Verboten

Yesterday I said that I would be covering a wide variety of topics on this blog in the future. There is, however, one subject that I will never be discussing, no matter how topical or relevant, and that subject is modern politics.

I’m hardly alone in this, of course. Most internet sites that aren’t specifically devoted to politics have a ban, either implied or explicit, on the subject. (Most of these sites extend the ban to religion as well, but my religious beliefs are so vague that they’re almost impossible to offend. Just don’t try and convert me to your radical “God says we must ritually feed babies to crocodiles” religion and we’ll get along fine.) Where we differ is in our motivations.

These other sites ban politics because politics is such an inflammatory, personal subject that it can lead to deadly flamewars between people who, under other circumstances, are perfectly reasonable and have every interest in getting along. I, on the other hand, won’t be discussing politics not because I don’t want to start a fight, but because I’m not confident in my ability to intelligently hold forth on the subject.

There are many subjects I don’t know anything about, of course. You won’t hear me offering my cutting opinions on opera or women’s lacrosse, either. Where politics differs is that it’s the only one I feel like I should be able to talk about with some confidence in my opinions. It’s an important subject, after all, and it impacts me and everyone else I know personally. I’m not sticking my head into the sand on this… I read the paper, watch the news, and read other people’s political opinions. I feel like I’ve got consistent and moral opinions about what the government should and shouldn’t be doing. The problem is that I lack the ability to translate those ideals into real-world situations, if indeed they translate at all.

For example: I’m of the tentative opinion that everyone has the right to health care. Europe and Canada seem to be able to manage it, after all. This past year Congress passed a health care bill. I’m for health care, so this should be hunky-dory, right?

Well — is the bill a good one? Bad? Mediocre? Less-than-optimal, but still better than before? Bad, but a foundation from which to build over time? So bad that it’s threatening the stability of the economy? Good in theory, but not the thing Congress should be focusing on in a period where we’re dealing with a recession and two wars? I’ve heard all these opinions put forth by people who seem to know what they’re talking about, and I don’t know who’s most qualified to make the call.

It gets worse. If I wanted to educate myself on a subject I knew nothing about, say opera, there’s tons of resources. I imagine there’s hundreds, if not thousands, of books on the subject. If I know the internet there’s undoubtedly a hilariously-detailed wiki on it kicking around. I could surf on over to YouTube and watch opera until my ears bled. I could start to accumulate knowledge about opera, and eventually I’d be expert enough to offer my own opinions about it.

But that only works if I trust my sources. With regards to politics, you can’t trust anybody — not really. Everyone’s got an agenda, some ideological lens through which they interpret everything that happens. Out there in the world there are respected scientists who deny global warming, priests and preachers who ignore the Bible, politicians who deny they said what they’re on tape as having said. How can I trust any of them to give me a true picture of what’s happening and what I should care about? Nobody is willing or able to just tell me what’s what.

I think this is because modern government is just too big and complicated for anyone to get a real grasp on how it works. You see this a lot in fandom… someone who follows a show or a game thinks that they know exactly how it should be done, and if they were just put in charge, things would work out perfectly. But they only see things from their limited perspective and have no idea the real forces at play, and if they really were put in charge, things would be a disaster. Politics seems like it would be the same way — government being simply too incomprehensible for one person to grasp, people instead stake out some small ideological patch of ground and interpret everything through that.

I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to ignore whole swaths of information. I don’t want to make some short-sighted political post, even if it’s just venting, that completely ignores one side of the issue (or worse, gives that side such short shrift that it becomes patronizing and insulting). I don’t want to be going through my archives years from now only to find something I regret. Thus, I won’t be discussing politics here, not even an offhand comment about Sarah Palin’s intelligence or Glenn Beck’s sanity. I’ll still be following it to the best of my ability, of course — maybe I’ll figure it out someday. But I won’t be subjecting anyone to my ill-formed opinions about it.

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