One of the fundamental assumptions of modern culture is that politics is dirty. All forms of contemporary media contain tropes that allocate a negative valence to the game of politics, and to those who choose to play it. It is no longer a radical worldview, nor a core tenet of a subculture; the dirtiness of politics is THE dominant mainstream conception. It didn’t used to be this way.
I’m not well-versed in ancient history, but I understand that in the Greece of antiquity participation in politics was seen as noble. I seem to remember the same being true of ancient Rome. I’m not sure about other ancient cultures, or societies during the Medieval era, but wayback when wasn’t it considered an individual’s duty to engage in the political arena? Wasn’t it a keystone of one’s everyday life? Not something to be sneered at. Not something to be avoided. Not something elder-figures were prepared to give their young ones a pass on.
Nowadays? The concept of “duty” is–understandably, in some cases–seen as a cheap tool of oppression and manipulation. For example: enlisting in the armed forces was never considered an option for me. I was a teenager when the Iraq war kicked off and even then, naive as I was, I could sense the wholesale erosion of trust in authority concerning “official” motives. Did I imagine myself able to pick up a gun, to give my own life, to take someone else’s life, all because of belief in the narrative the powers-at-be were peddling? No fucking way. (Also, I have terrible eyesight–the powers-at-be aren’t stupid enough to give me a firearm.)
As well the mass culture-swerve way from the concept of duty, there is the fact that most normal people are too busy surviving to attempt to disperse the immense FUD-cloud surrounding politics. Local, regional, national or international: understanding what the fuck has happened, is happening and can happen is something that can quickly become a full-time job. And those amateurs that, regardless, still try are fighting a losing battle because they have less resources than the pros. These politically engaged amateurs also risk alienating those around them. Their relentless politicking is treated like the worst of social faux pas.
At this point, I haven’t even mentioned the asymmetry around political engagement. For a “normal” person to attend a protest, for example, they have to interrupt their daily life, which potentially means less food on the table for them and their family. Maternity leave is an established right. Paternity leave now is in many places. But political leave? Days off to protest and vote and just be present at important political moments in space and time? Nope. Pros don’t face the same obstacle: they are being paid to come up with ways to subvert the will of the polis they claim to serve (chief of which seems to be releasing so much noise into our info-environment that we have no fucking clue where the signal is…).
Not all politicians are evil, however (though many are incompetent). Note the #RebelAlliance tag. Some are fighting from within for what’s best. But even that tag tars politics, by default, as a dirty game. Rebels have to hide. Rebels have to maintain a base level of situational awareness at all times. Rebels have to wage war innovatively, but out of necessity rather than choice. Rebels have to sleep rough, starve, and generally exist without comfort. Rebels cannot rest because for one in their position “stillness is death”, as Ed Calderon puts it.
Politics is a dirty game and its players are meme magnets, torn apart by a body-politic who are, either by chance or by design, both ill-informed and impotent. So is it a surprise that most people don’t want to play? Instead of engaging in politics people choose to continue their efforts to survive, or choose to go about their life as if all is normal, as if their little bubble cannot be popped by anything so mundane and/or confusing as what lies outside. I understand this, but I also think it’s time for a change.
Politics’ field of play is a vast pig sty, which means that only those who, for whatever reason, don’t mind being covered in shit have the upper hand. And usually, the most undemocratic people are also those who are able to stand the stink. Their deformed ideologies and malevolent ambitions act as plugs up their nose, warding off the stench on and around them. So while the rest of us stand back, not wanting to be contaminated with the same excrement, they roll and rollick in filthy ecstasy at the inhibitions our sensibilities raise up. They laugh because they have their hands on the levers and we’re outside, grieving our inability to move the world.
No more. The current situation may or may not be our fault, but it is our responsibility. We can’t keep shying away from the dirty reality of politics. I understand the inhibitions. For years I’ve actively avoided knowing about politics and acting on that knowledge. But as my country (the UK) approaches a critical juncture I find myself scrambling to catch up. I find myself haplessly disorientated because I swallowed the lie that politics didn’t matter, that somehow it was okay to let others take care of it whilst I fucked around chasing happiness and other BS. It wasn’t and it isn’t and I want my future to be different.
The question, as ever, is “How?” The answer, as ever, isn’t simple but it does have a clear outline:
1) Remain informed whilst 2) engaging with others.
That means reading the news. That means familiarising yourself with local, national and global mechanisms of governance. That means opening yourself up to trolls who will fight with you because of what you say or think. That means learning to live with a little ball of anxiety and unease in your stomach. That means that, contrary to popular sentiment, it’s okay to have an opinion and share it, with strangers and intimates alike. That’s what politics is, after all: people talking, deciding and acting.
Doing all this is the only hope we have of cleaning up the dirtiest game there is.