Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Politics Addiction

Hello, I am entirely alive, and I am a politics addict. I got clean after a debilitating addiction thanks to shipping and simply being away from the world for extended periods, but slowly, slowly the shadow has been creeping back into my life. But as Brady and Gray over at Hello Internet say, what's important is not to always try to be perfect and then get upset when you fail to achieve that perfection, but to get back on the wagon every time you fall off. This is me climbing back on the wagon.

The first step in a twelve step program is to admit you have a problem. The next step is to admit I am powerless over the problem and that only an omnipotent and benevolent God can save me from addiction. Needless to say, no matter how inclusive and ecumenical you want to formulate that, it isn't a viable option for someone with Nihilist in the tagline of their blog.

If I can't call upon a magic sky fairy to do the heavy lifting for me, then I need to develop in myself the motivation to stop. I think I can do this in the same way that I motivate myself to abstain from alcohol, by convincing myself that it is a pernicious thing wholly without merit. With alcohol this is easy, at least for me, since it tastes bad, makes me feel sick, has been seen in others to lead to decisions that are later regretted, and costs a lot of money. With politics and mainstream news in general, this doesn't quite work. After all, news is essentially free on the internet and provides something that feels good, not necessarily pleasure, but a mix of stimuli that flatter the reader and encourage him that staying up to date is part of being a loyal tribesman.

Problem: News consumes too much time. I remember the good old days, when I blogged regularly and held a desk job and spent easily 2-4 hours a day doing nothing but reading news. I would look at my life from time to time and wonder why I could never get anything done. If nothing else, recovering this time for higher value activities is tremendously valuable. When I was only occasionally newsing it wasn't so bad, but yesterday I spent the entire time after work plugged to the phone. I failed to do my daily studying and did not really enjoy myself as much as I would have doing something else, I think.

Problem: Politics is fleeting. This urgency is part of the seduction of it all, if you miss a post, you probably won't ever see that piece of writing again. I have missed entire cabinet members during the twisty drama of the Trump administration. Why were they appointed? Why were they fired? And then, when you come back to it, it takes a few days to catch up to the thread of everything, and still you have a missed a whole season in an environment without re-runs. It can feel embarassing to not know what is going on, and it feels incredibly empowering to be the first on top of a story while everyone else is just catching up.

As an interlude, I just went to go get dinner, and upon returning promptly closed this tab and opened an internet news site, then proceeded to get halfway through an article on Climate Girl before realizing what I was doing. It really is an addiction, I really need to stop.

Problem: None of it matters. Nearly all of the news is gossip about people and events that don't affect me. A select few things going on right now could potentially affect me, like the Saudi attack, brexit, or immigration reform. Even brexit is a bit of a strech here, since it would mostly affect my ability to purchase warhammer products, if it even does that. But regardless, what matters is not the day to day drama that fills the 24 hour news cycle, the point scoring, the accusations, the duelling narratives, the poll numbers, the think pieces, the twitter gotchas, the whatabouts, the analogies to past villains, the prevaricating, the screeching, the tribal cheerleading, the partisan fact-checking, the memes, or even the satire which already can appear in my news feed faster than I can read about the underlying event. No, of all the current events, the only questions I have are: Will I be called out to crew a ship during my off time? Will I be able to purchase warhammer models without shortages or price increases? And will the K-1 visa process be changing. These are simple questions with simple answers that don't require obsessing over the minutia of how our benevolent overlords arrived at said answers.

And there is another sense in which none of it matters. There is nothing productive I can do with this extra knowledge. No, that is an overstatement, and a violation of epistemic humility. Rather I should say that the main avenues of "doing something" are largely closed to your average news reader, including myself. Notionally, the ultimate value of the news is to allow you to make an informed decision in an election or to otherwise move the needle on civic policies. Except that the ability of someone not devoting their life to the political industry to make any difference nationally is essentially zero. I believe I wrote a post about why your vote doesn't count way back in the deep archives of this blog, and I reprise that as a rant semi-regularly to random people at work. Since then (2012, shit that was a long time ago), we have seen the social media revolution come into full swing, and it can feel like things are different. If a high school boy in a red hat can get on CNN for smirking at an Indian, If a rich Swedish girl can yacht to the UN, if literally anyone can climb on twitter and claim a #metoo, then surely we are in an age when anyone can make a difference. But what did any of those people actually do that affects my life directly? Nothing. They just add to the gossip. They feed the churn. The swirling news vortex claims more and more attention and so requires more and more nonsense to obsess over until we get to the point that holy shit there is just too much news. The gossip has drowned out the results. The noise has overtaken the signal.

My vote doesn't matter. My voice, even if it somehow reaches an audience, will only ever get passed around by people who already agree. And violence is not desireable, though I need to discuss exactly why in a dedicated post some later date.

It has become like watching sports, but with a crucial difference. Imagine two radio stations, one in Chicago and one in Green Bay, each announcing the Bears v Packers game. Except now imagine that both announcers are simply making the entire game up. A game is happening, to be sure, but the accounts in each city are only very loosely based on what is actually happening, to the point that each side believes they came out of the game victorious. I then come down from Wisconsin to visit a friend in Chicago and I say "Hey, that was pretty amazing when Aaron Rogers threw a 95 yard touchdown pass" and my friend says "No, the packers didn't score once, they were completely shut out." In my confusion I can go visit the websites of both hometown newspapers, and both subreddits, only to find that each has a completely different account of the game. And if, like super bowl 1 or most political issues, there is only a small amount of actual video evidence, then there may simply be no way for me after the fact to establish what actually happened and what is actually true.

If you don't think it be like that, look at this Trump/Biden/Ukraine mess from multiple sources. The conservative internet and liberal internet have two versions of the story so fundamentally different it is like they are reporting two seperate football games. The few brave redditors that cross into enemy lines are shouted down for distracting from the real issues or for shilling. As someone not privy to the intimate financial details of the Trump and Biden household finances nor the records of the Ukrainian Prime Minister, I can either trust "my side" to be correct, trust "the other side" to be correct, or piss on the whole mess and wait until someone tells me if Trump gets impeached.

Because that is the other side of a news blackout. The things I actually need to know, that would actually affect my life, will be communicated to me in other channels. The union already texted me that 28 ships have been activated for the Persian Gulf. I can ask around at the Warhammer shop if anyone expects brexit disruptions. Major regulatory reforms will be reflected in changes to any paperwork I have to fill out. And if I encouter something new, I can just ask about it and probably get a decent summary from whoever I am interacting with.

In short, I am done with news. It is all coming off my phone. Even the highly clever Babylon Bee, since that is just a gateway drug. I will keep reddit, though unsubscribed from any current events, which may also be a mistake. I will also keep up with Warhammer news, because while many of the same criticisms apply to that, how else am I going to know when to get hyped about new plastic army men in space?

If I fall off the wagon, I will just have to get back on again. I am 2 hours sober from my news addiction.


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