How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Politics

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Politics



So, I have a confession to make. I lied. I
never stop worrying about anything. But it is absolutely true that I love
politics, specifically democratic politics. My goal today is to convince
you that you should, too. That even in the midst of a political climate that may
depress and demean and discourage you that there is still reason to love
democracy. Now when I say I love democracy, I don't mean that I love the
current American political system, in which power is concentrated in the hands
of a few and elections are decided by a small minority of eligible voters. When I
say I love democracy, I mean that I love that process by which people with
fundamentally different experiences of the world come together to make
decisions, to argue. Now I have to tell you, the fact that we even attempt to do
that in a way that avoids violence is a daily miracle and one that deserves
our respect and our energy and yes, our love. Because politics matters. Political
decisions have deep and lasting consequences for how we exist in this
world. They affect the quality of the water that you drink every day, how safe
you feel walking to and from your classes, and how much loan debt you'll
probably have when you get out of here. The idea that we're somehow immune to
the effects of politics is, frankly, a form of privilege enjoyed only by those
whose lives fit easily within the current system or those who have enough
power and money to exempt themselves from the rules that govern the rest of
us. I once saw a sign at a pride festival that said "my life is political," and the
woman who carried that sign was exactly right. Those who are marginalized and
most vulnerable do not have the luxury to pretend that decisions made in
Washington, D.C., or down the road at the Delaware County Commissioner's
Office don't matter, because they do. They set the parameters within which we live
our daily lives, and they make the dreams of some far more difficult to attain.
I can see you thinking, "OK, Biser, so politics matters, but I don't have to
love it. Politicians lie and cheat, and haven't you ever seen the 'House of Cards'?" Politics is a messy affair, but that
messiness is not actually a sign of dysfunction. It is the part of the design
of a system of government that aims to rule with the consent of the people.
Politics exists because people with vastly different experiences have to
find some way to coexist. What John Stuart Mill called
"the collision of adverse opinions" is not a sign of democracy's death, but of its
life. Our job as citizens is not to eliminate
conflict but to find ways of engaging more deeply with those who look upon the
world from different vantage points. This is no easy task, especially in a country
where the experiences of one person can differ so dramatically from
those of another. It demands that we seek out factual information, that we remain
open to criticism, and that we persist in the face of frequent failure. The
questions of how to protect our future and face up to our past have no
simple answers. To love politics then is to love tedious, contentious, and often
painful work. The ancient Greeks, from whom we derive the very word politics,
knew this. They knew that individuals make bad decisions, that democracies fail,
and empires fall, but they also knew the joy of political action.
They knew that satisfaction that comes from working with your peers toward a
common goal and the beauty of what Hannah Arendt has called "action in
concert." Today's political scientists know that authoritarian regimes thrive
when citizens withdraw from public affairs. So even if you can't bring
yourself to love politics, as I honestly do, I hope that you can see
that the solution to our political ills is not to withdraw, but to engage.

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