I must first start this paper off with my political leanings, as it were, which I do not divulge lightly.
I see myself as one practicing political neutrality, meaning that I don’t “pick sides,” I weigh and evaluate the evidence for any given claim by any and every source, vote as an Independent when I must, and respect all parties involved. This is a practice that is used in many issues regarding ethics (seeking neutrality), and has long been used in philosophical discourse, with much attention placed to evidence for the claims, and an emphasis on good reasoning.
Oftentimes, we are pressured into feeling that we have to “choose,” and specifically, we must choose sides. Examples include but are not limited to, would you choose Nazi Germany or fight for the Jews, you are either for abortion or against it, you must fight or you must die. This type of thinking is a famous fallacy in philosophy, where you dichotomize an issue, meaning, you make it seem black and white, make it seem like there are only two options, when in fact, there are many options available at any given time.
I still place much importance on education and the environment, and I tend to be a pacifist in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, but these are still attempts at neutrality. We do not need to “choose,” except when we are forced, coerced, or made to choose by external influences and sources. But, even though I am a Sartrean existentialist in a lot of ways and place emphasis on action and the importance of action, I do not think that this means we always need to “act,” even in times of distress.
An analogy: My type of thinking would be criticized for being stupid. This is because, if a building is on fire or you’re about to be shot, you must act. You don’t have a choice. But, I must cite Sartre to critique this coercive claim: Sartre never felt more free than when he had a gun to his head during the German Occupation of France, and this was because he realized, it wasn’t that he needed to act, it was that he realized he could choose. There is a crucial distinction here to be made.
I understand that the world is on fire, in a manner of speaking. (It’s always on fire, by the way.) But isn’t the first expected and usual response harmful reaction, panic, and irrationality? I strive for clarity of thought amidst catastrophes: I strive to remain calm and collected, no matter how hard it is. As someone I once knew in prison said, when someone sprays gas in prison, the best thing to do is not to run and look for vents and open spaces (you’re in a prison so that’s hard), but to calmly wet your towel around your neck and put it around your face. This requires discipline of mind and discipline of character.
Now, with that background in mind, you can see why I’m not going to purchase the dangerous rhetoric that has been tossed around recklessly this election cycle. We are thinking beings, we can draw our own conclusions. We can choose.
I am worried, I will admit. Trump has openly been misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and ableistic (though this could be disputed), all traits criticized in a politically correct environment and a nation that thinks it grasps multiculturalism and globalization (things I maintain are too large for one person to grasp: we always have perceived differences, and we always fight as a result). But, as I’ve been hearing lately, political correctness prevents honest dialogue, no matter how painful it can be. As a proponent of unregulated free speech (I tend to side with Justice Scalia on some of the issues of free speech), I do not condone the behavior and what the speech and rhetoric could lead to, but I’m aware, it is just that: rhetoric. It isn’t meaningless, I must be careful to say that it is not meaningless at all: But, rhetoric can be misleading, and it often lacks substance, and it’s often used to appeal to emotion (a logical fallacy), which is a form of manipulation that I strive to avoid through conscious effort on my part.
I hate politics because it’s a rampant appeal to emotion that often misleads and hurts others unfairly. I don’t hate political theory, however, because it offers a safe space for engagement with the ideas that underpin our society, our government, and our political opinions.
Here’s an example: The more you lean in one direction politically, the more you deny others and must live without. This is why I strive for neutrality, to inflict the least amount of damage as I possibly can. That aside, it’s an important demonstration of why politics can be so dangerous, because it denies others so much: Which is why, in all honesty, I found this election cycle in 2016 to be dangerous and fraught with miscalculation. You could always argue that non-action is still a choice that leads to harm (I think of Kant and his emphasis on duty), but this is an unfair characterization of my perspective. I won’t go into it too deeply, but I will say this: I have a duty to not cause harm because of my interests. When I don’t know something important, I’m not about to join an entire revolution. It’s just common sense.
Whether I like Trump or not is irrelevant, and making me choose is part of the problem. To be clear, I voted (if you must know, I voted for Jill Stein, maybe not the best choice but it was the best I could do with my limited time and limited research), and I voted with the intent of at least taking part in my civic duty and showing I care about the future of our country. But I maintain that impartiality and neutrality is important, now more than ever. This is because we must work to reduce the amount of harm we inflict on others with our political convictions. I bring this up because for me, this is what went wrong with the election, in a way that was unprecedented. Indeed, all the facts weren’t in and people were automatically making assumptions: no one was safe: I am disappointed in the behavior leading up to the election because it showed everything that is wrong with our current American regime. You can criticize Trump for being a neo-fascist, but I think he exposed the neo-fascist within all of us. He’s a mirror for our times. America has fallen a long way, and you are not on the right side of the fence simply because you are Democrat or Republican. In other words, politics is systemic, not random, and though there may be black swans, I still believe that democracy works the best way it can. Plato once said that he despised democracy because it was a bad form of government, one reason of which because people get impatient with democracy. I think this is prescient for our times, and true. A lot is happening now, and now is the time to pay attention, though, in all honesty, we should have been paying attention long before we were of age to vote. That red herring, of paying attention to the wrong things (thanks to sensationalism caused by corporations and the media), is what led to such flippant disregard for our country and our government, which I still see even after the election, something I find troubling at the very least, because it undermines what is still good about our government (the fact that we still have it, for instance). If each nation gets the government they deserve, that’s probably what happened to us.
To be clear: I do not think others are idiots for voting for whoever they voted for. I don’t care, and that’s because, it’s not my place. In that sense I adopt a kind of Taoist non-action. But I would say, it’s foolish to repeat the same mistakes, and we don’t want to do that by hurting others for their political leanings. And honestly, political upheaval will always be with us: Just think of the Civil War, for instance, a giant fissure that happened in our country almost two centuries ago.
In closing, I would say, I am apprehensive, but I maintain a sense of hope in democracy, and in our democracy. Democracy, as a friend of mine once said, in comparing our nation to less fortunate nations, is frail. This is true. But I don’t think it’s a hopeless case, because we are thinking beings, and we can get involved politically, we can seek to understand, and we can strive for truth and beauty (and neutrality if you desire). These are important principles that I don’t stand by idly, and I hope you find meaningful in your own quest in this life.