Politics is a subject that really turns people off these days, especially in America, where our nation is split pretty much right down the middle between red and blue voters (as the last election seemed to indicate). Who can blame anyone? If you don’t vote for this guy, you’re a socialist. If you don’t vote for the other guy, you’re ignorant. Americans spend a lot of time identifying each other (and themselves) by the person they voted for, and it leads to division and hostility, sometimes between the closest of friends.
The media (liberal and conservative) has turned politics into an identifier of some sort. If you believe them, you can tell a lot about a person by their stance on different issues. If you’re opposed to drilling for oil in Alaska, then you must be a liberal tree hugger. If you support the troops, you’re a war mongering gun lover. What’s ridiculous about this is that both conservative and liberal groups have opposed drilling for oil in Alaska and supported the troops. What’s even more ridiculous is that politics isn’t just about social and economic issues (abortion, gay marriage, state run healthcare, etc.). There’s more to politics than meets the eye, and each view that exists has a valid understanding of how to run a government.
Part of my 2013 reading list is a section dedicated entirely to the study of political texts. I don’t mean reading books by presidents like George W. Bush and Barack Obama, or political commentators like Bill O’Reilly or Alan Dershowitz. While these men do have something to say about certain issues, they’re often too busy demonizing people who see things differently than they do for me to really give a damn about what they’d have to say anyway. If you’re going to read about politics, you need to have a good understanding of the structures of government, how the individual relates to said structure, and how said structure relates to its people in terms of human rights, economy, defense, etc. I’m willing to bet that the majority of Americans didn’t pay a whole lot of attention in Civics class (or whatever you called the class that taught you about how government worked), so it pays to read things not written by people who have their own show on Fox News.
I have a plan to go about gaining a greater political understanding. Here’s what it looks like:
1) Reading texts involving political philosophy, such as Plato’s Republic or John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government. Texts like these speak directly about the relationship between individual and state, something that I’m willing to bet most politicians in this country have merely glanced over at best.
2) Reading texts in regard to economy. For me, this is going to include Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and A Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Different ends of the spectrum may serve to help me find an equilibrium in my own views.
3) Keeping up to date on issues involving human rights, through the media and nonprofits such as Amnesty International. One thing is for certain: governments can serve to bring human beings their unalienable rights freely or restrain them entirely, and keeping an ear to the ground on these matters is crucial.
4) The Bible (or whatever religious text you so choose). One cannot separate out one’s own religion from how one thinks in regard to economy or human rights, no matter the religion. This is especially true for me, as the being I refer to as God commands me to care directly for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner, to love my enemies, and to be a good steward of what is given me, be it earth or money. I don’t aim to promote theocracy, but the values I’ve mentioned above repeat themselves in many, if not all, of the world’s religions, and I have no trouble promoting them as truth.
The political game in America has jaded many of its citizens into not wanting to talk about such matters and to just go on with their lives. In no way, however, do I wish to this way. I get tired of the arguing too, but I don’t want to tire of action. This is why political reading and understanding are crucial.