The Politics of Politics

Some years back, I went to a meeting of a support group for people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  I do not in fact have CFS.  My husband does.  In fact, he has a sufficiently bad case of it that he isn’t up to support group meetings, which is why I went instead.  One of the hot topics among CFS groups at the time was the recent discovery that all of the money NIH had allotted for research on CFS had been used for something else.   We talked about it for a while, and then a woman in the front row said, “I never discuss politics. It causes too much stress for me.”  That was when I decided not to come back to that support group. E.J. Dionne says Americans hate politics because politicians ask all the wrong questions.  Aristotle says that politics is what distinguishes human beings from the “lower” animals. (Which shows what he knew about animals.)  Aristotle, and the Greeks in general, however, also tell us that politics is an activity available only to “free” human beings–those not hampered by enslavement, poverty, or illness.  And I think they had a point.  The people most in need of contesting the circumstances of their lives have the least time and energy available for doing it. Which confronts us repeatedly with the conundrum: if the poor are too busy being poor to represent themselves, who can represent them? Same goes for people with disabilities.  If they can be represented only by those who do not know their problems at first-hand, how much is that representation worth?Labor unions, for instance–in order to be able to bargain more or less on equal footing with employers, they have to have power. Once they have it, how well can they represent hotel janitors and farm laborers?

The answer that Mao and Lenin and Trotsky gave was that the only kind of power that will do the job is the kind that grows out of the barrel of a gun.  But more recent thinkers point out that this approach results in a post-revolutionary society dominated by well-armed able-bodied males, which leaves everybody else not much better off than they were before the revolution. 

Gandhi advocates the power that can be exercised by ordinary people–men, women, children, old people, people with disabilities, poor people–the power to stop cooperating with the system.  The result, if it works, should be a post-revolutionary society in which all of those groups continue to be represented.   

Anyway, even though politics is sometimes stressful for me too (and the older I get, the more stressful it is) I can’t bring myself to quit.  Now that I am a certified geezer (geezerette?  geezeress? crone?), I have less to lose than ever, and should be getting more political, not less. 

I feel a little out of step with some of my colleagues on Alexandria. Well, shoot, I’m always out of step with somebody. If I’m too political for the philosophic minds here, I’m probably too philosophical for the politicos on those other sites which shall remain nameless. And maybe too godly for all of them.  I did once write a plea for unisex bathrooms, called, of course, Potty Politics.  Ms. rejected it as too raunchy. Playboy said it was too scholarly. That’s why I’m a sister act, I guess.

Red Emma

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