Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Political Hobbyism

Standing out in the spectrum of this year's Fourth-of-July themed commentary was Eitan Hersh's particularly pointed op-ed in last Sunday's NY Times Sunday Review, entitled "The Problem With Participatory Democracy Is the Participants." – a provocative title in this contemporary era when we are increasingly disposed to blame everything that’s wrong either on systems and institutions or on other people but never on ourselves.

Hersh contends that many Americans engage in what he unflatteringly labels political hobbyism: "Americans who live in relative comfort are emotionally invested in politics, especially after the election, but in a degraded form of politics that caters to the voyeurism of news junkies and the short attention spans of slacktivists. They are engaging in a phenomenon I call 'political hobbyism.' They desperately want to do something, but not something that is boring, demanding or slow."

Most of us can probably recognize of whom and of what he speaks. Hersh in any case offers sufficient examples. The ultimate problem, as he sees it, "is that hobbyism is replacing other forms of participation, like local organizing, supporting party organizations, neighbor-to-neighbor persuasion, even voting in midterm elections — the 2014 midterms had the lowest level of voter participation in over 70 years." 

And we all have seen where the tendency of so many - especially younger voters - not to vote has left us! Not voting, of course, has been a perennial problem in this country and keeps getting worse. It is all part of a larger phenomenon of increasing individual detachment from - and consequent lack of support for - institutions of all sorts. 

Hersh warns "that an unending string of activities intended for instant gratification does not amount to much in political power."  Politically concerned citizens should ask "whether their emotions and energy are contributing to a behind-the-scenes effort to build local support across the country or whether they are merely a hollow, self-gratifying manifestation of the new political hobbyism."

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