Stephen Mason Ph.D.

Look At It This Way

Topics to Avoid

...that don't really matter anyway

Posted Jan 24, 2010

Last week I was doing a radio interview when a woman called in about the recent election for Teddy Kennedy's seat.  She wanted to know:

Why is it people can talk about love and money and work and play but get into fights when it comes to politics?

In polite society, the unwritten rule is "No politics or religion at table." The reason is quite simple. While most topics of conversation involve a certain amount of logic and reason, politics and religion are based almost entirely on faith and belief. In short, for most people, disagreement in either area is tantamount to a personal attack. You're hitting a person where they live, faulting their feelings and challenging their visceral response. What's more, it's difficult to fight back when facts are scant to nonexistent. How, for example, do you show that your candidate is more able to set the country right or that your god is more capable of managing the universe? Ultimately, it comes down to what you believe as opposed to what you know.

Trying to argue for or against a party platform is difficult because, in essence, both sides say the same things. What politician doesn't want better schools for kids, tougher laws for criminals, greater subsides for seniors and lower taxes for everyone? In short, both sides are reading from the same script. When was the last time you heard a vote seeker advocating sterilization of the welfare mother with ten babies or capitol punishment for repeat felons? Terrific ideas, perhaps, but not part of the script.

And yet, can either side even hope to deliver? In this last election, for example, both the Republicans and the Democrats promised to keep inflation rates low despite throwing billions at the economy. The economists, on the other hand, pointed out that no matter who won...rates will eventually go up...along with precious metals. Truth in Advertising laws, it seems, do not apply to those running for office.

But, paraphrasing Henry Kissinger, the bottom-line reason so many people fight about politics is because the stakes are so small. Here in America, even boogied up vote counts (like those in 2000) end in a bloodless transfer of power. Smoke and mirrors provide the illusion of true choice when, in fact, both parties court the same corporate sponsors in what amounts to a kind of beauty pageant. Do I want the dumb guy I figure is OK or the smart guy I'm not so sure about? Yet this is not always so harmless a process. In other parts of the world, where true choices exist and election results can have major consequences, put the wrong guy in office today and wake up to automatic weapon's fire tomorrow.

So, in the end, consider yourself lucky. If your friends want to rabidly root for their team every once in a while, at least it will be relatively quiet in the morning.