Political Writing Burnout

22:25 Sun 24 Mar 2013
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I’ve noticed over the last few months that I’ve had more and more difficulty writing about political subjects for my blog. This ranges from commentary on overly political matters such as legislative and judicial decisions to socio-political topics such as various forms of discrimination.

Much of this comes down to disillusionment, in two senses. The lesser sense is the erosion of belief that my writing can make any political difference at all. I never really did it because I thought I was making a difference, but the notion that I might was a factor that helped motivate me. I no longer have that motivation. I suspect that long-term exposure to the Internet is one of the reasons for this.

I used to comment more frequently on other sites, going back to SlashDot in the late 1990s, but no longer do so, in part because it seems every discussion will involve highly predictable responses. Many of these responses are awful to encounter. There’s the overt racism and misogyny that crops up all the time[1], and there’s crazy obsessive fandom[2], and there are certain ones that get to me in particular (see “Authority Sickness”, for example). And there’s the general resort to ad hominem that drives me crazy.

I’m not saying the Internet is bad; this isn’t going to end in a tirade about how we all need to go back to using the Encyclopedia Britannica as our main reference. The Internet is amazing. There are innumerable wonderful things on it, and I use the unparalleled access to information it grants me constantly. I’m extremely grateful to be living during the Internet Age.

But my personal sensitivity to the kinds of discourse I’m talking about is such that the Internet is wearing me down. I’m not just talking about argumentation that’s bad in the traditional sense—I’m also tired out by eloquence (rare as it is) in support of what I regard as insupportable (such as various forms of effectively unchecked authority). This is partly because I still think that I won the Magical Belief Lottery, but it’s also because of my appreciation of the Internet Age. In an era of unprecedented access to information, that information alone seems less effective; perhaps another way to put this is that it’s become ever more clear just how effective propaganda is (see “Any Justification Will Do”, or more or less any official statements regarding Bradley Manning).

The greater sense of disillusionment I refer to is tightly related: I used to believe that exposure of injustice (and worse) would more or less inevitably lead to the elimination of that injustice, at least in democratic societies[3]. As a corollary, it seemed highly worthwhile to expose and publicize injustice (and worse), because that would lead to positive change.

I never really thought it was that simple; political change takes tremendous work. Power clings to power and will not relinquish it freely but must be forced to give it up. State efforts to retain the right to act unjustly do not surprise me in the least. What I find so disillusioning is the fact that so much of the population seems to resist such change as well. That isn’t about “human nature”, but the power of culture and propaganda to serve the interests of the powerful.

It’s entirely possible that amidst all this things are actually getting better; for example, global violence has been dropping for quite some time and continues to do so. While heartening, I also find that deeply frustrating, because it emphasizes how much better things could be—the country I live in needlessly keeps that rate from dropping faster: the US is still “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”, now both external and internal[4].

Another facet of this burnout is the sense of repeating myself. I wrote a lot of political pieces from 2006–2008, and almost all of them feel applicable today. I keep coming across stories I think I want to write about, but then realize that it would be like a repost of something I’d written before. This is partly a failing on my part, as plenty of people manage to write about the same cause and make the same points, but do it well and continue to persevere with the same message. It might be easier for me to do that if this were a single-issue blog, but as it’s not, I’m generally inclined to find something else to write about that might be more novel.

That doesn’t get away from the core disillusionment: when I was younger, I believed that exposing injustice would make a big difference, and that once people were unable to hide from what was going on, things would simply have to change. Not without effort, not without struggle, but even so. Now, though, I lack that conviction. I lack that conviction and I haven’t found something else to take its place.

I’ve always had a weakness, politically, in that it’s been too easy for me to give in to fatalism, and to see minor progress as unacceptable compromise/concession[5], and to be too easily driven to despair by widespread capitulation to power[6]. This weakness is apparently exacerbated by exposure—I haven’t learned to cope, but instead am more and more vulnerable to it.

I’m trying to figure out what to do about this, but it’s the main reason why I’ve made only four serious political posts in the past year.

[1] The Onion nails this quite well here: <http://www.theonion.com/articles/youtube-reaches-1-trillion-racist-comments,31766/>

[2] Just as an example, there’s this response to The Dark Knight Rises reviews: <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/9410634/Batman-death-threats-made-to-reviewers.html>. But it could be games, political candidates, political issues, Dr. Who release dates, almost anything.

[3] This despite my tremendous cynicism about those societies and the nature of their democracies.

[4] By which I mean the prison population; by pure numbers it’s possible that China is a contender, but per capita the US is number one by far. The US doesn’t really have a “criminal justice system” so much as a vast prison-industrial-judicial complex that hungers. But people still tend to think it’s the way it appears on Law & Order.

[5] It doesn’t help that a lot of the time I’m right about this. But not always, and that’s more important than I generally allow.

[6] Especially in a conceptual way—e.g. submitting so as to avoid being beaten by an agent of the state is one thing, and general agreement that everyone should accept this as part of the price paid for “safety” is entirely another.

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