Having spent most of my adolescent and nascent adult life in politics, I have seen and commented on, including on this website, the tribalism and rancor both in the field of politics and outside of the field which, given the ubiquity of the politics, it doubtless influences. Yet, politics is a moral vocation for many of those who enter it and it is foremost obsessed with improving the lives of our fellow siblings in the human family and the environment in which we live. I entered politics out of strong moral conviction. That makes the hatred within it even more sad. That the hatred is borne of an intent to love. It begs the query of which of the routes of politics averts most the poisons endemic to the sport.
The route I took, I believe, is among the best options to keep love and grace in political conflict. It is greatly a matter of which issues are the bedrock of one’s activism. I’ve written in an earlier article on identity versus human approaches to politics. Certainly, the human lends itself more to love and empathy. However, there are specific issues which dampen the fires raging within when emphasized. The ones I have focused on. Those would be anti-war, economics with a labor focus, and urban design.
In all of these cases, I’ve been advocating for the very people I am against in identity politics. In November 2012, I was doing an anti-war protest against the Israeli invasion of Gaza. I was fully cognizant that the third-world Muslims in Palestine whom I was trying to save the lives of were mostly homophobes and misogynists. I had been a member of my high school Gay-Straight Alliance and supported a fellow Aspie who transitioned from female to male. I had a pro-gay record. Still, I was in a position where I had to love and empathize with people who were definitely hardline homophobes.
Also, when you are protesting war it occurs to you that you should not become a part of microcosm of war, itself. That it would be hypocritical if the roots of the conflict we’re actively struggling against we possessed ourselves. If I was going to stand against the sectarian animus that causes war, I would feel an intense shame and shamelessness if I participated in it myself. In anti-war movements, one is not merely opposing the pro-war faction but war, itself, and also hatred. It is not about which side is right or wrong but whether those facts are important enough to dehumanize human beings over to the point that they become worth killing. That and in that recognizing the value and fullness of all lives regardless of their identity.
It’s a similar thing with labor. The blue-collar workers who have always been the center of labor organizing have usually been on the other side of social issues from myself. Yet, I could not grudgingly join their cause with strong animosity merely wanting to get their livelihoods improved. I had to suspend anything like that and accept them for who they were. In the labor movement, I had to accept as my siblings people with prejudices I would find disgusting. Whenever I work with older generations of the working-class, I’ve been required to do that. In a recent canvassing effort I did this past week for a local state legislator, I canvassed with a woman who didn’t believe in evolution, did believe in hitting children (which she defended using Leviticus), and told me that scientists were taking the place of God. I think the only reason she is a Democrat is because she is black.
Working in the parts of politics that require me to coexist with people that hold abhorrent political and retarded unscientific views forces me to be more forgiving of and more patient with my opponents. It makes me more cosmopolitan. I am able to be comfortable and friendly with people of most backgrounds, many of which are at odds with strong moral and ethical beliefs that I hold including about feminism, gay rights, children’s safety, science, and more. In a number of the places I’ve been while doing this, I have had to adapt to people very unlike me. Which brings me to the last of the issues that engender a more loving approach; urban design, the art and science of imparting that cosmopolitanism on others.
One of the primary purposes of urban design is to forge a harmonious and mutually supporting community. Where neighbors love each other and help each other and gather in community events. That requires that they overlook the differences and even significant flaws in each other’s characters. Furthermore, like in labor and anti-war activism, I am working for people who are against me in many areas of the public discourse. Trying to design a community in a culturally regressive place is to be acting out of empathy toward people whom I believe are morally wrong in many ways. When focusing on making loving relationships between disparate people then it requires that one make those themselves lest one be a hypocrite. When one must be an authority on harmony then one must answer to oneself on whether one has earned the right to be an authority on it.
People in politics, and everyone should be civically active, should devote a significant portion of their time and resources to causes that force them to be blind to the moral flaws or perceived moral flaws of their cultural opponents. That force them to be patient and forgive. Politics can be a journey of building character or eroding character depending on how it is approached. If one mostly only does identity politics or, worse, does only issues that affect them personally then politics is likely to be poisonous to the soul. Yet, if one broadens one’s civic pallet and engages with many issues and with the human conditions of the humans the varied nooks of society which those many issues are concerned with then politics will be medicine to the soul.
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