Why don’t I write more about politics these days? It’s mostly because I’ve already said what I need to say on the subject. I don’t really want to keep repeating myself.
I got an email earlier this week from someone who says he used to be a regular reader of my site. He was writing to complain that I’m no longer attacking politicians on both sides of the mainstream based on topical news. He said he used to enjoy reading articles that I wrote excoriating people based on the hot topic of the day.
“Your blog was my biggest source of news a few years back,” he wrote. “Whatever outrageous thing was happening, I could count on you to give it a libertarian spin and show how both sides were full of bull. Now I spend more time reading other libertarian sites where they have stories and links about whatever crazy things the statists are doing and showing how stupid they are. I liked the way you wrote it so I miss you doing those. You were entertaining to me and other libertarians. How come you won’t write like that anymore?”
Although I do still venture into political subjects in the news every now and then now, it’s true that it’s rare. I’ve written bits and pieces about the reasons, but I’ll say a little bit more in reply to my former regular reader.
I’ve made a fundamental shift in the way I view what I’m writing here. In a way, I guess it was an evolution of what I believe about myself and my relationship to the world. When I started this site, I was still looking at things from the point of view of attracting a bigger audience and from the point of view of convincing people to see things my way. Neither of those is true anymore.
Since I come from a professional media background — as a former newspaper editor — I’m accustomed to thinking that it’s my job to produce whatever is going to attract an audience and keep those people reading. Many of my early choices were unconsciously influenced by that thinking. Although there were times from the beginning when I wrote things that I simply needed to say, there were many times when I wrote things because experience had shown me it would attract readers.
That sort of thinking leads to following a formula — finding things that will outrage people who already agree with me and then writing about it provocatively. It’s the sort of thing that keeps people who agree with you coming back and sharing links on social media — which builds a bigger audience.
Ultimately, that produces boring and shallow “content” instead of anything of substance. Nobody grows or becomes a better human being.
I no longer feel the need to try to convince anybody of my point of view. In my ideal world, everybody would agree with me. (Naturally.) But I’ve learned that I’d rather talk about whatever ideas happen to be important to me at the moment. Most of the time, those things have nothing to do with politics or political ideas. When I die, I’ll regret having wasted so much time on politics. I won’t regret not finding one more outrageous story and inflaming people who already think it’s outrageous.
There are basically five reasons I don’t bother to talk about politics anymore:
• I don’t know enough about you and your needs to tell you what to do. I can tell you — in no uncertain terms — that you have no moral right to force a system on me that takes my money and makes my decisions. But I can’t tell you what sort of governance is right for you. Maybe you need to live in a system where you surrender some of your freedom to someone else to make decisions for you. I don’t know. As long as you don’t force that system on me, that’s fine with me. I’ll maintain that every human has the right to decide for himself what sort of system he wants to live under — as long as there are enough others who also want the same thing in a given community — but I’m not going to be an evangelist for substituting a libertarian state for the sort we have now.
• I don’t know how to change your mind. Seriously. I don’t have a clue. I can make very rational arguments in favor of what I believe — or for various other flavors of individual freedom that other libertarians would like to promote — but if I find a convert, it wouldn’t really be because I had changed a mind. It would be that someone had merely found a label for something that already made sense somewhere in his mind. And if you honestly think political arguments change people’s minds, there are plenty of people out there already making the case for what I’d want to say (or close enough to it). It’s a waste of my life to be making a sales pitch that others are making over and over and over and over already.
• I want a life that doesn’t involve fighting all the time. Back when I was writing the sorts of things my former reader mentioned, I attracted all sorts of people. They were mostly fellow libertarians of various stripes, but there were also people who disagreed with me who simply wanted to argue. I’m not talking about people who are genuinely interested in other ideas and curious about what other people think. I’m talking about the sort of people who argue politics as sport. At the time I had allowed my Facebook page to get up to 5,000 friends, a huge percentage of them were just there to argue. After I deleted and blocked a couple thousand people who couldn’t treat others civilly, I had a better experience on Facebook. In the same way, I have no interest in arguing with people here. I’ll state my point of view and I’ll allow you to do the same. But I don’t know how to change your mind if you don’t already agree with me — and I have much higher priorities.
• I want to concentrate on things I can control. There are outrages in the world every day, and I’ve made the argument (including recently) that it’s better to ignore the things we don’t control if we can’t change them. I have a finite number of years on this earth. Why would I waste them looking for things to be angry about, assuming they’re things I can’t change? Why wouldn’t I spend those years learning how to be fulfilled in deeper ways instead?
• Dealing with politics makes me feel and act like a person I don’t want to be. I want to be a loving and gentle person, but when I allow myself to get caught up in political arguments, I frequently don’t live up to my own values. I can treat people in condescending and ugly ways. I’ve sometimes looked at ways I’ve acted in such arguments — even when I remained absolutely convinced that I had been right on the basic point — and been ashamed of my behavior. I want to think and act more in the ways Jesus might act if He were in my position. But I’m too hot-headed and prideful at times to act in loving ways when I end up in such arguments. I don’t like myself when I’m that way — and it’s another reason to avoid those discussions when I can.
I often have to wait before responding to a political comment. Otherwise, the response might not be as loving as I’d like it to be. Whenever I feel like starting a response to someone with, “Look, you idiot,” I know I need to wait until I can find a better way to respond. I don’t need to allow my emotions to make me into someone I don’t like. My tendency to allow that is a weakness in myself, but I have to accept it and act accordingly.
Many of my fellow libertarians — and people of other points of view who might agree with me on certain subjects — want me to be angry about the outrages all around us, but I don’t want to be angry anymore. My anger won’t change anything. If you think being angry will change something, that’s your business, not mine. I’m simply not going to give my life to that. It’s my choice not to live that way.
For my former regular reader who wants topical outrages of the day to read about, I understand where you’re coming from. I really do. I used to think that was a worthwhile thing to do. I used to seek out such things to read even before I started writing some of them myself.
But I’m no longer willing to use outrage as entertainment, for myself or for other people. If that’s what you want, there are plenty of sites that do it — from pretty much every political position imaginable. I just haven’t done it for quite awhile and I don’t ever plan to do it again.
My readership has changed over the last five years or so. In the beginning, I was pandering to the lowest common denominator of the libertarian audience (and that sometimes included conservatives when they happened to agree with us on something). I’ve lost almost all of those readers. I still have between 500 and 600 visitors on most days and things can spike up to a couple thousand every now and then. But the readers I have now are mostly interested in different things. I’m less certain who the audience is now, but I’m not really writing to pander to them. I’m just writing whatever feels important to me at the moment.
I understand now how to build a big audience and it’s clear how it can be monetized, if that’s your priority. You simply choose a sizable online audience and repeatedly say what they want to hear. Get them riled up. Preach to the converted and have them turn you into a star or hero for their cause. Pander to them. They’ll come back and they’ll share your links with others. Then you can load your site with intrusive ads that annoy people, but not enough to quit visiting.
I can’t do that. It doesn’t seem honest to me, somehow. Even more important, though, it doesn’t seem to be a life worth living. Maybe it is for some people, but it’s not for me.
I’m interested in living well and in figuring out how to be a better person. I’m interested in finding love and understanding from people who matter to me. I’m interested in connections with people who I respect and admire.
This isn’t a way to get wealthy. There’s a much more robust “market demand” for anger and hatred than for the things I want to talk about these days, but I’m doing what’s right for me. I feel as though I’m doing what both love and my artistic integrity say I should do.
Maybe there’s a way to turn that into art that has a market value. Maybe not. But it’s the right thing for me to do.