Monday, July 15, 2013

The Omnipresence Of Politics Is The Omnipresence Of Indignation

Celebrations in Honor of Giuseppe Garibaldi in Sferisterio Arena in Macerata, detail, 19th century. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Is it just me, or is politics taking over? It's everywhere now. It's not just that it's everywhere, it's that it's such a large proportion of everything.

Maybe I'm misremembering but I think you used to be able to read The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books and find a little politics in with a lot of other stuff and now it's like politics politics politics politics politics.

Sure, part of the story is that a lot of shit is happening. But is that all there is to it?

Here are three darker theories about the new omnipresence of politics.

1. The new omnipresence of politics is really the omnipresence of indignation. Confronting actual things can be grim, and thus sad, and we all know how bad that is for the soul. Whereas indignation -- it's life affirming! It makes you feel like you're doing something! Whether you're obsessed with things you agree with or things you disagree with, politics is an arena where you never have to check your indignation at the door.

2. Politics is like J. Lo for the literati set. I mean, politics has the fun of gossip, but allows you to feel like you're being all serious about things. Everyone loves gossip. But gossiping about your friends is risky or time-consuming and in the modern world: either you're online, in which case you're gonna get found out, or you have to make a phone call or meet for coffee ... and who has time for that? I guess there are celebrities. But a lot of people feel celebrity gossip is beneath them.

3. Talking about politics gives people a way of feeling like they're thinking about something, now that actual intellectual activities like reading are passing into the realm of the antiquated. I mean, you can't really tweet in an interesting way about reading a novel or seeing an opera. But politics -- there's always some tiny bit of new news that can gobbled up and spit out in a matter of seconds.

And by the way, while we're on that subject, can I just say that it has not somehow become OK to talk in a carefree way about how you can't read books anymore because the internet has rewired your brain and modern life is so busy no one has time to read. Yes, if you have small children or you have to work three jobs to make a living, you are off the hook. But lots of people have plenty of time for Netflix and social networking and if you have time for those you have time to read.

Also, I know this will come as a surprise to some of you, but finishing books is not beyond your abilities either. People keep talking about how they start but can't finish. But interestingly, finishing one book is no more difficult than starting several. All you have to is, when you go back to interrupted reading, pick up the same book you were reading before rather than a different one. Voilà!

If you've been hoping to get back into "reading," but you're a little rusty, do yourself a favor and read Anchee Min's new memoir. When I tell you that Min's arrival in the US in her late twenties, having lied about being able to speak English to get a visa, with almost no money and no one to help her here isn't even the most dramatic part of the story, you'll see why I describe it as a page-turner.

Plus, since this book is full of reflections on the differences between China and the US, it'll soothe your politics addiction even as you find yourself actually reading multiple pages in one sitting.

Please, don't let politics eat your brain. The mind you save may be your own.

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