Beyond Motherhood and Apple Pie

During American Psycho, Patrick Bateman delivers this speech:

Patrick Bateman : We have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. We have to provide food and shelter for the homeless, and oppose racial discrimination and promote civil rights, while also promoting equal rights for women. We have to encourage a return to traditional moral values. Most importantly, we have to promote general social concern and less materialism in young people.

This is politics in the social media era. Everyone sounding like Patrick Bateman or the cliché Miss Universe contestant. It’s boring and superficial. Well to be more precise, it’s predictable.

‘Politics is so crazy these days’ you might say, pointing to the events that have occurred over recent years. That to call our times ‘boring’ is an oversight, ignoring the seismic happenings of our times. Which is, I concede, probably a fair point to make. But I’m not talking about the people or events. I’m talking about the ideas.

Whether it’s on the left or right, whether it’s Black squares, a Pierce Morgan rant, trending topics, soapbox stories, a repost from some anonymous site with a Union Jack, any post that includes “This.” or a clapping emoji and an arrow pointing down. Whether it’s the slew of think pieces on how some pop-culture event that relates to the towering Patriarchy or Western decline. It’s all so utterly, utterly superficial and predictable.

You know exactly how most people will respond in each instance, because now each side has its own ‘Motherhood and Apple-Pie’ sacred cows that are usually distilled into meaningless, endlessly repeated slogans. You can set your watch from something vaguely political happening to the Zarah Sultana tweet spamming your feed. And you will know pretty much what it will say and who will repost it.

Politics has become predictable and superficial because it has become separate.

This culture war is everywhere, but it’s strangely isolated. Every inch of the online space is occupied by ‘hot takes’, yet there is little to no genuine dialogue between the two sides. The quality of discourse in our era is distilled to twitter threads (or reposted pastel coloured Instagram posts with bold typeface) and dismissing the opposition as ‘bigots’ or ‘woke’. Most people will go to the source they usually go to (or more likely what is popular amongst their friends), internalise that ‘hot take’ as their own and move on, never actually needing to engage in the substance of the idea or argument.

To paraphrase a much-used quote: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” If the same can be said for societies as it can be said for minds, then I would say ours is average at best.

There’s a lot of heat in our politics, but there is no light. We talk about the people, the events, but rarely do we get to interrogating the ideas. Because to talk about ideas in a genuine way means holding our own up to critique and occasionally conceding to contrary views. Too often we only ever get as far as strawmanning the opposition and moving on smug in our seemingly morally superior views. If we do this, how can we possibly ever start to come together and compromise? It will only ever be cycles of imposition on one side from the other, and vice versa.

So how do we fix this? One way is to start with ourselves. Take these two questions:

  1. If you told someone reasonably well informed on politics which way you voted, or what you thought on one or two issues, would they be able to predict where you stood on a most others? Is there a political opinion you hold that might surprise that person?
  2. When was the last time you read serious substantive and convincing critiques of your position? When did you genuinely try to understand the thought process of someone on the opposite side of the spectrum?

Depending on the answers above, you may be willing to concede that you aren’t doing enough to challenge your own political opinions. I am willing to admit that I was there myself as a younger man.

Full disclosure, I am a card-carrying member of the Labour Party, and have been for over 10 years. But I now regularly consume far more ideas and media from the ‘other side’ than I do my own. Weighty, considered, cogent arguments and thoughts from dissenters of my position, not the culture war nonsense.  

I do this because I already know what I think. I know where my inclinations and gut instincts will take me. And I know if I discuss it with likeminded friends it’s preaching to the choir. Only reading that piece in the Guardian or retweeting that MP I always agree with does nothing for my understanding of the topic, nor the wider discourse.

Challenge yourself, consume more widely, develop nuance in your views. Put the work in, kill your sacred cows, go beyond Motherhood and Apple-Pie.

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