In The Republic, Plato imagines human beings chained for the duration of their lives in an underground cave, knowing nothing but darkness. Their gaze is confined to the cave wall, upon which shadows of the world are thrown. They believe these flickering shadows are reality. If, Plato writes, one of these prisoners is freed and brought into the sunlight, he still suffers great pain. Blinded by the glare, he is unable to see anything and longs for the familiar darkness. But eventually his eyes adjust to the light. The illusion of the tiny shadows is obliterated. He confronts the immensity, chaos, and confusion of reality. The world is no longer drawn in simple silhouettes. But he is despised when he returns to the cave. He is unable to see in the dark as he used to. Those who never left the cave ridicule him and swear never to go into the light lest they be blinded as well.
There is a sector of the American population in which politics – at least in the current American system – have little impact on their lives. These people are usually well-off from a money standpoint, and likely live in a nice neighborhood with a good family– the iconic “American Dream” scenario. To these groups, politics just means unnecessary conflict and disagreement. Politics are disruptions to the otherwise stable and joy-filled lives they already inhabit.
Then there is another sector of the American population which cares very little about politics. This is the group that doesn’t realize the impact it has. Whether that be because of their economic situation – lacking the proper resources to stay engaged in the world – their lack of education, or perhaps just plain apathy, this group fails to understand the importance of their role in a (semi) democratic state.
On the other hand there are those that care deeply about politics. These groups can come from a variety of different bases. Some choose to wrap themselves up in the emotions of nationalistic pride. For these people, the love of military, defense, and security keeps politics of the utmost importance. These are the individuals that have to conceal-and-carry their gun to church or out to eat because they are so afraid of who might attack them. This group also thinks this way from the standpoint of the country as a whole. They believe that any cut to the military budget, even though America already spends more than the next eight countries combined on their military (that includes authoritarian/nationalist governments like China and Russia), will immediately render America susceptible to foreign crime. This is interesting to me considering the United States has military bases in 63 countries worldwide, as well as by far the most military spending of any country in the world. Yet that did not stop 9/11 from happening. It lends one to believe that perhaps maybe American global imperialism and militarism provoked 9/11 more than anything else. Beyond this, Americans own by far the most guns of any other country. Interestingly enough, we also experience an extraordinary amount of mass shootings in comparison to any other countries. For some reason, many Americans hold dear to this idea that more military power will mean less violence. Unfortunately, it has only led to large amounts of mass murders and millions and millions of innocent civilian deaths. Confusing as it may be, there is a large number of the population that defines America through the lens of the military.
Another group finds politics important because it can be a tool for maintaining and enforcing values that they might find important. This is the conservative evangelical wing. The group that showed unprecedented support for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. While this group shares much overlap and can often even be combined with the nationalistic sector, they have other issues that are more important. Since Ronald Reagan, this group has fought relentlessly on three issues: Abortion, gay marriage, and crime. For some, being pro-life is all that a candidate really needs to be. Well, pro-life is somewhat misleading. Pro-life for unborn babies. Not pro-life for undocumented immigrants and children, drug addicts, poor folks, criminals, minorities, Muslims, the environment and its wildlife, or the innocent civilians that are killed in American military excursions. So, in other words, not really pro-life at all. Again, strange as it may sound, this group has found value in politics through its joining of the idealistic crusade of preserving their Christian ideals.
Another group that finds politics important is those of the free market. These are the millionaire and billionaire corporate powers and rich individuals throughout the country that can never have enough money or power. In reality, these are the people that run America. It is not the people or the legislatures or even the president. It is this group. The group that gives millions and millions of dollars to the politicians that create laws, allowing them to have less regulations, less taxes, and more wealth. This does not have an effect on the upper middle class and beyond, which is why nobody complains about it. What this means is that America is no longer all that democratic. People might help vote individuals into particular positions. But once they are in, they have don’t have any say on policy. The billionaire cooperations have the say. And it is quite consistent that in the American government, legislatures do what those billionaire cooperations tell them to do. Thus, this is quite an important base.
There is however a small base that believes politics are important for something other than greed and corporate power, military prowess, and religious conservatism. This viewpoint, I believe, is why every person should engage in the world that we live in and find value in politics, even if it might mean disagreeing with a friend or family member. Because, in truth, politics affects the lives of individuals throughout the world. By neglecting to act and engage in what is true and beneficial for others, just for the sake of maintaining your own satisfaction and comfort with those around you, seems to be a very selfish way of thinking. On top of that, not being able to engage happily with someone who shares a differing view also seems quite childish.
That being said, politics are important because they have an impact on other individuals. As I Christian, I celebrate the fact that I live in a country that, despite its limitations, enables me to speak out for the livelihood of others in a peaceful and loving way. For most of my life, the Christian message of “loving your neighbor” was just something that you do within your community. It meant being kind to others in the community, volunteering for certain community services, maybe adopting a child, donating money to charitable Christian organizations, or many other great things like these. These all are awesome and amazing things that each person should maintain as fundamentally important. I have a deep respect for anyone who has chosen to adopt a child, engage in community service, participate in work trips, donate large sums of money, etc. These are amazing acts of love.
But often, engaging in politics gets pushed to the side. This leads us to having little knowledge of politics and the world we live in, and eventually, either not really caring at all about politics or hopping on one of the two sides with little knowledge of the implications of the policies that the side may stand for.
This is when, for example, Christians might take the message of Christ and intermingle it with the message of military, wealth, or religious conservatism. The reality is Christ was a radical proponent of peace. He was radically critical of large, wealthy institutions. He was highly critical of nationalism. And most of all, he was immensely critical of those who continually engaged in persecution. All things that are phenomenally prominent in the conservative political atmosphere. But, because we make our Christian lives all about how we act in our community and our personal lives, we just hop on the political bandwagon that all other Christians are on. Yet when we sit down and examine the teachings of Christ, often they are completely contrary.
For me, politics are important because it impacts whether we are going to airstrike communities and kill innocent people. I don’t know the people that we might be killing, but I feel for those who lose their lives or those they love, no matter what flag they live under. Brotherhood and sisterhood goes beyond borders.
Politics are important to me because they decide whether or not a child from an undocumented family will have his/her mommy or daddy ripped away from his/her life. Politics are important because they determine if the 80-year-old widow in the house down the street will get the proper health coverage she needs. They are important because they decide whether we want to rehabilitate drug addicts and treat them for it (like seemingly every other country does), rather than send them to prison. Politics decide whether we are going to kill a criminal or allow them to have life, even amidst their mistakes. It decides whether all people will be told that they will be helped when they get injured or sick, not just those who are wealthy enough to pay for it. It decides whether we will say to those that we may disagree with,that they have a right to the same joys and freedoms that many others have. It decides whether or not we are going to knowingly continue to destroy wildlife and the environment. It decides whether we are going to help victims and those who have been wronged.
This is why politics are important. And this is why I encourage you to engage in the world around you, to contact your political representatives, to vote for people that will help others, not just yourself or the wealthy and powerful. You see, that is the great thing about being an American. We have the freedom to be active. And a world that is active and engaged will see the world beyond the self. It will see into the lives of the other.