Politics Makes People Stupider – Opting Out

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One realizes the true profundity of “ignorance is bliss” when conversing with someone you’re getting along with well enough until you find out their political views. They seem to be perfectly reasonable people with good humor who listen and are accommodating. You’d quite happily let them borrow your car. You can have a jolly good back and forth on football and food. Then they mention what should be done about Brexit, and all of a sudden you have a more urgent need to go to the bathroom.

Politics makes people stupider. One can be quite capable at their job, taking on massive responsibility and beyond fulfilling their obligations, yet have political takes so dumb that it makes the mind swim. Amongst such doozies recently, I’ve had to listen to a friend recommend legalization followed by a 99% tax on cocaine. And I thought he was such a nice guy and everything.

Conversations that turn to politics immediately mandate boredom and discomfort. You don’t want to start an argument because you won’t convince them anyway, and it just makes them like you less. You don’t agree with them, so you can’t respond enthusiastically. The best you can do is just offer the odd, “Mmm,” whilst searching for ways to change the subject.

This wouldn’t matter so much except the media is dead set on making these kinds of conversations the central point of everyone’s lives. Our views on the latest poli-takes are less consequential than we want to think, but they want us to believe “the personal is political.” To them, every interaction you make is an implicit political statement. 

It’s exacerbated by bolshy progressives and right-wing culture warriors alike, who seem intent on making every political stance a matter of civilizational life or death. They bring their politics to seemingly every facet of their lives, from their food to dating. On the new dating app, Hinge, ones’ political views are put front and center. That’s just asking for trouble. Politics is the least sexy thing but is supposed to represent such a defining feature of our lives that we must dictate our mating strategy by it.

Obviously, the reason why most people’s political opinions are stupid is that politics is the biggest examples of a lack of skin in the game. The further from personal and intimate experience with the subject you have, and the lack of personal stake you have in the outcome, the less interesting and relevant your take will be. Who in your daily life honestly has the requisite nuanced understanding of socio-political economy to provide relevant policy recommendations? Who of those happen to have the loudest opinions on those topics?

A popular debate these days is between those who believe in “experts,” and “populists.” Either you think we’ve had enough of experts telling us what to do, and that policy should be decided by the people with lived experience, or you think that populism is a rash, uninformed approach to policy that is better left to those in the know who are better placed to decide it. In reality, neither of these work. Both “experts” and “the people” are dumb without personal accountability.

I’m inclined to follow my doctor’s advice because he happens to be an expert and is personally accountable for the results of his advice. If he suffered no consequences if the medicine he prescribed me gave me buboes, his “expertise” is useless to me. So too with the “man on the street.” If he has no personal stake in my outcome, I’m not going to bother going for him for advice. I’m not going to rely on anybody’s counsel if he doesn’t know me from Adam.

What is politics but the abdication of personal accountability writ large? It’s a bunch of people who don’t know me telling me what to do. It’s conceivable that the “expert” knows what kinds of foods will be best for my body. I still don’t want him deciding what I eat on my behalf. Maybe I’m intent on dying before 50, and just want to live a short happy life eating as much sugar as I want. Has the “expert” factored that into his policy analysis?

I don’t want non-experts telling me what to do either. You’re not any better at telling me what to do just because you are also “one of the people.” Here’s a better idea: you do what you want to do, I do what I want to do, and if I need help, I’ll call you, okay?

We could save ourselves many a grey hair and months of celibacy by relegating politics to a minor part of our lives – a curious quirk of our overall worldview that otherwise has no influence on our relationships. As we see when we understand the meaninglessness of most political opinions, the personal isn’t political, or vice versa. Be happier and forget about it as best you can.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.

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