The question of the week appears to be: Why Don’t People Talk Politics?
But I would rather address the question’s reverse. Let us ask why people do talk politics. I think by answering this we will find ourselves answering the other question, too.
If you are ready, pull up a chair and pour a drink. It’s a long one.
And even if you are a kitten-drowning hack who writes stories about Canadian students without even bothering to find out whether they are not American tourists, pull the chair all the way up. Make yourself comfortable. Tomorrow you can get the riding you deserve from your editor but for now, let us chit-chat.
I have a theory about political talk.
I think there are three reasons for it. The first reason will be illustrated below:
The NSSF scandal has proven yet again that the powers that be have no regard for basic tenets of civil responsibility. It boggles the mind that, at a time when 67% of Ugandans live in abject poverty, the NRM party heads at NSSF who are entrusted with their future are recklessly flushing it down the drain through flagrant corruption! What shall we do? Who shall save us? Instead of rising up to demand change, we are wasting our time watching Big Brother…
Okay, maybe you don’t. Because you are not a fool.
Any intelligent person will notice in a matter of seconds that that paragraph is total bullshit because, first of all, that statistic is completely bogus. Secondly the NSSF is not run by the NRM party, and mostly, logic has to leap across light-years to make the rant work because people living in abject poverty do not contribute to NSSF. The little rant also has the tried-and-tested staples of handwringing bombast (Who shall save us!) and the technique of making itself seem high-brow by juxtaposing itself with something allegedly lower-minded — by claiming something (e.g. Big Brother) is beneath him, he tacitly suggests that he is above things. You see?
There are people out there who will be impressed to no end by that sort of claptrap. They revel in it. Their conversations are full of then flinging swill like this at each other in glee, so glad to be having what they think is an intellectual discussion about political issues. Yippee!
So if my lovely assistant would not mind wheeling out the panel…
I know. But I never said I dance the Photoshop.
Anyway, there you are. The first reason people talk politics, I have learnt, is because they think it makes them look smart. Avoid such people, children, I urge you. Shun them. Go and watch Big Brother instead.
And now, the next reason: Are you ready? No? You would like to hear more about my lovely assistant.
Her name is Rere. She is a singer. She once sang a song with Young Jeezy. Oh, I see you are no longer interested after hearing that. Let us proceed then.
The second reason people talk politics is because they are geeks about it. Smart people often like to find a hobby that will stimulate and exercise their minds. They want something they can obsess over, something about which they can amass large amounts of information, something about which they can obsess as they discuss its intricate details with one another. Some people do this with sports, some with the arts, some with computers, some even with astronomical objects. Some do it with politics. Rere, the panel please…
That’s right. Geekiness. Note that this does not apply when it comes to sex. When you obsess about sex and collect trivia about sex, it isn’t being a geek. It is being an adolescent.
And now for the tippy top of my theory.
What is politics for? Is it, like Big Brother, just for looking at and discussing? What does it do?
Politics is how the individual relates to society, is how I’ve always seen it, and how the shaky balance between individual freedom and social order is maintained–how the tenuous compromises that create this balance shift and change.
Society wants order, the individual wants freedom. We sort out compromises and these become government and politics. In the end, the aim of politics is to map out how free I can be without threatening order, and how free others can be without disturbing my freedom. Ultimately the aim of politics is to see that, as much as possible, one is okay, free to live ones life and that no one bothers one.
Which means that if I am afraid, I will be talking about the army and the police. If I am poor, I will be talking about business and investment. If I am perplexed, I will be talking about the legalisation of Marijuana etc. But as long as I am secure, content and at peace, I will have no reason to talk about the government.
Oh my gosh. Do you realise what this means? What am I saying? That political apathy can be a sign of good government?
But Wait. Stay with me. Let me finish first before you start your wololo.
Apathy is, in a way, the goal of effective government. We pay attention to things when they are not working, then we discuss ways to fix them. When everything is fixed, we won’t talk about government any more than we talk about that auto-giga-processor in your Internet machine.
You see? You don’t know what that even is. It is a thing that works the internet. When it breaks down we will all know what it is.
Now we all know that apathy can also thrive in a state with bad government, and it shouldn’t. Even if we had an efficient government, if such a thing ever comes into existence, its citizens have to watch it closely and keep it under close scrutiny. For it to work it has to have power and power can be misused, so we need to watch it closely. Lest it murder us in our sleep, metaphorically speaking.
But consider this: If you have a job, a home, kids and plans for the future as well as a government that needs scrutiny. Typically, the intelligent and responsible citizen will make a list of priorities that put the government kind-of near the bottom. After your budget for the month, your bitch boss, your wife finally getting her driver’s licence (thank God!), your ballgame with the kids (little Festo is fearless in goal) the new beer that sucks (you will never ever cheat on your Guinness again), your favourite entertainer who turned 50 last week and that cool new reality show on TV etc, you will finally probably have time to contemplate that new district they just carved out of Bundibugyo.
And that, people, is the third reason to talk politics: You have a problem with the way things are being done to you and you need to find a way to fix it. Your kids are not learning in schools because it is overcrowded, so you start to lament the merits of UPE. Your father’s ARVs are getting expensive, so you watch the GAVI fund scandal unfold with keenness. You are 58 years old and broke so you stare at the NSSF saga with consternation.
Then you talk politics because you care and are genuinely interested.
This of course means that “I don’t see what it has to do with me”, “I am too busy” and “I find it boring” are valid political opinions, borne from a fact we don’t want to admit, but one that is nevertheless as true as Rere is hot: that we are selfish creatures whose only true motivation for doing anything is personal interest, and that patriotism and a sense of civil obligation only rises if it can lead to a personal benefit.
For example, “I am too busy” will translate to “We need to nationalise strategic industries and return to a controlled economy structure” when you get fired from that job that keeps you too busy.
And that is why we don’t blog politics. Because, as young middle class professionals, the system is working for us. The problems we have that need immediate discussion cannot be solved by government, so when we talk about life we are not talking politics. You see?
Okay. That is my piece. Now, please, tell me where I am wrong so that I can learn from your comments and improve my theories. Or, if necessary, abandon them entirely.