As part of the ongoing and growing disillusion with “politics”, I saw someone note the other day that people should “leave religion and politics at the door” when entering their home; in the context, clearly, that this statement was to be seen as enlightened.
Each and every one of us lives in a complex society made up of people with diverse and often competing interests, priorities and objectives.
There are two ways you can deal with this inevitable complexity. You can do it with violence, or you can do it with politics. After what we went through from 1969 to 1998, it should be obvious to each and every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland which is preferable.
And here’s the thing: you don’t get to opt out!
When you wake up in your home (owned, mortgaged or rented), politics has determined that it is your home and how. When you walk out of the door, politics has decided what infrastructure you can use and how, and what the terms are for any form of transport you choose (or, in practice, can’t choose because politics has so decided). When you enter any workplace – not just your own, but any office, shop, school, office, even roadwork zone – politics has decided the terms upon which you may enter, the rights of those working there, the duties of those providing or taking the service, and so on. There’s no “opt out” – as soon as you interact (and often even when you don’t), politics dictates the terms (and rightly so, given the alternative).
It may be that you can influence some of this politics directly; sometimes informally, say through discussions with other parents about the local school and the school gate; sometimes more formally by getting yourself on to the local Parent and Teachers Association or Police and Community Safety Partnership or Road Safety Committee; perhaps even by volunteering on to the Board of the Local Enterprise Agency. Again, it is not reasonable to opt out here – really everyone should endeavour to fulfil one of these “direct” roles at least.
Some of it, inevitably, you are going to need to influence indirectly by choosing those who manage your local Council, determine regional policy, and make the laws of your jurisdiction (who will in turn select those who ensure it is enforced). You do this by voting at elections – and campaigning, or even standing yourself. Again, there’s no opt out – if you don’t choose, you allow other people to choose for you (an act not of generosity but, frankly, of laziness – voting is not complex!)
Those who claim to opt out of politics are actually suggesting they are entitled to opt out of society. That is the scandal here. People live in homes whose ownership is determined and protected through politics, travel on roads built or railways commissioned through politics, work or use services with rights supported and responsibilities placed through politics, and then claim that people should “leave their politics at the door”?!
Suddenly that enlightened view looks entirely selfish, as if somehow opting out of politics allows us to opt out of our responsibilities as a citizen to participate in society because there are some aspects of it that don’t suit us. But in society you can’t just take your ball and go home. On the contrary, it is your responsibility to seek to shape it, to influence it, to assist it – and you do this, directly or indirectly, through politics.
Are you fed up with politics? Or is it really that you fed up with compromise in an ever more complex society which increasingly demands it? As for politicians, they are a direct reflection of those who elect them – if you don’t like them, change them!
But be sure of one thing – you don’t get to opt out!