The Personal Is Not Political

Personal is PoliticalVia The First Church of Mutterhals:

The phrase ‘the personal is political’ always bugged me, but I could never articulate why. There’s just something off about it, like conflating religious belief and science, or the mixture of church and state. I was recently reading the Christopher Hitchens autobiography and I came by this quote regarding the inception of the phrase:

“At the instant I first heard this deadly expression, I knew as one does from the utterance of any sinister bullshit that it was — cliché is arguably forgivable here — very bad news.”

He goes on to say that now you only needed to flout your attachment to whatever arbitrary delineation (as he brilliantly puts it, “a member of a sex, or gender, or epidermal subdivision, or even erotic “preference,”) to be considered a revolutionary. This is coming from a person who wears his arrest record proudly, having been done in for numerous protests and rallies and the kind of rabble rousing people my age and younger can’t even imagine.

By making the personal political we’ve managed to make politics more contentious. When your politics are part of who you are, it makes any disagreement with them tantamount to a slap in the face, a lesson conservatives learned and executed beautifully after watching liberals do it for years. This is why you now hear conservative white men mewling that they are ‘oppressed’ without a touch of irony and having absolutely no idea how ridiculous it sounds.

The nasty tone of American politics has come up for discussion since the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson. Before the smoke cleared arguments were forming for and against gun control, hyperbolic campaign speeches, etc. Never mind that the shooter was an apolitical nutcase who believed in mind control and planned on devising his own currency; both sides came barreling up to the podium full speed, ready to make their cases X,Y, & Z.

I don’t believe it’s a false equivalency to say that both sides are equally to blame for the tenor of politics. Both sides do their part to stall the debate; the hard right choosing paranoid rhetoric implicitly exalting violence, and the hard left dehumanizing anyone, and I don’t mean just conservatives, but anyone who disagrees with some sacred tenet of liberal politics. While one has a more sinister (possible) effect than the other, the latter manages to further segregate people who already don’t like each other much, and turn people like me, people who are definitely agreeable to progressive causes, away because of the narrow and unalterable focus.

In the wake of the tragedy everyone is lauding Chuck Shumer and Tom Coburn for sitting together during the president’s State of the Union speech, even though they are of differing political parties. This shouldn’t be a big deal. Don’t they all serve a common purpose? Why would they hold animosity for one another when they are supposed to be on the same team? Doesn’t the practice of sitting separately evoke images of a grade school cafeteria and is that the best way for our representatives to comport themselves?

I don’t want politics in my personal life, and I certainly don’t want to inject my personal life into politics. I’m not so conceited to believe my limited experience means anything to anyone other than me, and you shouldn’t be so bold as to believe that either. People aren’t causes. Unlike causes, which tend to be noble and dignified, people quite often are not these things, and value on such traits as nobility and dignity have almost completely out of favor anyway.

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  • Jason

    If it was ever apparent that politicians are anything more than grade-school children bickering over what technicality caused them to win at the debate team meeting that afternoon over a topic that serves little to no purpose, then i have never seen it. These people are scum from the soul on up, they never had any interest in making a better world. I have in my life in southern california, seen every single institution in the entire “developed” (primitive) world continue to stray further and further from its intended purpose to serve the interests of the wealthy, basically in the name of slavery. If by now it is not apparent to all of you that we are slaves, you need to wake up. What peace can you afford? What time can you afford? What can you do yourself? You can do nothing, you need outside help to accomplish anything, and if you can’t afford the help, you are paralyzed. This is the definition of slavery.

    I’m pretty sure schools were supposed to educate people, and today there are college graduates who can barely read and write.
    I’m pretty sure art used to be done to herald talent, and now talent can be created with expensive machines, leaving real artists starving.
    I’m pretty sure politics used to be about keeping people cooperative and ethical, and it is only about useless bickering over unimportant issues while the real problems are ignored and the deciding parties are paid off.
    I’m pretty sure business itself was created with the intention of creating useful products with less effort, and now we create useless products and services by the ton that are intentionally inconvenient in order to drive up profits.
    I’m pretty sure towns and cities used to exist because the people there all knew each other and worked together, now we barely know our next door neighbors.

    If we are anything but caged and domesticated animals, i have never seen proof of it.

  • Jason

    If it was ever apparent that politicians are anything more than grade-school children bickering over what technicality caused them to win at the debate team meeting that afternoon over a topic that serves little to no purpose, then i have never seen it. These people are scum from the soul on up, they never had any interest in making a better world. I have in my life in southern california, seen every single institution in the entire “developed” (primitive) world continue to stray further and further from its intended purpose to serve the interests of the wealthy, basically in the name of slavery. If by now it is not apparent to all of you that we are slaves, you need to wake up. What peace can you afford? What time can you afford? What can you do yourself? You can do nothing, you need outside help to accomplish anything, and if you can’t afford the help, you are paralyzed. This is the definition of slavery.

    I’m pretty sure schools were supposed to educate people, and today there are college graduates who can barely read and write.
    I’m pretty sure art used to be done to herald talent, and now talent can be created with expensive machines, leaving real artists starving.
    I’m pretty sure politics used to be about keeping people cooperative and ethical, and it is only about useless bickering over unimportant issues while the real problems are ignored and the deciding parties are paid off.
    I’m pretty sure business itself was created with the intention of creating useful products with less effort, and now we create useless products and services by the ton that are intentionally inconvenient in order to drive up profits.
    I’m pretty sure towns and cities used to exist because the people there all knew each other and worked together, now we barely know our next door neighbors.

    If we are anything but caged and domesticated animals, i have never seen proof of it.

  • Andrew

    The political is personal.

  • Andrew

    The political is personal.

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  • ken vallario

    these cultural differences, however inconvenient they might be, are however very real.

    there are very real disagreements about how humans ought to relate to one another, and these differences need to be worked out…and it is not easy….thus we have politics…

    like Jason said, i think our political life has been co-opted by the rich to enslave us…however, that does not mean that our lives are not political…i recently joined the board at my daughter’s school….and boy oh boy, did some of those people make it seem like we were dealing with a nuclear arms treaty….i hate it too…i hate politics….but i hate politics the same way i hate acne…i hate these aspects of the human condition that cause me suffering…but i suffer most when i don’t accept it, when i don’t dig in and try my best in a difficult situation to be progressive, whether by washing my face or clearly stating my opinion in a discussion…

    it’s a long hard road, and nobody knows where we are going…but for my part, i’ll keep putting pressure on the rich to give back some of their booty…

    • that1guy

      “i hate acne…when i don’t dig in”

      Nice.

  • ken vallario

    these cultural differences, however inconvenient they might be, are however very real.

    there are very real disagreements about how humans ought to relate to one another, and these differences need to be worked out…and it is not easy….thus we have politics…

    like Jason said, i think our political life has been co-opted by the rich to enslave us…however, that does not mean that our lives are not political…i recently joined the board at my daughter’s school….and boy oh boy, did some of those people make it seem like we were dealing with a nuclear arms treaty….i hate it too…i hate politics….but i hate politics the same way i hate acne…i hate these aspects of the human condition that cause me suffering…but i suffer most when i don’t accept it, when i don’t dig in and try my best in a difficult situation to be progressive, whether by washing my face or clearly stating my opinion in a discussion…

    it’s a long hard road, and nobody knows where we are going…but for my part, i’ll keep putting pressure on the rich to give back some of their booty…

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Mutterhals had way more of a point in “Why I didn’t vote” than I gave her credit for at the time, so maybe I’ll end up moderating my point of view on this as well. But I don’t really believe that the TONE of politics is really the problem at all. It’s the inability to CRITICALLY engage one another.

    There’s always been huge, nasty contretemps in public debate. Jefferson had an under-the-table arrangement with a shady Scots publisher to put out reports of Washington’s incipient senility. Adams funded a partisan newspaper to flood the newscycle with salacious (though probably true) reports of Jefferson raping slaves, etc., etc. Yet somehow these guys managed to cobble together one of the more productive, progressive traditions in modern Western history, even if it was far from perfect.

    No, the real problem is that no one recognizes such a thing as empirical reality any more. By tolerating the notion that all views can be equally valid but for the whimsical choice of an orientation, we’ve basically signed the deathwarrant for our culture. We’ll hardly be able to make any headway in the hard sciences and only end up channelling the softer sciences, like politics and economics, into self-defeating rationalizations for our thoughtless choices.

    The right wing may, with some justication, say that the left stoked the fires in the ’60’s and ’70’s by giving an acritical and uncontextualized popularity to notions of cultural relativism. But then again the left wing can with equal justification say that the right has long abused cultural norms to craft unthinking automotons and a culture of stupid banality.

    No, the answer isn’t Obama’s dumbass “rain puddles in heaven” notion of us all just getting along. The solution is in each side being able to square accept responsibility for its shortcomings in a for-real search for common ground.

    More fault-finding, not less fault-finding, please.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Mutterhals had way more of a point in “Why I didn’t vote” than I gave her credit for at the time, so maybe I’ll end up moderating my point of view on this as well. But I don’t really believe that the TONE of politics is really the problem at all. It’s the inability to CRITICALLY engage one another.

    There’s always been huge, nasty contretemps in public debate. Jefferson had an under-the-table arrangement with a shady Scots publisher to put out reports of Washington’s incipient senility. Adams funded a partisan newspaper to flood the newscycle with salacious (though probably true) reports of Jefferson raping slaves, etc., etc. Yet somehow these guys managed to cobble together one of the more productive, progressive traditions in modern Western history, even if it was far from perfect.

    No, the real problem is that no one recognizes such a thing as empirical reality any more. By tolerating the notion that all views can be equally valid but for the whimsical choice of an orientation, we’ve basically signed the deathwarrant for our culture. We’ll hardly be able to make any headway in the hard sciences and only end up channelling the softer sciences, like politics and economics, into self-defeating rationalizations for our thoughtless choices.

    The right wing may, with some justication, say that the left stoked the fires in the ’60’s and ’70’s by giving an acritical and uncontextualized popularity to notions of cultural relativism. But then again the left wing can with equal justification say that the right has long abused cultural norms to craft unthinking automotons and a culture of stupid banality.

    No, the answer isn’t Obama’s dumbass “rain puddles in heaven” notion of us all just getting along. The solution is in each side being able to square accept responsibility for its shortcomings in a for-real search for common ground.

    More fault-finding, not less fault-finding, please.

  • Tuna Ghost

    He goes on to say that now you only needed to flout your attachment to whatever arbitrary delineation (as he brilliantly puts it, “a member of a sex, or gender, or epidermal subdivision, or even erotic “preference,”) to be considered a revolutionary.

    Pretty easy for a white dude to say.

    • that1guy

      I agree with your comment, but to complicate things, you could parse the quote differently.
      The point Hitchens could have been making was that drastic political change can’t stop with identity politics, which is not to say that identity politics are not important. For example, you have a GLBT interest group focusing on GLBT specific rights, like marriage equality, at the expense of working on the issues other minority communities see as important. At the outset, this kind of makes sense. But GLBT members of minority communities are more adversely affected by a number of the problems plaguing those communities, such as un- and under-employment, homelessness, violent crime, etc. So, by refusing to consider problems that initially seem outside of the interests of the community you associate most closely with, you could, in effect, be ignoring more urgent problems that need to be addressed within your own community, thereby dis-empowering or isolating an entire segment of it. This sort of self-interested tunnel vision can be easily used those who want to divide popular support for substantial political or social change.

  • Tuna Ghost

    He goes on to say that now you only needed to flout your attachment to whatever arbitrary delineation (as he brilliantly puts it, “a member of a sex, or gender, or epidermal subdivision, or even erotic “preference,”) to be considered a revolutionary.

    Pretty easy for a white dude to say.

  • that1guy

    “i hate acne…when i don’t dig in”

    Nice.

  • that1guy

    I agree with your comment, but to complicate things, you could parse the quote differently.
    The point Hitchens could have been making was that drastic political change can’t stop with identity politics, which is not to say that identity politics are not important. For example, you have a GLBT interest group focusing on GLBT specific rights, like marriage equality, at the expense of working on the issues other minority communities see as important. At the outset, this kind of makes sense. But GLBT members of minority communities are more adversely affected by a number of the problems plaguing those communities, such as un- and under-employment, homelessness, violent crime, etc. So, by refusing to consider problems that initially seem outside of the interests of the community you associate most closely with, you could, in effect, be ignoring more urgent problems that need to be addressed within your own community, thereby dis-empowering or isolating an entire segment of it. This sort of self-interested tunnel vision can be easily used those who want to divide popular support for substantial political or social change.

  • that1guy

    I agree with your comment, but to complicate things, you could parse the quote differently.
    The point Hitchens could have been making was that drastic political change can’t stop with identity politics, which is not to say that identity politics are not important. For example, you have a GLBT interest group focusing on GLBT specific rights, like marriage equality, at the expense of working on the issues other minority communities see as important. At the outset, this kind of makes sense. But GLBT members of minority communities are more adversely affected by a number of the problems plaguing those communities, such as un- and under-employment, homelessness, violent crime, etc. So, by refusing to consider problems that initially seem outside of the interests of the community you associate most closely with, you could, in effect, be ignoring more urgent problems that need to be addressed within your own community, thereby dis-empowering or isolating an entire segment of it. This sort of self-interested tunnel vision can be easily used those who want to divide popular support for substantial political or social change.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C5SV3Y6GG7GRK3NBX64IXAXDGM Jessica Hurst

    It’s completely impossible to separate your politics and your personal life entirely. I’ve always been pro-choice, but I became more invested in the movement once I had an abortion myself. I never opposed universal health care, but when I began to love someone with multiple chronic illnesses, I started caring a lot more than I did before. These aren’t arbitrary choices of issues; they matter to me emotionally as well as intellectually. I believe that most people behave similarly, regardless of political affiliation.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_C5SV3Y6GG7GRK3NBX64IXAXDGM Jessica Hurst

    It’s completely impossible to separate your politics and your personal life entirely. I’ve always been pro-choice, but I became more invested in the movement once I had an abortion myself. I never opposed universal health care, but when I began to love someone with multiple chronic illnesses, I started caring a lot more than I did before. These aren’t arbitrary choices of issues; they matter to me emotionally as well as intellectually. I believe that most people behave similarly, regardless of political affiliation.

  • Jordan

    “I don’t want politics in my personal life, and I certainly don’t want to inject my personal life into politics. I’m not so conceited to believe my limited experience means anything to anyone other than me, and you shouldn’t be so bold as to believe that either. People aren’t causes. Unlike causes, which tend to be noble and dignified, people quite often are not these things, and value on such traits as nobility and dignity have almost completely out of favor anyway.”

    This is sad and I could not disagree with this more.

  • Jordan

    “I don’t want politics in my personal life, and I certainly don’t want to inject my personal life into politics. I’m not so conceited to believe my limited experience means anything to anyone other than me, and you shouldn’t be so bold as to believe that either. People aren’t causes. Unlike causes, which tend to be noble and dignified, people quite often are not these things, and value on such traits as nobility and dignity have almost completely out of favor anyway.”

    This is sad and I could not disagree with this more.

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