This may come as a shock to people who thought I was a rational human, but I have a confession to make: I was a political junkie. It’s true. I followed every twist and turn of our democratic system at play. Cuz a properly functioning democracy relies on a well informed electorate. Your granddad used to read the paper front to back every day. There were psa’s in the middle of my sitcoms telling me to “be informed” when I was growing up. What can I say?
For those of you who don’t get the political junkie thing, let me tell you a dirty secret: politics is pretty much just like celebrity watching – only for putatively smart people. Who’s doing what outrageous thing now? What’s the strategy going to be on this next vote? How will the electorate react? What the hell is wrong with Nebraska? And above all, what’s your opinion and why?
But here’s the thing: my opinion doesn’t mean squat. I can be right from here to kingdom come and it’s not going to make an iota of difference. It won’t matter to your political opponents. It won’t matter to your political allies unless they perceive an immediate, strategic benefit that doesn’t require them to change anything. It won’t matter to your lawmaker whose bread is buttered elsewhere.
It makes no sense to sink so much time and often emotional energy into something over which you exert almost no control. I mean some people work in that arena or are convicted to work for change against incredible odds. But for most of us, all of our well researched opinions and ideas are just parlor games. We bat around ideas as if we had a say. But we don’t. Don’t believe me? Look at the entertainment industry written SOPA bill being passed, indefinite detention without trial for Americans accused of terrorism, food safety legislation and toy safety legislation written to choke out small, American artisans in favor of multi-national corporate conglomerates. Look into how much money our lawmakers make in the stock market engaging in what in any other context would clearly be called insider trading. Look into how some of these lawmakers get the money to make those first stock purchases. It’s a corrupt system. You do not control it and the public is willing to look the other way as long as most of us are comfortable.
Here’s the bottom line: you can change the world more by pouring your time and attention into things which you can actually influence. Your wellbeing. Your family. Your own choices. These are things you have enormous power to change. These are places where it makes sense to devote your time and attention. This is where the fruit of your life is growing or shriveling. This is what needs your laser-like focus; not the vote counting going on before a big bill is offered.
Which is not to say that you need to disconnect altogether. Obviously, there are big issues at play and political actions can have a way of showing up in our worlds uninvited. Here’s my suggestion: turn off talk radio (including NPR) and limit yourself to reading headlines. You may not believe me now, but you won’t miss it.
Now that I’ve taken a step back, I find that I’m still much better informed than the average American, but I’m not easily sucked into devoting excess time and attention to things which don’t deserve or benefit from it. If you follow the news for long enough, you start to get a feel for how pointless it all is anyways. Crises loom that don’t emerge. Crises that do emerge are shockingly predictable. What works is irrelevant to what is actually done. Powerful people manipulate systems to their advantage with little risk of being stopped. People argue the same arguments over and over again. 2012 may be different, but you won’t need to read the paper or watch the news daily to find that out.
Recently I turned on NPR for the first time since 2008. They were doing a profile of a woman who started a group called “knit tits”. They knit prosthetic breasts for cancer survivors. I’m not sure why they knit them or who would want a hand knit prosthetic breast. I decided that it wasn’t anything I really needed to know and turned on some music. I suggest you resolve to do the same this election year.