Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Being Political on Facebook

I took a 'Political Coordinates Test' on Facebook. This is about answering a few superficial questions on a scale of 5, and then you are placed on a strange Communitarian-Liberal-Left-Right spectrum. I was placed, predictable, slightly towards the left than the right, though right along the middle line of the communitarian and liberal. 

Admittedly, this is largely a meaningless exercise, worth attention during a few bored minutes during a train journey, but not much else. What does being indifferent on legalising Marijuana mean to me anyway? Or for that matter, why do I agree on legalising prostitution rather than strongly agree? Besides, there are the question of terminology. Communitarian is a strange label to be put on the other end of being a Liberal, the latter term representing its American meaning, for individualism, rather than the European one, for state provisions.

But in any case, these questions allow me to think about my 'political' self, the part that is almost a taboo in professional conversations, something to be hidden and overlooked rather than being advertised or explained. In a sense, being political mean something - belonging to one party or another and having a more disciplined approach to the issues involved - and accepting that frame of reference can help resolve the dilemma around the questions like the ones mentioned above: Just stick to the party line and just strongly agree or disagree to all things! Being ambivalent, not having opinions, in that sense, show only lack of commitment, an inability to believe deeply and completely.

Does not having an opinion about marijuana therefore show a lack of clarity? Or, does my ambivalence about prostitution - that I do not think it should be illegal as that would be encroachment on individual freedom (and would surely create an underground market as it did throughout history) and yet, do not strongly support it either as this may mean wanting to have branded brothels and exploitation of women on an industrial scale - show that I am unable to believe in anything? Further, going beyond politics, not being able to decide on questions such as these, as urgent and relevant as they are, may actually indicate a failing, of being able to take a moral stance - a slippery slope of uncommitted life leading to opportunism and self-obsession.

This, indeed, the big problem of not having a politics. But, I shall argue that my stance, ambivalent and uncommitted as it may seem, may have a moral bearing after all. One could start with the principle that ideas should not become ideology after all, as John Dewey and other pragmatists would say. I can indeed be undecided on some questions on which I do not have experience or full information, such as marijuana usage. Rather than embracing a stance of right or left, one is indeed free to be undecided. And, while I may believe that individuals may have freedom to choose, I also believe that a rule of law demands conscious abrogation of some freedoms, including the freedom to harm oneself. And, barring medical requirements, an addiction of any kind may indeed be mentally, financially and physiologically harmful.

Now, the question of morality can be tricky in questions such as prostitution, as this is essentially posed as a moral question. However, unlike the case of marijuana, I am not so sure! The black-and-white stance of marriage as moral and everything else is immoral is too much of a received wisdom, and I would rather see marriage - with the accompanied fascination of romantic love - as a historical institution wedded to sensibilities and requirements of a particular social structure. This is also defined by particular Western sensibilities - are we not routinely scandalised by polygamy as practised in certain societies - and economic requirements of landed property. So, using the blunt instrument of legality - I am sure no one is under any illusion that it would eradicate the practise as it existed so long - purely to affirm a moral stance needs one to be sure that it is the only moral position possible, and I am not sure.

On the other hand, though, I am not sure that trading of sex is desirable either. For me to 'Strongly Believe' that prostitution should be legal would mean accepting the possibility that this would become like any other business, guided by trading norms and restrictions, but socially acceptable, branded and all that. Here, my ambivalence creeps in - while branded brothels are indeed a historical reality and countries and cities thrive on prostitution, I am not sure that this is socially desirable, one that should 'promoted' by law. In practical stance, my mild agreement with the legality of prostitution, therefore, stands for just one thing - rejection of the state's right to define the morality of sexual relationships either way.

This may or may not be definitive, and, as I must agree, defensible. But this is indeed what means to be political, taking a stance on issues that is outside one's immediate self interest based on a set of values, assumptions and judgements. From this standpoint, I would much prefer my ambivalence, indecision and efforts to make things up over the lazy surrender of our opinions to the judgement of pundits and leaders. This, political with a small p, I shall argue, is an essential condition of existence in a complex society such as ours, and that, Political with a big P, where every opinion is predefined by the allegiance to a party, leader or an ideology, is actually an anomaly in a modern society with individual freedoms and rights.

Before I leave this question, I must state that I know the usual objection: That this stance, atomistic, every person to himself/herself, would make political action impossible. Discipline, commitment, allegiance to a party-political view are essential to political action and social change, I would be told. However, isn't that an illusion in itself? Has society really changed by deliberate political action of a party or a group, ever? Have we not faltered more often when we forced change by demanding unquestioning compliance? Real change, I shall argue, comes through consciousness, of indeed every person being on herself/himself, and arriving at a view, slowly, confusingly, but assuredly. Political action should not just be seen as those political rallies and revolutions, but what people do in their daily lives, through the choices they make in their consumption, companionship, craft and connections. It is changing those ways of being, and seeing the world, rather than grabbing power and mastering the state instrument, brings out political and social change.




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