Thursday, January 31, 2019

are healthy people interested in politics?

Are normal healthy well-adjusted people interested in politics? Is politics something that only interests people who have a personal axe to grind? Is political enthusiasm a sign of mental illness, or a sign of personal unhappiness? If it’s a sign of personal unhappiness or dissatisfaction is this a healthy thing? Is it a form of therapy?

And how do you explain a historical period like our own, in which every single aspect of life has become politicised and politics has become an obsession? Is this a sign of an illness in society? Or a sign of a deeply unhappy society?

These thoughts occurred to me after reading a recent post on the poet Shelley on Oz Conservative.

Shelley saw himself as a political and social revolutionary. What’s interesting is that Shelley was a rich and very privileged young man, a member of the aristocracy, good-looking and talented. It’s hard to imagine how fate could have dealt any young man a better hand than it dealt Shelley. And what was Shelley’s response? He wanted to smash his own society.

Shelley also managed to leave a trail of chaos and misery behind him. His behaviour towards women was nothing short of appalling. He was selfish, irresponsible, impetuous and shallow. He also had very definite delusions of grandeur.

It has to be said that Shelley is an all too typical example of the political progressive. His personality was clearly warped, although whether this was genetic or whether it was warped by his childhood or his schooling is difficult to say. He grew to adulthood (or in his case it mighty be more accurate to say that he failed to grow to adulthood) at a troubled time, when revolution was fashionable and the ruling class was rapidly abandoning Christianity. Perhaps Shelley was simply a very weak personality easily swayed by social fads.

It’s also interesting that Shelley, like so many subsequent social revolutionaries, was a vegan. So he was an all-round crank.

Orwell noted many years ago that socialism attracted cranks. He was disgusted and dismayed by the phenomenon.

Is it only left-wing politics that attracts misfits and cranks? A few years ago I’d have inclined to give an affirmative answer to the question. Now I’m not so sure. There are a few strange types in the alt-right and similar sub-groups who seem to be at least partly motivated by personal bitterness.

While it might be slightly disturbing at times to note the number of politically engaged people who are either slightly odd or deeply unhappy it is possible that this is not entirely a negative thing. If you’re unhappy with your life you can feel sorry for yourself or crawl inside a bottle, or you can try to change the world. Of course your ideas on how the world ought to be changed might be sound or they might be crazy, but at least you’re using your unhappiness as a motivation to do something.

Of course if you’re not a believer in democracy you might argue that all politics is unhealthy and that in a sane society we would leave government in the hands of the king.

It can also be argued that if society is truly diseased then being disgusted and enraged and wanting to change things is actually a sign of mental health, while the people who think that everything is fine are actually the crazy ones.

11 comments:

  1. Absolutely. The happier and more content with my life I am the less interested in politics. Politics are a vehicle for personal dissatisfaction and a projection of it.

    If your life isn't satisfactory its easy to blame the world situation.

    Shelley is s good example of how external conditions are not the prime determinant of happiness. There were probably poor ugly peasants who were contemporaries of Shelley who were supremely content and happy.

    Like politics, much religion is also just a vehicle for personal dissatisfaction. Not all religion - Zen for instance is about accepting life as is, and pagan rites and rituals are about celebrating life or asking for good fortune and the like.

    But Christianity in the West has often been like politics just a vehicle for personal unhappiness with its vision of future happiness, etc.

    That's why the West has been so dissatisfied - and hence creative. Although I regard that as a bad thing.

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  2. An average person should be interested in politics to be immune to manipulation, which can be carried out by this person's own government, by the opposition, by other governments, or by global structures.

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  3. depends on the type of politics, e.g. the politics of resentment or a more noble politics based on the notion of public service/good. Christianity is an example of the former as a previous commentator has noted, whereas Aristotle's ethics is an example of the latter.

    arguably, individualistic politics (liberalism/socialism) is 'mental illness' as they imply oppression which in many cases is imaginary, rather than acceptance of just how things are.

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    1. arguably, individualistic politics (liberalism/socialism) is 'mental illness' as they imply oppression which in many cases is imaginary, rather than acceptance of just how things are.

      Yes, in many cases the politics is just a reflection of the person's own personal psychological issues. I think a lot of feminists would not be feminists if only Daddy had bought them that pony!

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    2. how do we get beyond resentment though? Buddhism, Stoicism, Epicureanism and other philosophies around that time, both East and West, may hold the key.

      If people in those days could be content - with much less comfort and much more danger - then surely we can.

      Nietzsche may say that the above isms were doctrines of resignation, but I'd argue that he straw-manned and missed their nuance when juxtaposing them against his fanaticism for the ancient Greek warrior class.

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  4. Shelley is a very good example.

    Last year I was looking around Wordsworth's Dove Cottage in the Lake District - which has a permanent exhibition on the Wordsworths (William and Dorothy), Coleridge and Southey first-generation Romantics - and there was a temporary exhibition downstairs on the lives of the next 'generation' (about 15 years later - Byron, Shelley and their assorted womenfolk... What a contrast! What an apalling decline in personal integrity, behaviour and world-perspective!

    However, we must be honest and acknowledge that although the second generation Romantics are of a lower level of creative achievement than the first; there is no doubt that Shelley - in particular - was of the first rank as a lyrical poet (no better sonnet than 'Ozymandias' exists - many equal, but none better), and Byron was one of the most influential (but not best) ever writers in the Western tradition.

    In fact Shelley would be an early example of what Ed and I termed an 'evil genius' in The Genius Famine - because his example and teaching surely did a great deal of harm (as did Byron's).

    Not coincidentally, Shelley et al were the first generation explicitly to reject Christianity -- whereas the first-generation remained Christian; and Coleridge was one of the deepest and most influential philosopher-theologians of the 19th century.

    (C. is - with Blake and Novalis - one of the handful of founding Romantic Christians whom I most revere, and consider of prime importance to The West.)

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    1. there is no doubt that Shelley - in particular - was of the first rank as a lyrical poet (no better sonnet than 'Ozymandias' exists - many equal, but none better)

      Agreed. Decades after first encountering it I still find 'Ozymandias' to be a breathtakingly fine poem.

      So why did Shelley and Byron end up being such disastrous failures as human beings? What happened in those two decades that separated Wordsworth and Coleridge from Byron and Shelley?

      The 19th century is such a fascinating period, so much more pessimistic and even nihilistic than the popular conception of it would suggest. To me the 19th century is the Crisis of Christianity. By the end of that century the triumph of secularism was already assured.

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    2. "So why did Shelley and Byron end up being such disastrous failures as human beings? What happened in those two decades that separated Wordsworth and Coleridge from Byron and Shelley? "

      Well, as you know - my answer is that this was a crux for The West, a challenge that we almost-wholly failed. Human consciousness had developed to a point where traditional Christianity lost its grip - for various reasons, including that it was based on obedience to an external authority.

      You can see the crisis emerge, almost sentence by sentence, in Ralph Waldo Emerson's early adulthood. He absolutely demanded that his life be based upon inner derived, self validating, intuitive knowledge. But he understoof this to mean he had to leave Christianity behind (even the semi-Chrstianity of early Unitarianism) and embrace a kind of secular (Hindu flavoured) deism and political Leftism.

      We still have not got any further - the choice between a resurgent external-church-authority-based traditionalism; or a secular Leftism which is now stale, cynical, nihilistic and despairing.

      The other possibility (that I call Romantic Christianity - i.e. intuitive, inner motivated Christianity) was indicated by Blake, Coleridge and Novalis (that I know of) - but was ignored, for various reasons - and is nowadays misunderstood.

      I can certainly understand why it seems not to be what is needed now; we seem to need some kind of alternative strong, highly motivating, organisational alliance to resist, fight and defeat Leftism... and set up a kind of Neo-Medieval church-state polity

      I used to hope for this... But it isn't happening, and shows no sign of happening in The West - quite the opposite.

      My current belief is that it *cannot* happen - because Western Man's consciousness has irrevocably changed. What affected Byron, Shelley, Emerson is now all-but universal, and not going-away.

      (I'm assuming that Russia and Eastern Europe - with their ongoing revival of traditional Orthodox Christianity - have a different nature and destiny.)

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  5. Well in certain ways politics in the form of political correctness has polluted the institutions of the world so we have no choice but to deal with it regardless of whether we are interested or not. If anything it’s a sign of a society being deliberated poisoned. Young children are quite political now. Taking the bus I hear grade 7 and 8 talking about 3rd generational intersectional feminism and transgender issues. This wasn’t common talk thirty plus years ago. So something has changed drastically. (Check your local school, university for their edumacation curriculum.) And there are metrics that aren’t political that kind of indicate the way you think - politically. Urban environmentally friendly secular humanist atheist, vegetarian has certain political connotations regardless of whether one follows politics. I think if you actively participate in politics and try to move some agenda forward like being the “collective change” you want to see in the world it says something less than favourable about your character – and indicates a hive like mentality which I do my best to shun. I’ve seen the affluent people like Shelley you mentioned – it’s not very encouraging. Personal responsibility to change your world is fine, but to change the WORLD – well who I am to say what I’m bring to the table is gonna improve it?

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    1. Well in certain ways politics in the form of political correctness has polluted the institutions of the world so we have no choice but to deal with it regardless of whether we are interested or not.

      Yes, it becomes a necessary defence mechanism in a mentally ill society. You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.

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  6. ... and do you think personal bitterness always results from purely internal coping mechanisms? Realistically, if a person is unwelcome anywhere because of their thoughts, no matter how astronomical their competency, isn't bitterness to be expected? Some of the brightest people in the Soviet Union ended up lobotomized for it and the left would surely be doing here in Australia if they could get away with it.

    That said, point is well taken and a lot of the people drawn to the left and right for power are generally malcontents who deep down believe in nothing but themselves.

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