In my last post I wrote about prepping and how my journey into amateur prepping was caused by political events. However, I want to talk about the true effects of politics on our lives, and how most people who are into politics totally exaggerate its affect on their lives to themselves and others. Prepping by nature is oriented toward statistically unlikely, worst-case scenarios. We must draw a distinction between everyday effects of politics (which are very few) and the outsize amount of weight and stress people give to politics. That is the purpose of this essay.
Most politicos are continually glued to the news, now more than ever thanks to smartphones. The read, share, post, repost, and blog about political headlines. While politics and the direction of the country is obviously important to them, if you asked them what they are doing to change things, what would they say to you? I bring this up because I have asked myself this question before. They might say, as I used to think to myself before realizing my error, “I’m staying informed.”
While some good can be said of having an informed populace, it’s not the same thing as an educated populace. The difference is that people who are politically educated understand the fundamentals of politics enough to grasp the importance level of a political headline. Informed people simply have information. They have no way of knowing which information is important and which is not, making it easy to stress out about all of it. Political education provides the tools to think critically about politics. Sadly, our society lacks a serious form of political education that could help people stress out less.
More specifically, staying informed is not the same thing as activism. People should choose to either be an activist and pursue political activities that create change, or to treat politics casually. Most people should not be activists, so most people should treat politics casually. The Founding Fathers intentionally designed a small government, the kind which the average citizen would have to care about as little as possible. Our Bill of Rights is all about preventing government meddling in our lives except for what is absolutely necessary to have a functioning government. Liberals, who believe there is a government-0riented solution to pretty much everything, do not understand this point. But conservatives get wrapped around axle as well, and again, most people should treat politics casually.
The problem is there is a large group of people occupying a middle ground between activism and information. They are too serious about politics to be casual, yet their concern doesn’t motivate them enough to take any action in support of their views. If you think about it, this is a contradiction. It’s like they are simply complaining and not doing anything about the problem. And since most people shouldn’t be activists, it’s safe to say that most people in this middle group should simply devote way less time to reading and talking or posting about politics. They should instead invest that energy in something that actually improves their lives. If they aren’t going to engage in activism, they can vote and give money to political campaigns or organizations or non-profits. But beyond that, there is nothing more they can really do to create political change—thus the choice is to either go all in or start caring less. The feeling of accomplishing something just by following politics is an illusion, one which, as I explained in a previous post about social media and politics, profits our political elites, but in which the individual is not really a free actor, just being used.
An out of the box thinker I have read in the past is Winston Wu. As with anyone I mention by name, it should go without saying that I am not endorsing everything they say. I say that because unfortunately, we live in an age of guilt by association. So that being said, a great point he makes is that the average person actually interacts with the government very little. The most obvious examples are going to the post office or going through the security line at the airport. (I would add to that paying taxes and going to the DMV.) Instead, he says, the things that actually do affect people’s quality of life, such as social life, dating life, or psychological health, are things that the government has little effect on, but that the individual has enormous power of choice over. For politicos who are unhappy in life, those are examples of things they should really be focusing on, not politics. Politics is too often just a diversion, a form of time-wasting entertainment.
Politics is not unimportant, and I write about it a lot. It’s a hobby for me, yet I am under no illusion that I am making any difference just by reading political news or even by writing about it. I know I have to vote, engage in activism, donate money, or any combination of those three in order to actually make a difference. Voting is the most basic level of making a difference. Almost any American 18 or over can vote. The true path to making a difference in any area of life tends not the be the thing that is easy to do. The second tier is donating money, the lifeblood of political campaigns, and the third tier is citizen activism, especially grassroots activism. This is the hardest level but the most effective. Basically, the harder it is, the bigger a difference it will probably make.
But that’s only if you decide to invest the time, energy, and resources necessary to create political change. Most people would be better off caring less about politics and investing instead in fixing the things in their personal lives that keep them up at night. So, in summary, don’t confuse staying informed with activism, and don’t invest too much in politics.