Friday 3 June 2016

Why are people so 'interested' in politics, instead of life?

It is striking that my blog posts with a political theme usually get more views and comments than those on other themes. And the internet is full of (mostly Leftist) political comment. In general, political discourse seems to be the realm in which 'serious' people most avidly interact.

I have always found this strange; and it seems to apply to many nations. I remember being told by a local that those weatherbeaten old men sitting outside Greek cafe's wit their worry beads were talking about politics; and that multigenerational French extended families having four hour meals together outdoors would be talking about politics... How very disappointing! It all seems a terrible example of misplaced attention and effort, of futility.

Why on earth do so many people expend so much energy on such an unfruitful and unenjoyable topic? Because it is very seldom I have come away from any political discussion in any kind of positive, meaning-enhanced frame of mind - the filed seems like an exercise in frustration, anger and despair.

It seems clear to me that a trick is being successfully played on many people - it would be better to discuss almost anything other than politics, yet that is what gets discussed.

Of course I am not saying that politics is trivial - I would regard the mainstream, dominant secular  Leftist politics (shared as an assumption by all major political groups including those non-religious groups who are labelled, advertise or suppose themselves to be 'Right') to be the main source of malaise, insanity, despair and practical evil in modern society. But political discussion does nothing to cure that problem.

Indeed, conversation in groups generally seems to achieve very little in a positive, curative, inspiring direction except under rather exceptional circumstances. When it is ot political, middle class conversation in Britain is typically merely mechanical variations on safe subjects; or - in order to be more lively - unrelentingly facetious. Why do we waste everybody's time this way?

All too often conversation merely blocks any possibility of thinking and contemplation in a similar fashion to the mass media; so that between the demands of work, the media, social chit-chat and general busyness - people are trapped, encaged... life for the majority is like a third-degree torture of perpetual harassment... and relief from this 24/7 torture with solitude, quiet, and unstructured time is perceived as boring, lonely, miserable - something to be escaped as soon as possible! Stockholm Syndrome is the norm - and the people side with those who have kidnapped their time and attention.

The prison, like most large and inclusive prisons, is self-built and locked from the inside. The key is in your back pocket.


Unknown said...

And they talk about sports more than politics. People believe they have some connection to, or control over, these small spheres of influence much more than profound, cosmic ones. Rooting for my team and discussing the results until the next game fills my time so I can put off contemplating my mortality.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AK - I think sports is more understandable as a subject than politics - sports is, after all, designed to provoke exactly that kind of thing!

I get the feeling that women don't discuss sports much - at least not when they are on their own. When possible, men don't necessarily talk about sports, but about some matter of common interest (such as a hobby, or some project they are doing together). Most surveys have suggested that women talk about men! Men, on the other hand, don't talk much about women (at least gentlemen don't!).

On the other hand, my wife and I spend a rather large amount of time discussing (when we are not watching, or reading about) cricket! But then cricket is not really a sport - it is The Human Condition, in microcosm.

Bill said...

Some of the most talkative people I've spent time with are my wife's extended family. Their main topic of conversation is always family history. They tell the same family stories at every gathering and never fail to have everyone laughing. Beats the political horse races everytime!

Leo said...

“We can’t find everything we need to round out our humanity in the present. There are attitudes, ideologies, modalities of feeling and philosophies of mind for which we must journey backwards across the centuries, thought the corridors of reference libraries, past forgotten museum cabinets filled with rusting suits of medieval armour, along the pages of second-hand books marked with the annotations of their now-deceased owners or up to the altars of half-ruined and moss-covered temples. We need to balance contact with the ever-changing pixels on our screens with the pages of heavy hardback books that proclaim, though their bindings and their typefaces, that they have something to say that will still deserve a place in our thoughts tomorrow."

--Alain de Botton

Don said...

If you are including your posts on monarchy and the nature of government into this I am as guilty as anyone. I actually find it to be a spiritual conversation for me. Standard politics bore me. The nature of how fallen man can get closest to God which I believe is in a monarchy by a Christian king is the closest we will get until the day.

No man will know the day or time. Until then I would be content with a Godly king. ;

Bruce Charlton said...

@Leo - Alain de Botton is (or was until recently) nonrealistically-aesthetically-religious. That is, as of a few years ago, he believes all religions are false but a rich source of an elevated form of pleasure.

That was pretty much my own view during mid-adult life; and, as would be pretty obvious, this idea has very little value in life except in the short term and in unimportant situations.

It also provides zero foundation for social practice, because it is based on feelings, and everybody has - or may think they have, or can claim to have - different feelings.

Leo said...


Yes Alain de Botton's comment is not specifically religious or indicative of a devotion to religion, but it is a valuable statement nonetheless. We do benefit from the perspective of the ages and serious contemplation. That holds at least the possibility of a true religious awakening. Merely following politics or the changing pattern of pixels on our screen offers a lower chance of such an awakening. It is more likely to be just a distraction.

You say "or was until recently." Has there been a change?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Leo - I don't know of any change, but a few years ago AdB made a TV programme and gave a TED talk advocating what he supposed was a novel kind of Atheism ('2.0') - ie. using religious symbols and practices in a 'non-literal' and 'aesthetic' spirit. But this was advocated a lot in the UK by Don Cupitt in the early 1980s (eg a BBC series called The Sea of Faith), and has been common for more than a century, and indeed probably accounts for most of the upper middle class adherents of mainstream 'Liberal' self-identified Christian denominations. The idea is that Religion is factually untrue, but osome of its products (ancient cathedrals, choral evensong in Oxbridge colleges, the music of JS Bach etc) have cultural value; so people ought not be hostile to religion in the 'New Atheist' fashion. I used to be one of these aesthetic-religious types myself - so I know how limited is its value, and how feeble its role in human (and political) life. Just another lifestyle-option...

Leo said...


Yes, I remember a couple years ago after a local performance of one of the Bach Passions in La Jolla, the conductor said in the local newspaper that he hoped the audience would develop a love of Bach's music. No, no, no, I thought. Bach would have wanted his audience to develop a love of the Savior. That was the purpose of his music and particularly the Passions. And there is a world of difference between those who go to such a performance for a purely musical experience and those who go for a higher reason. And if you go for the higher reason, you get the musical experience as well. Aim for heaven, and you can get earth as well. Matt. 6:33.