Why You Should Still Talk about Politics on Facebook

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I get it. As the election draws near, most of us get tired of hearing about politics.  (And those of us who do not become political pundits or Poli. Sci. professors).

My Facebook thread has certainly had a lot of political posts lately, some far more helpful than others.  I have also posted a lot about politics as well. But lately my Facebook feed has mainly been filled up with broad threats like, “ To everyone in general: Stop talking about politics or I’ll defriend you” or cute, little memes like, “Everyone is talking about the election and I just want to look at Pintrist photos of cupcakes.”

So I ranted a little to my husband today about why I think we really should keep talking about politics on Facebook and here is essentially my argument:

There are two reasons to not talk about politics on Facebook:

1. Because you think politics don’t matter.

But here’s the thing: they just unavoidably do. I have seen so very clearly through this situation this past year how a bad policy decision made in the seemingly hermetic fluorescence of an office suite trickles down to affect real communities of real people who I love. I have seen through working with the poor and working with immigrants how the rhetoric that gets thrown out in public debates reverberates through the lives of men, women, and children in tiny, silent ways every single day.

Now, let me be clear here: Politics will not save you. The tendency of certain Christians on the right or the left to think that all would be made right if only the other team would lose and their side would triumph is entirely deluded. Too many Christians believe that one political party or the other is the hope for the church, which I daresay is nigh unto blasphemous and exactly upside-down. And let me be clear about this too: Politics isn’t simple.  I have very little faith in either party and very likely will not vote for either major candidate this year (that is a whole other post). Different parts of the church are far too quick to baptize one political party as the party of truth or worse, the party of Jesus.  Poverty, peace, church and state relationships, matters of scale and subsidiarity—all this (and more) can get ethically complicated pretty quickly.

But because politics are complex and will ultimately fail us, that doesn’t mean that politics don’t matter. Politics matter because people matter–the way we think about culture, our ideas about the truth and what it means to be human, the way we use our money, how we decide who lives and dies, who we bless and who we bomb, our laws, our history, the way we love our neighbors, how we make room (or don’t) for peace, how we care for the least and the little, how we raise our children, how we honor the elderly and the dying, how we are allowed (or not) to follow our consciences in worship and public life.  It all impacts real people, you and me and our communities. So even if your conclusion is that you can never vote again, fine, but you can’t just ignore this stuff. One must both think about these issues and engage them in whatever way one can because, whether we ignore them or approach them with intentionality, they impact our lives.

2. You acknowledge that politics matter, but don’t think people should talk about it really. 

This one bugs me more than option 1.  Here’s the thing: Whether we like it or not, Facebook is a public forum. And, for better or worse (probably worse), it is one of the very last public forums that we have left in our culture. People don’t read newspapers or magazines anymore so writing an opinion column doesn’t do much good (unless it goes viral and ends up skyrocketing around…. yep, Facebook). We don’t have an Areopagus anymore and elders don’t hang out around the gates of the city debating ideas.  Most of us don’t know our neighbors. Even if we do, massive amounts of research shows that we are getting more and more polarized politically and geographically—chances are that those you live around and hang out with think, more or less, like you do. So if you hang out with a bunch of left-leaning urbanites, it makes it harder for you to possibly conceive how anyone with a functioning brain could be against gay marriage or Obamacare unless they are simply blinded by fear, fundamentalism, or hate. And if you hang out with right leaning, business types or soccer moms, you can’t conceive why people would be for a better social safety net or for not bombing Iran unless they are simply entitled whiners who are weak and naïve.

Very, very few places remain where we are actually in “public.”  Facebook, for all its many, many flaws, is sadly one of the only spaces left where we might actually hear from people who see the world very differently than we do. And if these people are people that you know in real life like your kid’s ballet instructor or your cousin’s husband’s best friend- all the better. These sorts of friendships, however ambient or distant, help us consider that the “other side” may not just be blithering idiots or bigoted screamers. They help us to have to defend what we believe with hopefully something more thoughtful than, “Well, that’s just the way I am!”

Is Facebook the best medium for sharing ideas? No, probably not. But it is what we’ve got. Do I get tired of unthoughtful rants, the trolls, the endless repeating of soundbites? Oh yes I do. But the often inarticulate and contentious conversation that we are having as a culture will not improve by everyone dropping out of it and declaring, “No more talking about politics.” It will only improve by you entering the conversation with conviction, curiosity, and humility.  If everyone but the ranters stop talking about anything but muffin recipes and Downton Abbey, then the current political/cultural conversation –-and politics and the culture in general–will continue to decline.

So, please, tell me about your new kitten and your favorite new band. Really. Do. I love that stuff. Post pictures of your cute kids, and I will “Like” them with gusto! But also tell me what you think and why and please, please link to thoughtful articles that help you decide what you think and why. Because what you think matters and why you think it matters. It isn’t all that matters. It isn’t ultimate Truth. But it matters.