On politics and political writing
Summary: I reflect on whether my blog is an appropriate place for contemporary political commentary.
To date I’ve not written a single political piece on this website. For a long time, I was not sure exactly why that was or what force stopped me. It wasn’t a lack of interest nor was it out of fear. Perhaps it was a sense of appropriateness – the site, after all, has mostly been about my hobbies of writing and development.
Yet, I don’t live in a vacuum, and lately I’ve been writing more personal and reflective essays.
In the last week, events in Britain moved me to write not one, but two political pieces. The first was my reflections of Brexit, penned before Saturday’s awful terrorist attack. The second was on Theresa May’s war on encryption, penned after her address to the public outside Number 10.
I’ve published neither and I’m undecided whether I should.
This personal debate puts me in the mind of Sir Thomas More, who in the preamble to Utopia was debating his own entry into politics in the service of Henry VIII. His fear was that political life and power would change him and indeed it did.
My hesitation, I think, is along a similar vein.
Writing about my creative interests, even my interpretation of the slices of history that interest me, won’t ruffle many feathers. My stories are works of speculative fiction, remote from our modern times, albeit I like to think that the themes within transcend this remoteness of time and place. Honestly though, they’re pretty harmless stuff and in no way is my desire to write stories politically motivated.
Writing about politics, by contrast, is not harmless nor is it remote–politics and political writing is immediate and divisive. Publishing a political monologue would change the character of my website and with it, my public image. Deservedly or not, my politics would colour people’s opinions of my stories or worse, it would encourage people to draw contemporary political meaning from my stories where none was intended.
It is very hard to be apolitical. When you declare for one side or another, you risk alienating those who do not share your views. Today, there’s even greater risk of this occurring. Our society, or perhaps just a vocal minority, has become much more polarised in recent years. Issues that should not be politicised (like climate change, marriage equality, indigenous rights and the refugee humanitarian crisis) have become political footballs, booted back and forth between the right and left ends of the field.
Along with this polarisation is the continual debasement of public discourse and engagement. People with strong opinions rarely engage with civility–instead they shout at each other, so loudly that legitimate argument and reason is drowned out by the din. Then there are the trolls, who harass, bully and inflame, from the safety of their keyboards behind anonymous Twitter accounts. This crass form of public discourse is something I don’t need in my life.
Nevertheless, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak no matter what our politics are. If Aristotle was right, we are political animals because of our power of speech and moral reasoning. It’s a shame that too many people forget this distinction and prefer to use their teeth and claws.