Why I’m Not Discussing Politics Much Right Now

Posted this to Facebook, but then thought it might as well go here too.

I’m having a lot of difficulty in discussing politics at the moment. The problem is that so often debate is polarised between two false alternatives, and actually trying to even express an opinion makes me either have to equivocate so much the point gets lost or conversely accept framings I fundamentally disagree with.

“Do you agree with the health bill?”
“Well, no, actually, I think there are various problems with…”
“Great! I’ll add you to my Save Labour’s NHS From The ConDems Who Are Destroying It petition, shall I?”
“Er, no… I think the problems with the NHS bill are precisely those areas where it’s most similar to Labour’s policy…”
“Ah, so you’re a Tory bastard who hates the poor, then?”
“No… I think the basic idea of the bill is sound, but making it compulsory for GPs to take on extra admin work, rather than optional, for example is a terrible…”
“OK! I’ll put you down for the End The Evil Postcode Lottery campaign!”
“No, I *like* the idea of localism, and people in an area deciding for themselves what their health priorities are…”
“You ARE a Tory!”
“So I’m a Tory because I trust my GP more than, say, Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust who were rated second-worst in the country and who sacked a nurse for comments related to her union activities?”
“Yes, because she was organising against a trust run by a LABOUR council”

I get so tired with that argument though, and many others like that, that I often end up just saying “Yeah, smash the evil bill”, because I do think that on the whole the health bill is a bad idea (and a missed opportunity when we could have argued earlier in the process for a genuinely liberal NHS) and I end up sounding like the worst kind of authoritarian Labourite. Either that or I just hurl abuse at the person I’m arguing with.

I suppose this is the dilemma of the Liberal throughout the ages — agreeing with Labourites about (some of) the problems but disagreeing about the solutions — but it’s put into focus more when the Lib Dems are actually in government, and working with the Tories.

(This is NOT an invitation for a debate over the health bill, for precisely the reasons above. Nor is it a dig at any particular Labour member, or indeed Tory. If you don’t argue like that, then it’s not about you.)

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13 Responses to Why I’m Not Discussing Politics Much Right Now

  1. Dave Page says:

    I don’t even think this is split on party lines, to be honest. On pretty much every issue, I’m seeing FUD from all sides – even the ones I agree with. It seems like everybody’s given up on evidence and rational argument and just aiming to achieve their aims through the most emotive nonsense possible.

    Every now and again when I’ve got a bit of time and energy to spare I’ll occasionally wade in to an online argument (usually on the Lib Dems page on Facebook) and try to throw a few facts in, but it’s certainly not something I have the capacity to do on anything like the scale required to stem the tide of hyperbole.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Absolutely agreed. Part of the reason I’m trying to talk less about politics is I’ve become painfully aware of myself becoming part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. I certainly don’t think it’s only or primarily a Labour problem, but as most of my friends are left-leaning rather than right-leaning, the ones who are most likely to disagree/argue with me would be Labour people.

      I think some of it may be the influence of Twitter. It’s almost impossible to communicate meaningful political ideas on Twitter, and very, very easy to get caught in sloganeering.

  2. Alas, I think we all have a tendency to dichotomy thinking, in much the same way we have a tendency to slouch in a chair. Everything just feels so much easier that way.

    Read pretty much any internet debate and you’ll see it. Fans of, for example, new Who will refuse to countenance anything good about old Who, pointing out that it had rubbish episodes while their opposite number do the reverse. Such debates don’t progress, the two sides just shout louder.

    But all it seems much, much worse over politics. There’s a whole chicken-and-egg question about how it relates to the adversarial system in the Commons, where the concept of two rival groups haranguing each other is quite literally inbuilt. (NB As in the old definition of “quite literally”, where it actually meant “quite literally.” Not in the modern one of “something which is not actually happening at all.”)

    As I’ve said before, I regard mainstream politics as pretty much a distraction and a charade. But what aggravates me is when people who imagine themselves involved in radical politics do exactly the same thing. So many people’s analysis of New Labour was that they were “really Tories”, and they then seemed secretly delighted when the real Tories got back in. It’s absurd antics that doesn’t fit any of the evidence. It just makes the practitioners feel better.

    (Incidentally, and you can accuse me of being two-faced here, but I don’t think there was ever anything good about the Health Bill. I think it was always devised to bounce GPs into bed with private providers, and any suggestion otherwise was nothing but feints and window-dressing!)

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I couldn’t agree more with the bit about dichotomy thinking. A possible fault in my own thinking is that I always seem to go for the third option rather than either of the top two – or, indeed, rather than the fourth or fifth option. Lib Dem rather than Labour or Tory, GNU/Linux rather than Windows or Mac, Pulp rather than Blur or Oasis… (I’m straight, but in my current social circles straight is definitely the third option after bisexual and gay).

      Getting rid of the adversarial system is, of course, one of the reasons I’m so interested in electoral reform.

      And I don’t think you’re being two-faced. Just because not *everything* is a straight black-and-white good-vs-evil debate doesn’t mean *nothing* is. Personally, I think Lansley’s intentions may have been as you state (though I always try to assume the best motives of people I disagree with), and the early drafts of the bill certainly looked like that, but the later drafts that have actually gone through Parliament are very different, and much more acceptable.

      • You may have preferred Pulp because they actually were better than Blur or Oasis!

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Oh, I do think they were. Just like I think the Lib Dems are better than the Tories or Labour, and GNU/Linux is better than OS X or Windows. Just an interesting pattern in my preferences…

  3. TAD says:

    I know what you mean about talking politics. Both sides present a distorted view of reality, and it’s difficult to have an intelligent discussion with a partisan in either party. The conversation too often descends into a “good vs. evil” discussion, and frankly I find it all beneath me. Most politicians are only interested in enhancing their power, status and money……issues (taxes, health care, civil rights, etc.) are just a means to an end, in the sense. Every Congressman in the US will leave office much wealthier than when they first entered office. The concept of the “citizen legislator” doesn’t really exist anymore.

  4. Absolute monarchy or puritan theocracy? British empire or German empire? Votes for women only if they’re over 30, or no votes for any women at all? Endanger women who don’t want to be prostitutes or endanger women who do want to be prostitutes? Lager or bitter? Will Young or Gareth Gates? Do you want to be shot or stabbed? If you don’t choose one or the other you’re ‘sitting on the fence’!

    • Holly says:

      And it’s really amazing how vehemently people react to someone who’s “sitting on the fence.” As a bi Lib Dem I seem to encounter this kind of thing a lot: everyone’s trying to figure out what I “really” am (and neither bisexual nor Liberal Democrat are “real” options!). Anything that doesn’t fit the dichotomy is threatening and must be normalized.

      • Rankersbo says:

        I notice this too. People create false choices, false dichotomies. This isn’t new.

        What upsets me is how thoughtful, intelligent people are treated as insufferable, geekish, pedantic and borish for being thoughtful and measured rather than knee-jerk and over simplistic. It’s just upsetting.

        I also get upset when I put together something thoughtful and measured and simply get ignored while people react to the more dramatically expressed contributions get their backs slapped for their “brilliant posts”.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Part of the problem is that if you put together an actual coherent, tight argument, that leaves people with nothing to say. If you put up something full of holes, people can either pull your argument apart or help shore it up. I know my most popular politics posts are those that took seconds, rather than hours, to write…

    • TAD says:

      Absolute monarcy or Puritan Theocracy? Tough call…….probably absolute monarchy, if I was force to choose. It’d be better for the economy, I suspect. And the nightlife would be more fun.

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