What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Friday, April 27, 2012

No politics!!

So a guy came in to the hiking store today, apparently he's a regular, and he started talking about Chicago and the NATO/G8 events there towards the middle of May.  He was talking about the whole city being evacuated, actually claiming all of Illinois was being evacuated and was off on some details.  Obviously given my position within Occupy circles I had some things to had.  So I stuck in a few general facts about Obama moving the G8 to Camp David and some facts and figures on the police ramp up and supposed tactics being discussed by them.  Nothing too profound, just some point of information type stuff.  The conversation went on and I was pretty neutral and subdued, GMO's came up, occupy, etc.  The other guy working in the store was staying out of it.  He left to get something to eat and I got a bit further into things.  When he came back we were fully into GMO's.  I should also say, the guy was full on conspiracy theorist, so if anything, I was tampering his fervor.  But anyway, we finally get to a closing point and he says "ok, one last question..." which I probably could have guessed.  "9/11, inside job?"  lol.  My colleague was back and declined to answer, I give a politically correct no and brief explanation which the colleague added to.

Once the guy leaves, pleading the whole way that it was an inside job, my colleague tells me nope, natta, we can't engage in politics.  He states that the owner will of course at times (especially amongst ourselves) and sometimes you have to, but that the store can't be seen as taking a political stance.  From a business perspective I see his point wholly and respect it, sounds rational and prudent for business.... but not for life.  I mean think about the world we live in.  We have this unwritten rule in America that in "polite company" we don't talk about politics and religion; two things probably most often gone to war over in human history.  Yeah and maybe on the surface that's a good reason to stay out of it, but come on, what is politics if not your daily life?!  We make choices all the time, choices that are political and can be even more political.  To not engage in dialog about the most contentious aspects of our social existence is to ignore them.  To ignore the most important parts of our lives. 

This to me seems to be just more of the same old dumbing down of America and its politics.  I remember on numerous occasions while in Europe sitting places and speaking to both friends and strangers about politics and religion, and having them express how odd they thought it was that in America they were taboo topics that people didn't want to talk about.  It has become such a part of life here in the US to not express your political and spiritual beliefs - in the land of the free!!  Somehow we don't feel comfortable engaging in this type of dialog, nevermind seeing people protest about it.

My personal opinion is that it is not about the subject matter, but about our manner of discussion.  The way we talk to each other and the respect that we have for other people.  Our political system has become so polarized, and so entrenched with its poles, that these discussions to easily lead to black and white stances with little room for common ground and grey areas to agree upon.  But more importantly, I think these arguments so easily come about because of how we've become as people.  I don't see a mass populace will to listen or taught to be open to new or different people and ideas.  We are brought up to believe in our beliefs as we come to learn them at all costs and not to waver.  Pride and arrogance - and ugly combination.  An open mind it seems is a terrifying thing to possess in America.

Yes, I am generalizing and perhaps detrimentally so.  But I believe on the whole, we have created a country that is unwilling and incapable of simple person to person political dialog in both our friendly and professional circles.  What does this do but simply make us less capable of discussion over time and also less informed.  Person to person dialog is invaluable.  It is the only way to truly understand the lives and politics of other people.  The only politics most people end up getting in their lives is the politics of hand picked - and in many cases agenda driven - sound bites and/or the repetitive voices of well funded political pundits.  That is not politics.  That is large scale social engineering.  I won't get into the American media and the disaster that it is in this post, but its pretty simple, if you really want to learn about people, ask them.  If you really want to understand politics, ask people.  And not just people like you, but ask people you don't know and don't identity with what they think about things.  Random people on the subway, at the mall, the supermarket, wherever: Occupy, Obama, stop and frisk, Romney, banking, Iran, whatever.  As a society we will never learn anything if we can't engage in honest open - nonrepehensible - dialog about our lives, our neighborhoods, our stores, our countries, our world, whatever.  Politics should NEVER be off limits.  Just like stifling protest should never happen.  But I suppose it would be best if first we actually made it acceptable to both have different beliefs, and to accept others with different beliefs.  Talk freely amongst yourselves!!   

1 comment:

  1. I appreciated this story and it made me think of myself at a bar in a small town a few weeks ago. I was told "don't you know not to bring up politics or religion at a bar", but I did anyway - and everyone survived the subsequent conversation and learned something from one another. That happens to me more and more lately. But I think back to a year ago - when even though I had been working and volunteering in politics, and believed so strongly in the value of political participation, I often avoided political conversations outside of socially designated political conversation zones. I had all sorts of rationalizations as to why it would be better not to speak about it to those who I thought I would not identify with. I was concerned for their comfort or my own. Standing in Occupy Wall St last fall day after day something shifted around me, and in me - I no longer felt I could say no, or walk away, even if I felt that sinking feeling creeping in that the person standing before me would not hold similar beliefs to my own. How could I continue to take the easy way out or around listening or speaking out, when people around me were courageously protesting and uncomfortably sleeping, physically defending our right to have those conversation out loud in public? It seems, so many important things were going unsaid and the costs of that silence were piling up underneath all the so called polite conversation. And, predictably, I suppose, I found myself agreeing a lot more with almost everyone than I thought I would. To add, you would be surprised at how many people I hear say that never spoke about politics to their families. I have people tell me all the time, that they do not even know about their parent's political views.