Are You Being Used? or On Legitimate Political Opinions

I heard a political opinion the other day. It had all the usual trappings of a political opinion; it came straight from someone’s insecurities, it targeted a group of people that the person had next to no interactions with, and it was fully absorbed in its own self-righteousness. The content of the opinion is irrelevant, but I will say that the person’s reasoning came from a source that makes baseless accusations regularly and whose headlines have to seduce people to read their articles with words like “shocking,” “crazy,” and “exclusive” (as though things that factually happen are the sole property of one group of storytellers).

Note: if a headline has to tell you how to feel, then they’re out to rob you of your moral autonomy. Don’t read the article. You’re better than that.

Fortunately for this opinion, politics has normalized taking away basic hopes from large groups of people.

This opinion, however, struck me as particularly self-indulgent. It made a gross generalization about a large group of people and concluded with a desire to undermine a safety net that those people had come to rely on. Fortunately for this opinion, politics has normalized taking away basic hopes from large groups of people. So there is that. Contemptibility is mainstream.

On the one hand, if you have a political opinion focused on another person’s loss, and not your own tangible gain (or the gain of someone in need), then I have to imagine you enjoy the idea of suffering over success. In a sense, you’re a sadist. When you assent to an ideology that desires to stifle other human beings and in the transaction gives you nothing, then you are being used. Who is using you? Have you stopped to ask yourself who gains from your pontificating? It’s not as sinister as it sounds; people use others all the time. It’s a worthwhile exercise to occasionally ask yourself if you’re acting individually or on behalf of someone who couldn’t give a you-know-what about you. Nine times out of ten, a political opinion is made on behalf of one of those people.

On the other hand, an opinion that hopes to give someone else a right or benefit and doesn’t affect you is an act of individual magnanimity. To give of your time to someone else who stands to gain more than you is to act in bold defiance of self-interest, and is possibly the greatest political act. We regularly deify “heroes” who act against self interest in war and at home; isn’t the exercise of politics an opportunity for the same?

Here is a simple exercise. Next time you feel compelled to declare your undying support for a leader, a movement, or any political idea, ask yourself: If this idea were immediately enacted, do more people experience loss, or do more people experience gain? Do I know the people who gain? Am I excited to see people lose? If so, do I know how to turn off the television?

Another note: if your “gain” is just your enemy’s loss, then congratulations; you’ve successfully resisted heroism. I’d tell you to enjoy another mediocre day of being a mediocre human with mediocre desires, but who am I kidding? You love good, old, safe mediocrity, don’t you?

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