An Idiocy Sabbatical
I am entirely too upset and concerned with Kim Davis. The posturing and the special specialness of majority religionists claiming their loss of privilege to do exactly as they please, the law be damned, and politicians pandering to them to tell them that their beliefs make them specially special and grant them custom-carved exceptions to the law and it drives me up the freaking wall. I’m beginning to get actually angry about it even though it’s happening thousands of miles away and doesn’t affect me or anyone I know.
I am entirely too upset and concerned with Donald Trump. The whole Trump phenomenon is the distilled essence of what seems wrong with me about politics: it is not a political movement so much as a collective grunt of unfocused, inarticulate outrage. Sound bites for sound bites’ sake, with zero interest or care about public policy, government, or law. On a related notes, I can’t swing a dead cat around by its tail in my town without hitting someone who’s either going to tell me about how illegal immigrants are destroying America, much less go on the internet.
I am entirely too upset and concerned with our nation’s socio-political polarization. Then=Secretary Hillary Clinton used private e-mail because she found the official encrypted e-mail systems to be too cumbersome. She shouldn’t have done that. Ought this disqualify her from being President? Obviously not. Is it a crime? Hell if I know, that’s something I need to leave to the kinds of people who investigate and prosecute such matters. How upset should I be about it? Hell if I know. I do know that the fact that it’s Hillary Clinton means that pretty much everyone, on both sides of the aisle, goes a little bit cray-cray about it and it’s functionally impossible to find a useful perspective from which to start even gathering facts.
I see cops shoot black folks for no apparent reason. That’s utterly outrageous. Then, there’s a rash of shootings on cops coincident with acts of disrespect towards entirely innocuous cops. So now we’re in the middle of a race war against the police? Of course not — but that’s what it seems like online. And then I get people asking me if #blacklivesmatter is engaged in criminal incitement to violence. Argh! I need to get away from this!
These are not issues that are going to go away soon. Well, the Kim Davis thing probably will go away soon, and there’s an off-chance that Trump will flame out but it appears that won’t happen until there are actual elections. And it won’t be getting better on its own: that’s not why I’m doing what I’m doing.
They are also not issues that indicate the imminent downfall of the Republic, the collapse of our society or the deterioration of the rule of law, or the inexorable transformation of our society into either an overweening totalitarianism nor a soulless oligarchy nor a reversion to some Hobbesian State of Nature. Or, maybe they are, in which case it’s already too fishing late and I need to spend my time stocking up on ammunition, bouillon, and canned food, instead of blogging about it.
No, I need to spend more of my free time with my five-iron and my brewkettle. A state of heightened anxiety about everything on the Intertubes by seemingly everyone on the Intertubes is bad for my blood pressure. This is bad for my mental health and my ability to sustain focus in civic affairs. It takes up a lot of mental space and energy to think about this stuff. It’s bad for my professional life.
The word “idiot” comes from classical Greek. The Greek root word “idio-” means something individual, personal, private, and distinct. An “idiotes” before the age of Pericles was “a person who holds no public office.” (In the age of Pericles, an “idiotes” meant “someone who wasn’t smart enough to realize you really need to start making friends with Pericles,” but that’s a different story.) Albert Breton wrote, in his 2003 text Rational Foundations of Democratic Politics, about idiocy:
The etymology of idiot is that of private person, someone who does not participate in public affairs; gradually the word also acquired the connotation of someone who is incapable of participating in public affairs, and that was the meaning that passed through Latin into many modern European languages. Though the evolution of language as everything else involves many accidents, there is enough correlation between the two meanings to make us pause. Erasing perhaps the temporary blip of Enlightenment thought, we could become, if we are not already, idiots in both senses, and of course we wouldn’t know it.
Seems like the vast bulk of people who are “talking politics” are idiots in both this meaning of the word — they are incapable of participating in public affairs in any meaningful sense — and the more common definition — they give the distinct impression of suffering from a profound lack of intellectual capacity.
And I can feel that it’s starting to push me towards idiocy myself. Certainly I can feel myself becoming more immoderate, less charitable, less patient, more frustrated. Actually angry. And I find myself wanting to respond to mind-bogglingly stupid quips with snark and quips of my own. I don’t like this. Even a tiny little bit. It isn’t how I want to be. And I need to get away from what’s inspiring it so I can better control it, better be who I aspire to be. While I deeply enjoy observing public affairs and commenting on them and sharing opinions and maybe being persuaded and maybe persuading others about them, I’m finding that my bites frequently come along with a pungent dose of venom which I must consciously dial back before I hit the “post” button, both here and elsewhere.
Now, sort of like the way Jack felt about Ennis, I can’t hardly quit doing what I do, being who I am. I know full well that I’m never going to purge an interest in public affairs out of my mind. But I can take step back. Take a breath. Meditate. Focus on other things in my physical and intellectual life. My Catholic friends and co-workers observe Lent, a time when they temporarily sacrifice something from their lives and instead focus on their faith and spirituality. I lack belief in the supernatural, but I see a value in disrupting a routine, getting out of a rut, stepping away for a time before getting back in.
There’s value in that.
For the next sixty days, I shall endeavor to avoid concerning myself with issues of politics and public affairs that are not directly connected to my professional life. I shall endeavor not to write about, read, nor comment about people who are running for President, people making political spectacles of themselves, people expressing anxiety about some random person doing some random act that doesn’t affect them directly anyway but is somehow cosmically offending in a generalized sort of way.
If it affects me, personally, immediately, then I shall worry about it. Otherwise, it gets sent off to the mental “deferred action” box.
This will be an exercise in willpower, at least at first. The magnetic pull of public issues is like heroin to the addict. But when it’s over, I’ll still have an entire year to enjoy the Presidential election. That’s plenty. I won’t be missing any of the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire, anything like that. And maybe I’ll start to recover some of my patience and cool.
But for two months, I’ll be thinking about picking which running backs I want for my fantasy football team, finding music to listen to and video games to play. There are recipes to cook and beer to brew, dogs to walk, and lawsuits to take to trial. And I’ll just let people calm the fish down about gay people being all gay and enjoying the same equal rights that us straight folks do, realize that the murder-of-police-officers rate is really no different now than it is any other time, realize that I’m not going to solve systemic racism by writing comments on a blog, and kind of not worry so much about how much float I get on the dollars-to-Euros currency exchange.
These problems will still be there in sixty days. I can write about them then. Or, they’ll have been solved. In which case, nature abhors a vacuum and I shall see what rushes in to fill it.
But I need to step out of the maelstrom for a little while and cool out. Y’all have fun, I’ll be back before you know it. I’ll probably be writing about music and food and movies and other non-political cultural stuff between now and then. Sixty days worth of stepping away from trying to solve all of the world’s problems is not all that selfish. Just a little bit.
Meanwhile, play nice here when you talk about public affairs. Namaste.
Burt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California and the managing editor of Ordinary Times. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.