The Danger Zone

Everyone has ideas about politics. Even those who are uninterested in politics must justify adopting an apolitical worldview. This doesn’t mean that we want to talk about it. Not with you anyway.

The reasons we don’t want to talk about it vary from person to person but often involve insecurities about our own position on a point of discussion. Other times, I believe we mentally calculate whether engaging in political debate is worth the effort. A quick, subconscious cost-benefit analysis may tie our tongues or energize our argument.

The context of political discussions is everything. The costs and benefits are both social values, so the social environment is the most important factor in determining peoples’ likeliness to commit to the conversation. A college course entitled “Politics and Media,” for example, fosters political thinking by ensuring a balanced discussion in a safe, controlled place. This safe zone helps to overcome some the self-doubt that keeps us silent in other settings.

A college party, on the other hand, takes one deep into what 80’s pop mega-genius Kenny Loggins called “The Danger Zone.”

Dangerous because any verbal missteps might have consequences for our reputation within the group, this situation usually requires us to choose our words carefully.

For example, several partygoers might invoke the name “Sarah Palin” during the course of a conversation, and perhaps begin to discuss how her new reality show genuinely reflects her political integrity. At this turn of the dialogue, I would do one of two things. (A) I would roll my eyes and wait for the subject to change again… maybe go grab another beer and find someone else to talk to. (B)Or I would tell them how full of it they were, thereby hijacking the casual conversation, and possibly  creating drama, resentment, and risking exclusion from future conversations (or party invitations).

Palin’s popularity among certain crowds has propelled her and her family into the national spotlight following her addition to the Republican presidential ticket in 2008. Since then, Sarah Palin has stepped eagerly into the role of celebrity, while distancing herself from traditional politics in favor of maintaining the Palin family spectacle. Any connection she has ever had with politics is cheapened by her relentless self-promotion within nonpolitical channels. Of course, America has elected celebrities to high-profile public office before, but it offends me to think that’s all that might be required to succeed politically.

Like many Americans, my own extended family has endured a profound divide with regard to politics since George W. Bush’s presidency. Some of us have descended from liberal, 60’s ideologies, and others from military lifestyles and conservative beliefs. While we are a large, loving family, these fundamental differences in perspective bubble up occasionally into hurtful conflict before returning to the standard self-censorship that is required to keep the peace. Sometimes the familial attrition is tangible, but other times we are able to truly set aside our disagreements to enjoy the synergy created by people who love one other.

It’s not exactly loyal opposition, but it works for us. It also tempers the enthusiasm with which I engage in political discussions among my peer group. If persuasion were even a goal for such discussions, it’s usually a hopeless one. I realize that those with whom I disagree have the same conviction in their ideas, even though they’re different than mine. If persuasion is impossible, then what’s the point of initiating or perpetuating a conversation that might escalate into open conflict? I’m no expert, but I think that’s a party-foul.

When the situation demands it, sometimes it is necessary to take the highway to the Danger Zone. Just don’t be surprised to be labeled the party’s Maverick.

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One thought on “The Danger Zone

  1. Thoughtful, clever writing. I like your process of weighing the gains and losses from speaking your mind at a party. I agree that context is everything involving political discussions with acquaintances, and even family members too. I have the same type of mixed political dynamic in my family as well; I completely know what you mean!

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