When I was a freshman in high school, I was grounded for several weeks for getting bad grades in math. No phone, no T.V., and no hanging out with friends. It so happened that during these spring months there was a particularly bad flood season for the metropolis of Sun Prairie. Our basement flooded where my room was, so we moved my mattress into the living room where my free time was to be spent doing nothing and the rest of my time more nothing. I was able to watch T.V. on the condition that my dad was watching golf or politics. It was a 16-year-old kid’s worst nightmare. My dad liked to watch a show called Countdown with Keith Olbermann at 7 pm almost every night. Keith was a fiery commentator, one who got his prominence in cable news by being a vocal opponent against the war in Iraq. I had held my basic liberal views throughout my youth, particularly those against George W. Bush, but I soon looked forward to watching Keith every night. A brilliant man, Keith had a seemingly infinite vocabulary to voice incredible passion, one I had never seen before quite this way in politics. Suddenly my interest in history expanded into an interest in politics, world events, and writing about them. I became engrossed in cable news and talk radio. I started reading books about issues that interested me like income inequality and war. I woke up at 5am to work a full day at a polling center during the 2010 midterm elections unaware that I was being paid. I was a political junkie.
Political Science is a discipline unlike anything else. There rarely is a time when the study of politics comes to a clear answer. There is no mathematical equation to come to an ideology, no precise calculus to explain why each person votes the way they do. But the study of how humans organize themselves is one requiring a higher order of abstract thought combining history, phycology and philosophy into one. We are not brutes wandering the plains struggling to survive. Society is no longer single-minded expansionist empires seeking to benefit themselves by stepping on each other. The human race is the most successful, intelligent, and altruistic species that has ever existed on Earth and politics is the pinnacle that keeps that success from devolving into anarchy.
Politics should be boring. I would like it to be. When our political system gets to the point where compromise becomes routine and justice is a common observance, when theocrats and vultures no longer control legislatures, and when our democracy is in a state where the biggest issue of debate is what to name a park, I will be satisfied and happy to write children’s stories instead of editorials. Politics isn’t captivating in such a way to most of the American public as sports is, but politics is a year round game of sorts that can be affected by the average citizens input. I can study the Packers all I want, but nothing I analyze will affect the outcome of the game. Government exists in direct response to the actions of the citizens it represents, and the results carry weight which is what gives importance and interest to many. Yet politics is like religion. Rigid political ideologies are so confident in their concepts that evidence pointing to the contrary is discredited on the basis that it exists. This confirmation bias is alive today as it ever has been. People don’t like their core principles being uprooted and contradicted. This often makes it difficult for a final product to be reached.
But it’s important not to make and break friends based on politics. You don’t introduce yourself by saying “Hi I’m a Republican”. And why should you? Politics should not dictate who you associate with. Ideological difference between colleagues and friends is the best way to introduce yourself to different ways of thinking. If you can have intellectual argument on American drone policy in Kazakhstan with your friends, great! Leaving the important conversations to the intellectual elite in our political system is overrated and counterproductive.
There is nothing more important to our social fabric than humor. Especially when you are dealing with serious political topics, a sense of humor is what keeps rational individuals sane. I don’t encourage the sudden fancy for racist or derogatory jokes, but the human mind cannot function if it is in constant stress all of the time. Many decisions in world affairs, politics, and life in general cannot be avoided or changed. It’s difficult, but I assure you it helps to pull yourself back from the frontlines to a bystander’s state when times are tough. Humor is a buoy in what is often a sea of uncertainty and frustration, and it’s taken for granted too much.
I don’t write this hoping everyone will wake up early to read the paper or watch the news. To routinely pay attention to the havoc of national and state politics takes a stomach of steel. But the average citizen needs the basic sense of duty to form an opinion on the truly important policies that guide our lives. For the true activists, those who live and breathe the often gruesome process of politics, we are the citizens who make and break movements. We are the last line of defense that rallies the public when the issues are too important to ignore. We make calls, door knocks, and petition circulations. We are idealists above prestige seekers, called by sense of something larger than ourselves.
I’ve often been asked why I’m so interested in politics. Staying up with the world is about keeping things in perspective. When you dedicate yourself to higher ideas that go beyond material self-interest, the trivial things that cause headache and annoyance fade. You achieve an independence from the normal bustle and herd of people interested in personal attainment above self-fulfillment. Community and family legacy trumps the individual desires. Politics is often a brutal and ruthless exercise, one dominated by back room deals, ulterior motives, and an endless bureaucracy. But I refuse to be a cynic in a system which has produced some of the greatest minds in the world, one that has guided the world with real change. I write because I am far better at explaining the world I see when I reflect and put it on paper. My lack of complex math skills and legible hand writing is replaced by a way to organize language into meaningful description that hopefully improves the understanding of its readers on the things I deem needing conversation. I don’t know if my career will be in politics, but at least I can say I stand for something.