This One Is Political

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I want to talk about change. In fact, today’s meditation is about change. It was supposed to be about change. And since I don’t feel like rereading my entire script, I will tell you what the meditation was, and then we’ll go from there.

“It is no evil for things to undergo change. And it is no good for things to subsist in consequence of change.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.42

In other words, change is necessary. And you shouldn’t stand in the way of it when it shows up at your door. Now, some of you are hearing me say that and thinking, “Oh, I know what angle Tanner’s coming at us at!” You’re probably wrong, but we are going to talk about change in politics today.

And if you are not an American listener, hey, I’m sorry for this one. I just feel compelled, especially given this meditation to talk about this today. If you’d rather skip it, please feel free. If you’re feeling like you need to one-star review me, please, before you do that take into consideration that I have provided you with over 100 episodes where I didn’t talk about politics, and this is a one off thing. Hopefully, you can give me a little bit of slack, and just take that one political episode right on the chin and be okay with it. I would do the same for you. And it would be pretty Stoic for you to do the same for me.

We here in America tend to look at change in one of two ways. It’s either good, and we need it desperately, or it’s bad. And it’s changing everything good about America. Here is something that no matter how you look at change, you probably don’t do when something is about to change that is going to affect you negatively, or affect something you care about negatively. How often do you step back from the proximity of that change and the effect of that change and see what the effects will be beyond just yourself or the one thing or one community you care about.

For example, it might seem to you like a Starbucks moving into your local neighborhood and shutting down a small mom and pop coffee shop and a local grocery store is a change you wouldn’t want. And I would tell you that that would be my first impression as well, I wouldn’t want that change either. Remember, I lived in Maine, Maine as a whole state, that’s a small town. So you’re looking at the effects of this Starbucks on your small grocer and your local coffee shop and you’re upset, but step back from your emotional proximity to that change and the effect of that change and consider what good it might bring. Perhaps it creates employment opportunities for 30 young people and the coffee shop that was there before and the small corner grocery store only provided jobs to two people or maybe five, and maybe it’s being there brings in the kind of additional revenue for your town that allows your town to do some really good things for its citizens.

Now, I’m not saying that that would happen. I’m saying to consider that it might happen. And to find out whether or not it’s true, but most of us wouldn’t do that. We’d say I don’t like this thing. And I don’t want this thing. And I don’t care what good it brings. It’s not something I like.

On the flip side, imagine you’re the person who really wants the Starbucks there, you’re excited that it’s showing up. And you can’t wait for the doors to open because it’s your favorite coffee shop, you too should pause, step back distance yourself from the positive thing you’re looking forward to and the effects of that positive thing for you and consider the negative effects for others. Maybe that Starbucks going up there. While it will provide a few extra jobs and bring in additional revenue to your city. Perhaps what happens next is that other large chain stores show up on that block and other small businesses get shut down. And eventually, in the long term. It’s bad for everyone, the city becomes nothing like the city you really want to live in. Now, of course, this is a completely fictitious example, although I’m sure it’s a real one that’s happened to people in the past all over the US. But it’s an attempt for me to use an example that is pretty neutral in this political conversation we’re having and I’m trying to make not sound too political. When we become adverse, let’s say to thinking about the negative impacts of the change we perceive as good or when we be Come averse to looking at the positive impacts of the things we perceive as bad, we make ourselves vulnerable to people smart enough to know that we are overly passionate about this particular thing.

Now, in this fictitious example, I’m giving about the Starbucks opening up on your small corner in your small town or a big town, it may be difficult for me to convince you that there’s a snowball effect either way to Starbucks opening or not opening. But if we transition from the Starbucks example, to the election of political officials, it’s a lot easier to pitch that snowball idea. If you vote for someone, because they have identified a single issue, or maybe two issues that you are extremely passionate about, you are letting those candidates off the hook for the 600 other things that they will have the power to do once in office.

So if you are someone who is averse to change, it becomes very easy for a potential political leader to leverage how averse you are to whatever it is we’re talking about. And that allows them to narrow their focus on what they have to prove to you to just one thing. And if you’re someone who feels very supportive of a particular change, to the extent that perhaps you are an advocate for it a passionate advocate for it, it becomes equally easy for someone who wants to get into political power to get you to vote for them for that one thing.

This is something we have to learn to do better in America, a candidate posing with guns in front of their Christmas tree should not be the thing that helps you decide that they are the character of person that should be in political power. And it is also the case that someone who wears a pride pin on their lapel during their speech, that should not be the thing that convinces you that they are worthy of the position of power you might be about to elect them for when we care about a multitude of things, and try to find the candidates that do the best job across all those individual points of concern.

We make it a lot harder for unqualified people, or Ill intended people to convince us based on emotion, that they are the right people to take up those positions of power. And I will agree with you that it’s hard to get in line with what I’m saying. Because when that single issue is abortion, or when that single issue is guns in America, and it doesn’t matter on what side of these two issues you fall, I’m using them as examples because they get people really excited.

Those two issues are very important issues. But if we vote solely on them, the people who are running for those positions are going to know that we are willing to compromise on hundreds of other things for that one thing, and that is going to bring the cockroaches out of the woodwork and it has been doing that for the last 3040 Some people would say 50 years.

So returning to Marcus’s meditation today:

“It is no evil for things to undergo change, and no good for things to subsist in consequence of change.”

We cannot allow our fervent desire for change, or our fervent averseness to change get in the way of a broader, more holistic, more full picture of all the things that matter. So as we enter into what will no doubt be to nearly full years of the most ridiculous political nonsense in the United States that perhaps we have ever bore witness to keep in mind that the single issue that you are most passionate about may be being used to blind you to your common sense. And it may be being used to get people into political power, who have their own agendas and who are very disinterested in helping you shape America into the country, you really want in the long term.

Start looking at candidates more fully, please, if they hold a sign, and it’s a sign that agrees with a position of yours, that is nothing more than a low hanging fruit action that they can take to make it seem like they’re for you step back, reduce your proximity to the emotion to the change to the decision to the issue and try to look more completely at what is going on. Referencing Kai whiting’s circles of concerns.

Let’s try to expand our perception of things which are important and changes which we view as preferred and changes we view as dis preferred. Let’s step beyond the circle of concern that is just us. And let’s look at our family. And let’s look at our neighborhood and let’s look at our state and let’s look at our country and let’s look at our Cosmopolis we are Stoics. This is how we are supposed to think about politics. It’s not about what’s good for me. It’s about what is good for the most, it’s what’s the most good.

So as we get into these next two years, and the political rhetoric, and the circus show just ramps up and gets worse, day over day, keep this in mind. You are a stoic, we live in a Cosmopolis, we have to see the bigger picture. And when we step in those voting booths to make suggestions about who we think should run portions of our Cosmopolis, we shouldn’t be ticking the box next to the person who just said that one thing we really care about, we should be ticking boxes next to people who are going to do the most good for our Cosmopolis. And in order to do that, we have got to look deeper at those candidates and ask more of them, vet them better.

And you know, what, if nobody on the list is for you, when you do that, maybe you should run? Maybe you should get involved.

About the author

Tanner Campbell

Hi, I'm Tanner. I spend most of my time writing in the philosophy space and I'm the host of the Practical Stoicism podcast. When I'm not writing, I'm reading or recording. In rare moments when I'm not writing, reading, or recording, I'm spending time with my partner and our dogs.

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