Politics -- its all about people

Posted 12.08.11

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | There are people who believe politics are everywhere and in everything. Every club, team, movement, even every family, has its politics. And on an abstract level, they feel every view, belief, attitude, outlook, even jokes and art, have a political content, make a statement, or support a political theory.

There are others who think politics is meaningless and trivial. They see all this hair-splitting and emotion as diversions from the real issues of life. Politics creates unnecessary and fruitless "noise" in their view.

It's strange to say, but both opposites are true. They are true in different contexts, which I think we'd all agree with -- except for those people who believe there's only one truth on any subject.

In the midst of a political campaign, when the whole country is bombarded with political messaging, everything becomes political. Those people who claim to be a-political seem to become supporters of the status quo, which is a strong political position. By saying we should ignore politics, they are saying they have no complaint with the way things around us are being managed.

Do they really feel that way? Probably not, but their broader view, that politics should be ignored, supports "no change" in the status quo. That may be a valid view, but wouldn't it be wiser and more forthright to say so in the first place?

But when the campaigns are finished and the votes counted and commented upon, and if there are no threats to our wellbeing, politics should become mainly the art of keeping the gears oiled and the whole social machine rolling along, nothing more. The a-political viewpoint is here the most productive and the most interesting, because it leaves us open to explore a lot of other features of our lives and our society, from psychology and the new physics to travel, sport challenges, and photography. There is no politics to be found in composing a photograph, in catching a shadow or digitally stopping a moving athlete.

But there is a politics to what we photograph. There is a show at the National Gallery, which uses as its advertising eye-catcher a single photograph. It's an iconic photo from the Great Depression showing us, no matter how often we see it, the anguish of poverty and destitution, all man-made, we now know -- which makes it political. Every time that photo appears, it is a political statement.

The "statement" can be one of many -- destitution or human perseverance, man's inhumanity to man or the reason for revolutions in so many lands…

Perhaps it is not a matter of opposites, of all-politics or a-political; perhaps it is really about two types of politics.

Politics is about people, and our stories are told and acted out in many ways. As our own contexts change, the circumstances of our lives also shift, so our views of the world change. They likely go from political one to political two, and back again.

Copyright © 2011 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/12.11