I’m considering going to a reunion of some college friends this fall. They’re the people I first ever thought of as “my people,” and I’ve been out of touch with them for a while, but it has been making me think about who I’ll be among them.
Some I’ve continued to feel close to even if we haven’t interacted much, and some I don’t understand anymore. Not in the sort of standard “everyone is getting older, so some of us are getting more conservative” way. More in the how of engaging with the world.
Like, during 2016 I watched a few of them at each others' throats about Hillary and Bernie on Facebook, and it was sort of weird. I posted a few “vote blue no matter who” bromides to put a psychic bow on the matter for myself, and to skip out on the scuffle. Most of their Facebook output is paraphrases of Josh Marshall blog posts or approving links to Salon or HuffPo.
I have a reaction to that stuff I would not have anticipated maybe ten years ago:
I think to myself “God not again.” Then I think “can I guess the content from reading the headline?” and I usually can. Then I think “why is this so annoying to you? Have your politics changed?”
And that’s the thing. When I read the content, I’m sorta “yeah, sure, okay, yes, yep, yup, good” and briefly think “no, my politics haven’t changed, it’s probably just a tone or style thing.”
Then a few weeks ago another thought entered my head, which was “what do you even mean by politics? What are politics? What are your politics? How do you even know you have them?”
I think possibly I do not.
I don’t mean that in the lazy “everybody is right somehow” way.
Or the ridiculous “the truth is always in the middle” kind of way.
Or in the blackpilled “fuck all politics life is meaningless” kind of way.
Or in the checked out “I don’t know what I think it is all so complicated” way.
I do know what I think. About how the economy and the state should be organized and for whose benefit.
I mean it in the way that I am not sure you get to say you “have politics” if you are not, to name a few qualifying activities:
- Actually doing politics. Like, holding office.
- Doing something in your community to change it.
- Organizing or participating in a union.
- Sacrificing something for other people who are not your immediate family or close friends.
- Otherwise risking something on behalf of other people who can’t stand up for themselves or need your help.
… and no, as much as people have tried to convince me otherwise, I don’t think “doing stuff on social media” counts as “politics.” I think it counts as talking about politics. I don’t think it actually is doing politics. I have not since the first time someone told me “Twitter is where I do my social justice work” and a quick scroll of their account showed a series of “👏🏻” tweets directed at nobody in particular encouraging their followers — people I presume are already 90 percent in agreement with them — to “check their privilege” or whatever. Someone tried to tell me that since a lot of journalists read Twitter and form their opinions there, every tweet is a micro-unit of influence in a great war of posting attrition.
If I go to be around my old friends, I think most would tell me they “have politics” or “are political,” but outside maybe a union member and one committed activist, I don’t think any of them are doing politics. Rather, I’d say they are discussing political ideas, engaging with political content, or are participating in a cultural current where it is important to “be aware” of politics.
But doing politics? It has to be more than “I have certain positions on pressing matters of the day.”
I think I am writing all this because the thought of going back to be around people who last knew me well when I was, like them, more potential and promise than realization, leaves me wondering how to account for myself and how to answer, “well, what am I now?”
It turns out, I think, that I’m not actually political, and that I think I probably should be.