Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Thoughts: Or, It's Almost Over!

I posted some of this on Facebook just a little while ago, and I guess I'm not done talking about it yet, so I brought the conversation here. I haven't been on the internet since last Thursday, because Mike's parents' internet is throttled and sometimes it's just not worth the effort of trying to use it when each page takes two minutes to load. I happened to see his Facebook news feed last night, though, when my phone's battery died and I borrowed his to look at something—and I realized that I might not mind so much about the crappy internet right now, thanks to the timing. The new internet cycle starts on November 10, and I think that's just about perfect; I suppose it'll probably take a few days for the hateful rhetoric to die down even after the election's over, because whichever side loses is going to be pretty pissed. (And I'm predicting lots of doom and gloom either way, because you know, it's the end of the world and all.)

But I'm so glad it's almost over for this year, and I'm so frustrated that this experience is ruined for us the way it is. Talking about politics is important, and it can be FUN when everyone's mature about it! Thoughtful, intellectual, mind-expanding philosophical conversations are so satisfying. So... edifying, for lack of a better word. Learning about perspectives you've never imagined, having the opportunity to refine or support your ideas... I feel so good when I get to have those experiences, so in touch with the universe and my fellow human beings and the knowledge that my own experience is just a small, small piece of something much bigger. Joining Facebook groups and reading blogs that focus on these kinds of discussions has really been an amazing thing for me (and it's saved my sanity more than once). 

Wouldn't it also be fantastic if election day could be about celebrating our voice, all of us participating in making our society work, and knowing that "the people" really did decide how it should happen? Knowing that it mattered if we voted, and that what we have to offer could really make a difference? Wouldn't that be so much better than the hateful attacks we have now, the desperate rhetoric about "taking back the country," as though it's a battle, or just hiding and waiting for it to all be over?

There's so much about our political system that could really be awesome, but instead the whole system is absolutely terrible. We need legislation to fix some of it, like the fact that only people with lots of money and connections have a shot (which is why our government is, as a whole, very wealthy and disconnected from the majority of Americans' actual needs), and that corporations and interest groups—with spending power completely out of the realm of possibility for actual people, and with "needs" that are usually not in the average person's best interest—can basically buy candidates who depend on their money to stay in office. We need legislation to change those things.

But there's a lot we could do ourselves, without any kind of organization at all. Like truly listening to the "other side" (not our side's explanation of what the other side thinks), and wanting to be able to see things from their perspective. Like not having "sides" to begin with—because your political beliefs shouldn't be about membership in a clique—or at least having more than two options. (This one would require organizational changes as well, but it could start with people actually voting for third-party candidates instead of just the one they think has a chance of winning, and not shunning those who don't subscribe totally to one party's view.) 

What else could we do? It'd be amazing if we could actually participate in discussions (not arguments) with others—discussions in which the goal is to learn about others' needs and ideas, to expand our understanding of the world, not just to make a point. And it'd be so, so helpful if we could refuse to make generalizations and assumptions about what others believe, and realize that it's absurd to think you know what someone else's motivation is. A huge part of the problem is that people talk about "liberals" and "conservatives" as though all liberals feel the same way, and all conservatives. When you're posting on Facebook about needing to protect our country from the liberals, you're (1) ignoring the fact that you probably have liberals among your friends, and (2) making it much less likely that those friends will ever feel like they can have a discussion with you. When you say things about how no self-respecting woman could vote for a conservative, you're (1) making assumptions you're not qualified to make, and (2) pissing off self-respecting women who might have thought your ideas were interesting and been willing to have a discussion with you about them, if you'd shared them in a less offensive and judgmental way. 

Mostly, I think what we could do is learn to care more about doing what's right for everyone than about being part of the clique that wins. People get very immature in the month before election day, I have noticed—they post childish memes making fun of candidates for things like the size of their ears or some really ill-advised 90s-style photo shoot; they respond to people's harmless status updates with comments that are the political equivalent of "I know you are but what am I;" they pick fights and deliberately read things in the most negative way possible, and it all ends up feeling suspiciously like junior high again. This is, to quote Demetri Martin, crappy behavior. It's crappy in any situation, and it's especially bad in this one, because the thing is that this stuff actually matters. It's important to be able to talk about politics in a reasonable, adult manner. We need to be able to make decisions together, and the running of our country is not something to leave in the hands of that little part inside each of us that never left junior high school.