When Every answer to a question is political… Every “Us” needs a “them”
Right now, the most dangerous thing about politics is… politics.
Politics are dangerous to everybody. This is true if you’re scraping spray-painted obscenities off your Trump/Pence yard sign and wearing your MAGA cap at half-mast in mourning. And this is also true if you think AOC and the Green New Dealers have just dealt you a straight flush. (Flush twice – it’s a long way from Congress to your lunch bucket.)
Of course, politics have always been dangerous. Politics are how it’s decided who controls government… Whoever controls government controls the force of the law… And the force of the law is a lethal force.
Fail to pay a parking ticket and you’ll be fined. Refuse to pay the fine and you’ll be jailed. Try to escape from jail and you’ll be shot. Every law, every government rule and regulation, no matter how trivial or picayune, is obeyed at the point of a gun.
That gun is called politics. And what makes politics so dangerous right now is that Americans – Left, Right, and Center (if there even is a Center anymore) – have come to believe that the answer to every question is political.
How much money should we have?
How much money can we have?
What’s a dollar worth?
How many dollars must we pay employees?
Who are the employees required to be?
Who is allowed to employ them?
Who’s a real American?
Who’s just pretending?
Who gets to exercise free speech?
What if they speak too freely?
What should be taught in school?
What should be believed in church?
Which doctor can we go to?
Which car can we drive?
Or do we have to take the train?
And what should the weather be like?
Politics has become our first resort. And resorting to politics every time we face a problem is as absurd as (and identical to) resorting to firearms.
“Grab your shootin’ iron, Pa! Ma’s got bunions!”
It’s safer to rely on people (a podiatrist, for example) than it is to rely on politics.
Politics is a zero-sum game… Only one side can win. Individual people compete too. Only one person can be CEO. But there are plenty of different types and kinds of CEOs you can be. And how often do you apply for a job as CEO? Most of the time, when people are competing, it’s a game like golf or Little League, not a matter of life and death and parking tickets like politics.
Individual people spend most of their time cooperating… the way a family does. Imagine if a family were a political entity where the decision about who had which domestic duties and financial responsibilities was made by the group that could muster the largest ballot majority or the most physical power to lay down the law.
The poor old family dog would be holding down two jobs, raising the children, taking care of the cleaning and housework, and – here’s where politics can go so wrong – the dog would be cooking all the meals.
“Roadkill for dinner, again?!”
Politics is famously bad at allocating resources. Using the force of family politics you can make the dog do all the work. But this will leave your kids chewing shoes and peeing on the carpet and you and your spouse burying bones in the yard.
Also, sooner or later, that dog will bite you.
Politics is famously good at creating divisions. To bolster support, politics depends on a feeling of “Us.” But every “us” needs a “Them.”
Encouraging an “us versus them” mentality is an experiment that has been tried hundreds of thousands of times since the beginning of political history. The results of the experiment are always the same. “Us” turns into Dr. Frankenstein. “Them” suffers the fate of lab rats. The lab explodes. People die.
A group is not a person. A person is not a group. Think how complicated a marriage proposal would be, how many legs pants would have, and how wide we’d need to make toilet seats if every person was a group.
Politics, by making people into groups, makes people act strangely and badly. And the people who act the strangest and worst are politicians.
The rest of us are imperfect. We give in to temptation. We commit the seven deadly sins. But politicians depend on those sins for their livelihood. They thrive on their sin. They’d be unemployed and homeless without the seven deadly sins.
Lust for power drives politicians. Gluttony for a feeding at the public trough prompts their supporters. Greed for campaign funding is a necessity. Sloth in neglecting the public weal is required if the “us” are to get the better of the “them.” Wrath at opponents serves the same end. Envy of “them” must be whipped up in “us.” Pride “goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Note that every politician is quick to say how proud he or she is to have been elected.
And right they are to admit to the sin of pride because what is politics if not the destruction of some people by others and a fall from the grace of human mutual sympathy into the abyss of a war of all against all?
But it’s not just what politics destroys that is to be feared… There’s also what it constructs.
Politics builds a huge structure, an enormous governmental machine of jurisdiction and command, authority and restraint, domination and mastery around each individual.
You may think you want a larger government. You may think you want a country, an economy, and even a personal life where politics plays a greater role. But remember the size and strength of this machine.
What if an idiot gets control of it?
Some say an idiot did get control of it for a while. And some say another idiot is in control now.