Shut up about Politics

I’m not going to talk about politics anymore.

Because, really, I never have been.

I’m not going to call myself political anymore, because I’ve realized I don’t know what that word means. After two degrees in politics and years of political activism, I don’t know what that word even means.


So… Governments? Leaders? Laws?
Social movements? Human rights? Human dignity?
War? Oppression? Hate? Love?
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
Who I am, who you are, how we interact?

At what point does it stop being politics? At what point does it start? At what point do we wonder if maybe it never has been? Maybe what we’ve been talking about is just us, our lives, our world and our place in it.

Everyone has an opinion. What makes an opinion political?

I like that movie. I dislike Ethiopian bread. I like philosophy. I dislike capitalism. I like men and women. I like traveling. I like puppies. I dislike racism. I like free and critical journalism. I dislike laws that persecute trans people. I like you, or I don’t, and that’s just what I think.

When did prehistoric Grugg decide he didn’t like how Chief Ulg made everyone wear saber tooth tiger skins in combat? That maybe he didn’t like Chief Ulg at all. Maybe what the world needed was a Chief Grugg. When did Igg tell Grugg to stop with all this political nonsense because there was wooly mammoth meat to grill?

What I’m asking is, when did we decide we should divide our lives into spheres of the political and the not? When did we start to divorce our lives and ourselves from the decisions we and others make about how we live?

When did some things become political and some not? When did the political become taboo? When did the political become anything other than just our actions and our decisions and how we engage with each other? When did that become something to not care about?

How can you say you don’t care about politics? Your whole life is politics. Talking about politics is just talking about life in this world.

Like, tell a Syrian not to talk about the war.
Tell a Rohingya family in Myanmar not to talk about the genocide.
Politics doesn’t matter? Say it.
Say it to the Jews in Auschwitz and the Tutsis in Rwanda and the Russians in the Gulags and North Koreans in prison camps and unarmed black men at police gunpoint.
Tell them to stop talking about politics, I dare you.

Say it to the teenage trans boy on the brink of suicide. Tell him that the laws around bullying and medical access and conversion therapy and hate speech don’t matter.

Say it to the rape victim told she was asking for it. Tell her the ways our culture treats masculinity and sex and sexuality and rape don’t matter.

You can tell it to anyone you like: Politics doesn’t matter. But this is what you’re saying:

The decisions being made about your life don’t matter. The way society chooses what your life will be like doesn’t matter. The way I treat you doesn’t matter. Your trauma doesn’t matter. Your pain doesn’t matter. Your experience doesn’t matter. Your life doesn’t matter.

Does politics matter now? Or can we just admit that maybe this has never been about politics, that the word doesn’t mean anything?

There are certainly white people who don’t think about racism, and rich people who don’t think about class hierarchy, and men who don’t think about patriarchy. And there are people of color and poor people and women who don’t think about those things much either. However, ignoring the things we call ‘political’ is far easier when those things aren’t actively harming your life.

It’s been said many times before, that one part of having a given privilege not having to think about it. But the political sphere touches all of us, whether a policy or law or leader or movement benefits us or does us harm. I’m not really interested in a discussion of privilege here. I’m interested in why we call certain parts of our lives ‘political’ and only those parts. And who decides what’s political and what isn’t? And why?

We talk about politics, but this is just life.

Every identity is in some way political, is politicized, policed, regulated, controlled, brutalized, sanctioned or persecuted. Acting the way you act, speaking the way you speak, looking the way you look, loving the way you love are themselves all in some ways political acts, especially if you do any of them in a way contrary to the dominant social norm.

Our whole lives are enmeshed in this thing we call politics, and yet we talk about politics like it’s something other than us. When your very ability to exist, let alone be free, hangs in the balance, does it stop being politics then?

Everything we do in human society, even choosing to leave society entirely, still is affected by and has an affect on society, on some system of human social organization. If everything we do happens within that system, and affects that system, and that system affects us, then everything we are and everything we do is political. And if it’s all politics, then none of it is politics.

So can we admit that we don’t know what we mean when we say ‘politics’? That talking about what we call politics as ‘politics,’ as a thing in its own class, seeks to remove us from the role we have in everything politics does? That, maybe, we’re never not talking about politics because we’re always just talking about life?

You don’t have to actively care about everything that’s ever happened. You don’t have to actively care about everyone in the world. I don’t think doing either would even be possible.

You don’t want to talk about Trump, or environmental regulations, or war? You can certainly not want to talk about things. That’s okay. But those things aren’t ‘politics,’ they’re just different things happening in this elaborate mess we call Life.

For me, I’m going to stop calling this ‘politics.’ I’m going to stop drawing the line. I’m going to talk about what matters to me, whatever that is in that moment. Because it’s all just life, and I give a damn about life. And I give a damn about how we talk about it. About how the way we talk about it shapes what it is, shapes us and our actions.

Maybe it’s time we all stopped calling the things that affect and shape and govern and decide and control and define our lives anything other than just that: our lives.


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