Wake me when it’s over: Election overload

Normally I’m pretty politically-savvy, and I tend to pay fairly close attention to what’s going on in the political world. Part of that is a function of my activism, and the need to keep my finger to the political pulse of the country; it’s valuable for me to know where the country stands on social issues and the like. But this year, the US election has been so overwhelming, so drawn-out, and so ridiculously partisan that it’s damn near burnt me out completely. The neverending rhetoric on both sides is almost sickening; the willingness of people to completely dismiss or ignore the blatant flaws in their party or candidate of choice makes me shake my head in amazment. Never before have people been so eager to gloss over the bad in hopes of reinforcing the good. This election is not about “why this party is good for the USA” but much more “why this party is less bad than the other guys.”

Of course, we also live in a world where we no longer have to be exposed to any alternative or dissenting opinions. We can insulate ourselves against the thoughts and analyses of those who we disagree with, and we can surround ourselves with information that does nothing but reaffirm our pre-existing beliefs. Thanks to the incredible proliferation of information via the internet, we’re able to become as polarized and partisan as we want to be. We can wake up on the day we’re born, start reading blogs and tweets and FB updates, and never stop reading until the day we die, and never have to read a single word that we disagree with. This form of hyper-polarization allows us to ignore anyone and everyone on the other side of the fence, which just reinforces our belief that our position must be the right one. After all, if so many of our friends and peers agree with us, how could we possibly be wrong?

As some of you know, I try to go out of my way to speak to those who don’t agree with my position on sex work, rather than just finding echo chambers to reiterate and rehash all my previously-held opinions. I’ll speak with people from the Toronto Sun and the National Post quite readily, even while knowing the public response from viewers and readers is likely to be negative. I’d rather speak to one person who disagrees with my position than one hundred people who already agree with me, because that’s the only way that society as a whole will start to change their minds. If I only ever speak to those who share my position, and never engage those who don’t, then progress is simply impossible. Even if most of the people I speak to are completely dismissive of my perspective (which is so often the case), at least a handful of them might agree that there’s some merit to what I have to say. More importantly, it’s likely to be a perspective that they haven’t heard before, because too many of us are only talking to those who already agree with us, which limits the opportunity for discourse and discussion – which often (and sometimes necessarily) only come about as a result of disagreement. If you already share the exact same opinions as the person you’re trying to talk to, then what’s the point of even having a conversation in the first place?

Which brings me back to this election. There is a deep and growing divide between “left” and “right” (and I put those terms in death quotes for a reason, because they’re incredibly badly-defined for identity categories that so many people consider critical to their sense of self). There’s no push towards the centre, no attempt to build consensus, and no desire for anyone to find common ground. We live in a world where the idea of “You’re with us or you’re against us” is deeply ingrained in our political psyche, and divisive political figures thrive on pitting their supporters against their opponents in the most vicious and blatant ways. The USA is no different, and the right-versus-left narrative has never been more powerful. It’s elections like these that remind me that democracy is nothing more than a choice between bad and worse.

I’m not saying both sides are equally guilty in pushing the “With us or against us” mentality, and it’s clear that the conservatives have been using this approach somewhat more than the progressives. But neither side is entirely blameless either, and it only serves to disengage voters and political observers who are just plain sick of it all. So, for the first time since 1988, I’m going to sit this one out; I’m not going to stay up to see who wins the election, I’m not going to worry about who wins which states, and I’m not going to give a damn about the outcome until tomorrow morning. It’s too much information, too much obsessive analysis, and too much partisan BS for me to handle.

So, please – wake me when it’s over, and let me know when it’s time to talk about something else.

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