There have been numerous blow-ups during the Democratic primary about words and behaviour. The interminable debates about Joe Rogan. Elizabeth Warren partially attributing her non-endorsement of Sanders to snake emojis. Endless tone policing of Bernie surrogates like Briahna Joy Gray. The details have been stripped like desert bones and are, in any case, irrelevant.
I’m concerned about the enthusiasm with which these arguments have been taken up, and I think you should be concerned about this too because the substance of politics is murder. It’s about the avoidable deaths- and the enslavement- of human beings. Any discussion related to politics that is not directly related to life and death, or human immiseration, should be of secondary importance. Almost 1% of the US population is incarcerated. 26,000 Americans die a year due to lack of health insurance. There aren’t even good figures on the number killed by American sanctions each year.
Maybe this all sounds a bit repetitive, but sometimes you’ve got two options, silence and repeating yourself about a message that already should be been heard, and it’s better to repeat yourself.
This isn’t an essay to tell anyone they must believe as I do. Maybe voting for Joe Biden is the right way to stop the ghastly procession. I do not accept as legitimate however the idea that we should decide that on the basis of this bullshit. If you are making your choices on this basis or pretending you are, you are doing the wrong thing and must stop. The questions of power cannot be evaded. Total political apathy would be more honest and clean.
It happens on the left to. For example, Mike Bloomberg’s personal behaviour has often been appalling. Nonetheless, it bothers me a lot that we paid more attention to his personal cruelties than to the thousands of people who died avoidably, and the hundreds of thousands who were harassed by the police unnecessarily, during his mayoralty. Why are we drawn back into these personalities all the time, it’s not even like they’re particularly interesting personalities.
Actions that unnecessarily kill people don’t somehow take on a different moral meaning just because they’re done by a politician *Thumps table* *Thumps table*. The inability to grasp that murder through politics is no different to hiring a hitman really colours our perception of the moral realities of politics.
People have a great deal of trouble giving murder and wrongful death the attention it deserves unless it happens in a spectacular, made for television way. Our natural priorities when it comes to politics seem to be:
- Big events with relatively small death counts (e.g. 9/11)
- Meaningless celebrity gossip type bullshit
- Stuff that actually kills a lot of people (sanctions, lack of healthcare etc.)
This tendency has long worked against justice. Mark Twain remarked of the French revolution:
“THERE were two “Reigns of Terror”, if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror — that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”
My crackpot theory is that it comes from a kind of illusion where some people believe that there are only two kinds of people in the world- people they know, and celebrities (inclusive of politicians). This is because these are the only people we regularly encounter.
A less kind theory is that this gossipy rubbish is conscious or semi-conscious dissimulation. people talk about this stuff because if they talked about the substance of politics when defending their choices, they’d have to admit they aren’t half as left-wing as they pretend to be.
The thing is, I don’t know how to tell someone that they need to care more about people dying, and less about the gliding image. How do you tell someone that they should care about people dying, something that we’re told must take priority since we’re children. Every time I try I sound like a half-mad desert preacher, come out of a hermitage to warn Babylon that the wrath of G-d is upon them and Azrael circles down upon them like a vulture.
I don’t think I’m cut out for it, but maybe we need more desert preachers.