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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