#TBT: Politics is NOT for Entertainment

"United States of America," © 2009 Chris Yarzab, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

“United States of America,” © 2011 Chris Yarzab, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Politics is NOT for Entertainment.

I used to be something of a political news junkie. I followed elections closely, knew all the names of all the players for each party, had a good grasp of the “game” of politics, as a spectator at least. I told myself it helped me be informed as a citizen and be able to participate in democracy better.

But that changed six or seven years ago when I realized that politics had become a form of entertainment for me. Something I read about or talked about in my free time. It was something I looked forward to doing during a break, for example. And then I stepped back from that and realized how empty and pointless that was. I decided instead to devote that mental niche to something much more enjoyable and suited to the purpose: sports.

Why? Because sports is a game. It’s designed to be fun. It’s full of the glory of human achievement and human performance on the highest level. And once it’s over, it’s over. I may be a New England Patriots fan, and I may have fun taunting a New York Jets fan for the beating they’re going to take this weekend, but it doesn’t extend to any part of that person’s or my humanity. It’s a fun way to spend some spare time because it’s an excellent activity and, ultimately, its meaning is 100% self-contained.

"Take That fans at the back of Wembley stadium," © 2011 Ben Sutherland, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Democracy doesn’t need a stadium full of cheering fans. Photo Credit: “Take That fans at the back of Wembley stadium,” © 2011 Ben Sutherland, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

I think of many Americans as being somewhat mentally ill because for them politics has become entertainment. They root for their side. They may have started with actual beliefs, but my observation now is that most people just cheer viciously for their team. I hate the “Red State/Blue State” mindset so much, in part because it shows me how shallow most people really are when it comes to thinking about politics. It shows that when you get down to it, it’s no different than rooting for the Red of USC or the Blue of UCLA, except that at least sports fans know that what they’re watching is a game. And by the way, I’ve been to a lot of games, and as heated as rivalries can be, I’ve never heard any fan say the kinds of things about other fans that the “fans” of politics say about each other. It’s incredibly crass, and if you saw it in a stadium, you’d call it hooliganism.

If you’re not actively involved in politics and can’t be bothered to actually participate in the democratic process, do yourself a favor: Stop listening. Stay informed on issues and be able to make responsible voting choices, based on what your conscience tells you, but stop reading it, stop following the commentators, stop wasting your time on what is, for my money, the dullest reality show in the world: American politics. Believe me, you’ll be happier, and all this garbage will keep going on without you.

Why do I mention it here? Because I take a broad view of entertainment. Food, for example, is something that has entered the realm of entertainment in recent years, and that’s OK. It challenges the conventional notion of where the boundary of entertainment is for those who have a stage-based mentality, but that’s a good thing. I’d also add that personal services like massage have also become entertainment in the last 10 years because people do those things primarily for enjoyment, not for the benefits of the service. Entertainment is where the consumer finds it.

Politics, though, doesn’t belong in that category. Democracy doesn’t need a stadium full of cheering fans; it needs participants. But, commenting on blogs and on your Facebook status doesn’t count as participating in democracy. You’re fooling yourself, wasting your time, and imposing on the tranquility of others, although many of the others you’re imposing on are just as deluded as you. If, for example, you can’t be bothered to go to a city council meeting, where you might actually be able to do something, we probably can live without your commentary on the grand issues of the day. As Stephen Covey says, time is better spent in your sphere of influence, not your sphere of concern.

Politics is not for entertainment because democracy and good government are too important to have their outcomes determined by a trifling little game of Red vs. Blue.

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