What does it mean to be political? [Response to comments]

I am very glad that my first post in this series — What does it mean to be political? — generated meaningful conversation, and set the ball rolling for future posts. Here I will respond to some of the comments I received (either publicly or personally). These responses will set in motion more questions, which I will try to address in the future posts.


Comment

You use the term “politics” almost synonymously with life itself. That’s why everything encompasses politics for you.

There’s no denying that politics tremendously impacts our lives, irrespective of whether or not we call ourselves political. But, that impact is created by those in either electoral politics or judiciary or media or those in political activism or revolutionaries, if you will. So my point is, one needs to be a part of these to create real political impact. Otherwise our political opinions are just theoretical, they don’t hold value in creating change.

Response

The behaviour of having political opinions only, is a political stand.

Democracy as I know it, is not just elections, court cases, and TV debates. It is participation of the common mass in the system. Yes, there are those with more stake in the political hierarchy, but that does not mean one has to be one of those people one fine day, to be able to make any difference.

Leaving aside “revolutionaries,” might I also ask: Where does political activism begin?
Does it not begin with being aware of the past and the present, and having a vision of the future? Having a world-view with which one operates?

Institutionalised politics apparently plays a big role in our lives, but this effect is actually apparent — if one takes a careful look. History teaches us to look at large timescales, from which this fact becomes clear:

Real change happens slowly.

Demanding long-lasting changes to be quick is a dangerous political stand.

While institutions have governed human lives, time does not remember details. The most successful revolutions have been slow. Feminism, for example, is a continuing political movement. Did women’s suffrage end the woes of almost half of Sapiens? No. Did the abolition of slavery eradicate social inequality? No. Did the end of World War II end racism? No. As long as there is social injustice, one needs to speak against it. Social assertion of human rights is politics.

Let us redefine our political ideas to think in longer terms. Because “real” change is slow but sustained. Unlike, say, changing of governments. One can participate in larger, universal, political movements from their homes, workplaces, neighbourhoods. Yes, being a part of the four institutions of democracy is a way to accelerate these changes, but that does not happen in a day. Does that mean one pretends to be apolitical if they cannot be a part of this active system?

I sincerely believe in the contrary. Real change can be brought about by consistently communicating progressive ideas, instilling questions, and making people think. Connecting with people is crucial. To understand people is the crux of the problem. Thus it is important to also increase the sphere of true connections.

But what more does it require?
Something much more difficult, actually. It requires one to look within. If I want to prevent the world from going up in smoke, but myself cannot quit smoking, does my political activism make any sense? If I want to eradicate social inequality but bargain with my housemaid on their monthly wage during the lockdown, am I fighting social inequality?

The point is simple: Real change is very difficult to make. If I want to see a long-term change, I have to be the change. An individual is like a cell of the society. Each cell of the society has to be the change, only then that change will bear fruit.


Comment

A lot of people by saying they are apolitical often simply mean they don’t align with the ideologies of any political party — they hardly understand the deeper connotations of being political. The people who wield the largest collective political powers are parties, large corporations, governments, and influential people. Hence they become crucial to the discussion.

Response

That is because we have internalised the fact that it is fine to have power in the hands of “large corporations” and “influential people”. While there is no denying the reality, questioning whether this reality is justified — is a political stand. Why is it necessary to have a few influencers wield power? Why should some big corporations play a huge role in determining what the larger majority wants? Simply because they have the money? Is money more important than human rights?

As much as I accept what people mean, making them think in a bigger context is important. Driving conversations to what can be done to bring about impactful changes is a legitimate political stand. It is important to have patience to see slow but steady change in society.

“While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Eugene V. Debs

Political parties indeed play a huge role in the shaping of history, thoughts, and lives, and we will come back to this issue as we go along this series. We will also ask the question: How much power should governments have?


Comment

I think when people say they are “apolitical”, they sometimes mean that they care only about रोटी, कपड़ा, और मकान — without any thoughts as to how that is achieved. And it is not entirely their fault, since politics and ideology have become very much intertwined. The problem with that is that strict ideologies (e.g. Capitalism, Marxism) enforce the associated political parties to adhere to their doctrines. You can understand why this dogmatic behavior can turn off some people who do not want to be associated with a doctrinal ideology they do not totally agree with.

This is an oversimplification for sure… the interrelationship between politics and ideology, and the basic question of whether that is necessary, is much more complex.

Response

This is a very important point. Is ideology important at all? What does ideology do to political parties based on them? Are political parties at all based on ideology? In this series, we will be delving deeper into these questions, so please stay tuned.

We will be studying the various aspects of different ideologies, and try to have an outlook of what their virtues and limitations are. As of now, let me end by saying that ideology itself need not be strict, but flexible. If the ideology is of fraternity, equality, and love, then the way to achieve a just and fair society based on these principles of humanity can give you a world-view. This and only this should be the core and fundamental reason for having an ideology. If dogma, belief, and “custom” become ingrained with any ideology, that ideology is bound to either fail, or succeed with disastrous consequences.


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