A few articles I've read this week have got me thinking about politics and polarization. The funny thing is, they were about two completely different topics. One was an article by John Lanchester about being a restaurant critic
; the other was an article by Ezra Klein about the politics of #Gamergate
. But they both hit upon basically the same point. (Emphasis added to make my own points.)
Not so long ago, food was food. (I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people in the industry, debating some point backward and forward, that end with someone shrugging and saying, “It’s just food.”) That’s not true anymore. Food is now politics and ethics as much as it is sustenance. People feel pressure to shop and eat responsibly, healthfully, sustainably. At least, that’s the impression you get from what’s written and said about food culture—that it’s a form of surrogate politics. To some, it’s not even surrogate politics; it’s the real deal, politics at its most urgent and consequential.
This isn't a world in which we should be surprised that video games have been politicized. This is a world in which it was only a matter of time until video games were politicized. This is a world in which, sooner or later, most everything will get politicized.
Both articles, without outright stating "and this is bad", indicate discomfort with how politically charged things outside of politics have become. Lanchester, while admitting that he himself does his best to shop ethically, questions whether it's actually an important political act or if we're setting our political sights too small. Klein talks about how a debate within the gaming community has been co-opted by outside political forces; video games are just a new battlefield for conservatives and liberals to duke it out.
And I just think: The personal is political.
It's a tenant of second wave feminism, popularized by Carol Hanisch
. The original idea was that things like childcare, household division of labor, and abortion are not personal issues for individual women to address, but political problems that had to be dealt with on a collective level. The heart of the idea is recognizing the hidden, systemic forces of oppression
Food has always been political. Video games, movies, any kind of entertainment have always been political. The environment, human rights, violence against women and ethics in journalism are all political issues which are inexorably linked to things we didn't used to think of as political.
I think Lanchester makes a great point when he says: "If these tiny acts of consumer choice are the most meaningful actions in our lives, perhaps we aren’t thinking and acting on a sufficiently big scale." Yet I also think about how the United States Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech
, and since the days of Ronald Reagan we've been told to vote with our feet
. In a country where our vote matters less and less
, is it any wonder that we turn to things which are
in our power, such as what we buy? And Klein's points about polarization are spot-on. But I don't think the problem is that "Once political identities are activated, these fights will spread far beyond their natural constituencies..." A discussion about ethics in video game journalism is relevant far beyond the gaming community — especially as so many news networks are owned by huge conglomerates. Let the fight spread. Let people draw connections and see patterns. Broader culture can learn from subcultures; BDSM culture has a lot to teach even the most vanilla about how to communicate during sex.
I think the real problem is a corollary to "the personal is political," which is: "the political is personal." In personal arguments, it's hard to listen to what the other person is saying. We get defensive; we spend our time thinking about how we can fight back instead of actually listening to what the other person is saying. Especially as our political identities become even more important to us, as Klein points out, the communication problems which we have in our personal lives are magnified on the political stage. While there are personal issues that can only be addressed in a political arena (such as harrassment and bullying), these fights will only be productive if individuals use personal skills like active listening
. The tools & techniques good counselors teach people for dealing with conflict are the same ones we need for political discourse.
Maybe American society just needs a really good marriage counselor.