Thursday, July 20, 2017

#201 / Politics As A Hobby

Professor Eitan D. Hersh is worried that American politics is turning into a kind of "hobby" for those who engage in it. You can read about his concerns in the Sunday, July 2, 2017, edition of The New York Times. In the hard copy version of the paper, Hersh's column is titled, "Political Hobbyists Are Ruining the Country." Online, you'll find that the title is equally dramatic, and equally negative: "The Problem With Participatory Democracy Is the Participants."

As Hersh sees it: 

Political hobbyism might not be so bad if it complemented mundane but important forms of participation. The problem is that hobbyism is replacing other forms of participation, like local organizing, supporting party organizations, neighbor-to-neighbor persuasion, even voting in midterm elections — the 2014 midterms had the lowest level of voter participation in over 70 years ... An unending string of activities intended for instant gratification does not amount to much in political power.

This much is true: any healthy politics is serious. If politics is serious, that means it is seriously focused on power, and about how to generate power, and about how to mobilize power, and how to use power to achieve the kind of world we want. Activities that lead us away from the serious pursuit and use of power, to achieve serious and important objectives, should be resisted. Those who think that politics is about "letting everyone know where we stand," are missing the mark. "Spouting off," using all the new and high-tech methodologies we now have available, is something quite different from engaging in genuine politics. There is no doubt Hersh is right about that! I think this is the warning that Hersh is voicing.

That point taken, however, I believe that Hersh's rather negative view of current political activity may be overstated. Is the proliferation of anti-Trump petitions and Facebook groups really "ruining" the country? Are all those political "newbies," who are trying to "participate" in our democracy for the first time really the big "problem?"

I don't think so. All that activity is just fine, the way I see it, but the activities that Hersh is concerned about should be seen as "necessary," not "sufficient." 

Career advisors frequently tell their passionate clients to "turn your hobby into your life's work." That's how I'd phrase Hersh's message. Let's find a way to move ourselves from "hobbyists" to agents of genuine political change. That is a "life's work," indeed!

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