Ignoring Politics

The political situation in the US is so depressing I often have to focus on something else. Were I to absorb all the dishonesty, hypocrisy, ignorance and cruelty that permeates the current administration and the Republican party … I would be consumed in misery. Were I to swallow all the psychic waste they flush into the world whenever they speak and act, my being would be contaminated. And that helps no one.

So I shop for groceries, exercise and enjoy my family. I’m more of a spectator than a participant in politics. I do what I can; I try to inform people on my blog. But an individual’s efforts are minuscule in the big scheme of things.

And I really don’t see the political situation ending well—the civil war will increase and may lead to substantial violence. The fascism I warned of is here. (Still, by many measures, the world is better than ever: see for example Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, and The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined).

But there are so many existential risks that past progress may not be predictive of the future. I’m not sure we’ll survive the Anthropocene. I’m not sure we’ll survive Trump. Hopefully, I’m wrong.

And now I’m going for a walk during which I’ll meditate on Descartes 3rd maxim:

My third maxim was to endeavor always to conquer myself rather than fortune, and change my desires rather than the order of the world, and in general, accustom myself to the persuasion that, except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power; so that when we have done our best in things external to us, all wherein we fail of success is to be held, as regards us, absolutely impossible: and this single principle seemed to me sufficient to prevent me from desiring for the future anything which I could not obtain, and thus render me contented; for since our will naturally seeks those objects alone which the understanding represents as in some way possible of attainment, it is plain, that if we consider all external goods as equally beyond our power, we shall no more regret the absence of such goods as seem due to our birth, when deprived of them without any fault of ours, than our not possessing the kingdoms of China or Mexico, and thus making, so to speak, a virtue of necessity, we shall no more desire health in disease, or freedom in imprisonment, than we now do bodies incorruptible as diamonds, or the wings of birds to fly with.

But I confess there is need of prolonged discipline and frequently repeated meditation to accustom the mind to view all objects in this light; and I believe that in this chiefly consisted the secret of the power of such philosophers as in former times were enabled to rise superior to the influence of fortune, and, amid suffering and poverty, enjoy a happiness which their gods might have envied.

For, occupied incessantly with the consideration of the limits prescribed to their power by nature, they became so entirely convinced that nothing was at their disposal except their own thoughts, that this conviction was of itself sufficient to prevent their entertaining any desire of other objects; and over their thoughts they acquired a sway so absolute, that they had some ground on this account for esteeming themselves more rich and more powerful, more free and more happy, than other men who, whatever be the favors heaped on them by nature and fortune, if destitute of this philosophy, can never command the realization of all their desires.

From Rene Descartes The Discourse of Method, Chapter 3

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2 thoughts on “Ignoring Politics

  1. Perhaps the millions of Americans who are upset about the outrages of the Trump administration are starting to stand up. We’ve seen a lot of anger about the policy of separating children from parents at the border; now we see federal agents revolting against their assignments. People are publicly displaying their anger at members of the Trump administration, and the Secret Service is being forced to provide more protection for them. My wife and I have decided to wear our buttons proclaiming “Don’t blame me — I voted for Hillary” all the time. Previously, we were fearful of being confrontational, but now our anger has overcome our fear.

    I am urging everybody to come out of hiding and loudly declare our disapproval of the Trump administration and the Republicans who support it. Wear buttons. Make political contributions to congressional races that matter — especially Senatorial races. Democratic control of the House now looks highly probable. It’s a long shot to win back the Senate but I wouldn’t put it out of the range of possibilities. Put bumper stickers on your cars and election signs in your yards. We ARE the majority — it’s time we started acting like it. The situation is terrible; it is better to stand up than to curl up in a ball of despair.

  2. There seems to be an element of Stoicism running through the quote by Descartes. I agree that it may be best to simply ignore much of the “noise” in the media, especially those things that are outside of our control (which is almost everything).

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