What is Political?
Some time in my sophomore year of college, thanks to a heady concoction of Nietzsche, Foucault, and LSD, I abandoned this political stance. I may have had my formal reasons for doing so but it came down to the fact that is just felt false — because it was false, even if it felt so real. Bathos is a bitch like that. I was regurgitating ideology, repeating familiar narratives with their compelling but cloying sentimentality — Why can't we all be free?
As an adult — or whatever it is I am at 42 —, I once again consider myself political. But in a very different way.
At first, my politics began as local, everyday action. I began driving like there were other people on the road, letting in drivers pulling out of driveways. And I've always been civic minded — heeding line etiquette, giving up my seat on BART for anyone in need, offering to help the blind. But I began to see such actions as political, as shaping the way people interact — and isn't that politics?
But there are other things, too. In conversation, I try to avoid cliches or letting other people utter them, steering the dialogue into uncharted territory. Because it is cliche that shuts us down, keeps us in the familiar world of what was rather than the emerging world of what might be at every moment. I taught for many years, doing my darndest to foment the best kind of revolution: a revolution of generous multiplicity. I write, of course, trying to steer thinking into new territory — and mostly to foster a love, or at least an appreciation, for thinking differently.
(Writing this now it seems so, well, lame. Hmn.)
And then there are structures that coerce us, discourses that define us, often without our even knowing but just as often while thoroughly aware and annoyed and frustrated. I negotiate the discourses of masculinity, work, fatherhood, adulthood, son-hood, ex-husbandhood, etc. We are each nodes within networks that exceed us, ways of thinking and talking that are taken for granted as just the way things are, just what we do and hence are the very (insidious) structures of power.
This yields a very real politics of me, the politics that I am. I am — and methinks we all are — a veritable polyphony of voices, attitudes, beliefs, actions. Everything I do negotiates and distributes so many different factors — my sense of authenticity, my conscience, my desires, my fears, everything I've ever thought, been taught, believed. All of my — all of our — individual reckonings of our histories is a making of history, is political. Everyday, in multiple ways, we wrestle these discourses.
In the dating world, for instance, there are certain assumptions about what a relationship is, how it should proceed: drinks, a meal, sex, meet friends, go away together, move in together, get married, breed. Now, we may not all do this or want this. But you can't deny that this is an assumption which means any deviation from it becomes precisely that — a deviation rather than, say, the particular way a relationship may function.
Burroughs says that what we call politics is just the matador waving his red flag and, bulls that we are, we charge only to meet air. Or, if we're lucky, we nail the matador in the ass. But the bull fight doesn't change. Isn't it obvious by now that voting for one douchebag is the same as voting for any of those douchebags? (Douchebag is, without a doubt, one of the more hilarious words.)
If we see politics, then, as happening at the level of discourse — the level of how we talk about things, what we consider true and what we consider deviance — then art, film, the media in all forms is political from the get go.
So it's not that the political is solely personal or private. On the contrary, politics is the way the individual meets the world — meets others, meets ideas, meets him or herself.
This would shift political thought and political commentary rather dramatically. Rather than asking yourself, "Who will I vote for?", ask yourself, "What assumptions do I make as I wake and ready myself for the day? As I consider my future, my history, my love, my life?"
Philosophy and art and critique are the real politics. Which explains why they are never taught and are shit on so thoroughly.