Playing to Win

I had been avoiding Twitter for years because of all the terrible things I had read about it: how shallow it is, how celebrity-driven it is, how every conversation devolves into fierce Twitterstorms, how conversations can become incoherent due to the poorly designed user interface. But then I got curious when I saw that some blog visitors were referred by Twitter, so I went to look at Ann Somerville’s tweets. It was more entertaining than I expected, and not depressing at all. If you go to my Twitter feed, it should allow you to look at the conversations, or just search on “monkeys or robots” on Twitter, or look here and here.

Ann cusses at me and says I was angry with her, but that is just her playing politics with her twit-gals.

I know she is an irksome, brawling scold.
If that be all, masters, I hear no harm.
(The Taming of the Shrew, 1.2, lines 186-187)

Along the way, I followed a link from Vox Day to Jason Sandford, and then to his post mentioning this tweet by Martin McGrath. He had an interesting remark that made me stop to think:

life-is-politics

Wow, that seems almost profound, especially since a lot of people get angry at me for disrespecting their idol, Politics. It makes so many people angry at me that I have to keep asking myself whether I am sure about my opinions.

Do I deny that my positions are political? Well, in the sense of having relevance for my relations to the rest of humanity, I wouldn’t deny having political positions. I also wouldn’t deny that my positions are influenced by political situations, and that I would like them to be discussed in context. So, in that abstract sense, no.

However, I do not expect my positions to perfectly align with other people’s positions, nor do I expect them to perfectly align with any ideal position. Also, I do not expect them to be effective in the world, lacking a material change in my social situation. So, in that sense, I do deny that my positions are political.

In that latter sense, am I then attempting to make my personal prejudices appear universal? No, I don’t really see how that would work. In fact, I explicitly state that my personal prejudices are not universal nor ideal in any way.

So, how could McGrath’s claim be true? It could be true if the purpose of any given position (or in fact of any given communication), were to persuade others to action. If so, then every position would be political by definition; and claiming that this were not true would be a rhetorical trick to disarm the listener, causing them to lower their political defenses and accept the possibility of an intrinsic (“universal”) truth in one’s position.

So, I think the threat of universalist ethics is the motivation for McGrath’s and Sandford’s beliefs about political positions. That’s OK to be skeptical of universalist claims, but dismissing them out of hand as a rhetorical trick is premature.

Why do so many people get angry when I criticize the great god Politics? I would like to assert that they are simply justifying their hatred of others, which is the same criticism normally aimed at religion. It’s probably true for both religion and politics that they function to rationalize or justify hatred; but I don’t think it is the specific reason why people get defensive about the sanctity of the idea of Politics.

Politics becomes sanctified, I think, when it is regarded as the most feasible or the most moral way to enact an ideal society in this world. Everyone who wants an ideal society can then argue about the features of the ideal or the politics of achieving it.

Everyone who does not have an ideal of society, or who does not want society, or who does not want to achieve an ideal society politically, therefore becomes repugnant.

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Instigate some pointless rambling

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