January 27, 2019

Writing About Political Issues

Wolf in the snow

As regular readers know, I write about politics periodically here at Atheist Revolution. I have been doing this since I started the blog; however, it seems like I haven't been doing as much of it lately as I used to. I'm not sure why. It isn't that I've run out of things to say or decided that political issues are unimportant. And while I do tire of all the Trump-related stuff, it is not like there aren't plenty of political topics that would not have to involve that.

I think it might have something to do with the fact that I have become increasingly frustrated by the tribalism surrounding much of politics. It seems harder to engage in productive political discussions because so many people act as if they are seeking opportunities to demonize anyone who might disagree with them. I suspect that this is part of the reason why I sometimes catch myself thinking twice before writing something that is more politically focused. I used to find it helpful to write about this stuff because it was a way to get feedback that would often shape my views. The quality of the feedback has declined, and the reactions are so predictably filled with outrage that I find it less helpful than I remember.

The key, of course, is to be more selective about who I listen to. When I write something political, there is little point in paying attention to the reactions from unreasonable people who are unable or unwilling to do more than parrot tribalistic talking points. There are plenty of reasonable people out there with diverse political views who are capable of being thoughtful, and they are often worth seeking out. I wish they were easier to find, but I suppose their rarity makes them more valuable.

I have never much liked the idea of shying away from certain topics because I anticipate negative reactions from others. I did this as a means of survival when I first started to realize that I was an atheist, but I told myself I would stop doing it as soon as I was able. For the most part, I think I have been successful. Still, there are times when I catch myself avoiding a topic I'd like to address because I'm not sure I want to deal with the outrage, misinterpretation, tribalism, and whatever else it may prompt. This is something I rarely feel good about and something I'd like to do less of in the future.

Lots of people say that they'd like to see our political discourse improve, and I think most of them are being sincere. They do not always recognize their own role in the state of our discourse, but I believe them when they complain about it. There is little we can do about how others behave, but we can decide that we are going to be reasonable and engage in thoughtful discussion around controversial subjects. We can model civility, reason, flexibility, freethought, critical thinking, kindness, and other things we'd like to see more of. I need to do more of that and stop worrying about the inevitably disappointing reactions. After all, we all pay a price when the more reasonable voices decide to withdraw.

The social media landscape often seems like a crowded street corner where everyone has a megaphone they are using to yell over everyone else, and nobody is listening to what anybody else is saying. The loudest and most irrational voices rise to the top, and the reasonable ones are drowned-out. But it doesn't have to be this way. Social media can and sometimes does facilitate meaningful interaction with others. I've met people online who live in places I've never visited, have had life experiences vastly different from my own, and who hold political views I do not always have an easy time understanding. Many of them have taught me things. Some have even helped me change my mind on various political topics. They may be rare, but they are worth seeking out.

The lesson, at least for me, is clear. I need to write about what I want to write about and make more of an effort to engage the reasonable voices regardless of whether I agree with their political views.