Getting ‘Political’

I have, obviously, struggled to get this blog started. There are a billion excuses, most of which revolve around either the universal problem of not enough time or the more particular sense that the internet fray is just too loud, and trying to be a voice within it will only give me laryngitis. But as the world keeps turning, and the fray keeps growing uglier and uglier, I can’t shake the feeling that I need to say something, somewhere, even if it’s just more of the same thing that is being said elsewhere, by more intelligent people, or at least people with more time to research and edit.

Take the conversation about the most recent gun massacre in the U.S. The fact that the murdered includes a large proportion of very young children in this case has meant that the grief is greater and the conversation about how to prevent it in the future has been more urgent. Very, very quickly, the stance emerged that it would be unseemly and inappropriate to ‘politicize’ this tragedy by talking about how it could have been prevented. There are already many, many good arguments out there about how it is impossible not to politicize such a conversation – mainly revolving around the idea that policy at many levels facilitated its occurrence in the first place, and the point that the anti-politicization stance is itself a political one, supporting the continuation of the status quo.

What I want to know, however, is how the word ‘political’ has changed in its meaning to refer almost exclusively to partisan electioneering. This is far from a new definition of the term, but the way in which it has come to supercede any other connotation in conversations about the social order is striking to me. ‘Politics’ in and of itself is not an ugly thing, and political disagreements are absolutely necessary, because they are the only means we have for establishing the formal structures through which we as social beings have a public existence. In this conversation, and those like it, accusations of being ‘political’ are treated as though there is some other way to be in society, to talk about relationships with other people, to organize our lives.

The points that have been made about how this conversation is inevitably political are good ones. What I want to add is that political is good, political is necessary, and political is not ugly. It is not the opposite of human, of relational, of social. It is that, and so much more. Grieving publicly is a political act, and deciding what we as a collectivity will do in order to respond to our grief, in order to feel it and process it and move through it and change it, is a political process, by definition. I wish that it weren’t necessary to explain to the ‘other side’ that they, too, are being ‘political’, but rather that it was easier to accept that being ‘political’ and ‘politicized’ in the face of a public tragedy is not only inevitable, but positive.

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