly two outcomes: to enable, or to disable, the ability of humans to live peaceful productive lives.
It directly influences whether you can “live your best life” (to borrow an overused but apparently well-meaning phrase). Society can’t afford for the act of talking politics to be seen as an inconvenience or liability or a faux paux.
Here is a position: Politics is about human lives. If you care about politics, spend some time being uncomfortable. Spend some time in vigorous self-interrogation, and reflect on how political belief and political action is linked to caring about human life. This is, coincidentally, a remarkable prophylactic for finding politics boring or irrelevant.
And next time someone turns to you at the dinner table and says “we don’t talk about politics,” ask if they’ve looked under their table lately – you think you hear Godzilla roaring.
1 That was so much fun to write.
2 Thank you, Yeats. Full text and a really interesting semi-relevant discussion here.
3 Among which number, let me clarify, I count myself.