Political eschatologies and the angry voter


Dose of Logos


Those of you still reading — those who have not already zoned out after reading the title — stick with me just a little longer. Eschatology is the belief in what might be constituted as “the end time,” but not in the way you are probably thinking. By “the end time” I don’t mean to suggest an “Armageddon” as in fire and brimstone, but quite fundamentally, the end of all bad things. It is essentially the end, as in “the new beginning,” and is often linked with a new world that is grand and wonderful and hopeful. Some readers may already know this sort of belief — many of the world’s religions contain an eschatological belief of some kind. In these forms, the belief that a final judgment or future justice will come or that all evil will vanish from the world is a large part of a group’s eschatology. In fact, the plurality of these eschatological beliefs has caused some conflicts between competing religious groups throughout history.

But it turns out that these rival eschatological beliefs are not only found in religious contexts. One can see them more and more in political contexts, especially in our country where politics and religion have become intertwined with our cultural memory. And this is problematic — on both sides of the aisle there seems to be this notion that the only way to save America is if ones candidate gets into office. If the “other” gets elected, then all hope is lost. The rhetoric could not be clearer on this issue. Back in May, Ann Coulter referred to the complacency of the GOP by suggesting they were “whistling past the end of America.” And the hyperbolic claims that “America is doomed if (blank) candidate doesn’t make it into office!” has only become more ridiculous.  

These eschatologies stimulate the development of mythic stereotypes. By that I mean we fabricate this idea of what a Democrat is, what a Republican looks like, what a Libertarian believes — and then we generalize all of these movements into the mythic construct we create. So we do not see the woman or man behind the label, but the caricature we created in our own minds. This is further aided by our use of social media, the sharing of political content on our walls, where our friends can reinforce our mythic constructs by “liking” or “retweeting” the posted content, and thereby share in our own mass delusions about the other side. It is, in no small way, an “us” vs. “them” mentality.

What does this do, exactly? Well, in the process of creating these myths we demonize the opposing side. We no longer see “Democrat” or “Republican,” but an enemy to be trounced. We need to “beat them” because if we don’t, we will have nothing. The mentality is that if we don’t win, we lose it all, and then the bad guys win. And when Americans start looking at other Americans as “the bad guy” then we have some serious problems. The danger here is the fact that those most affected by these mentalities are normal people, like you and I, who vote. And voting is a powerful tool to begin with — now add a bunch of angry people to the mix and you’ve got a volatile situation.

To be clear, I’m not saying this election isn’t important. I’m not saying the issues aren’t important. I’m not telling you to stop debating whether or not “such and such” are smart ideas on Facebook and I’m not telling you to stop spamming your followers by repeatedly retweeting that Huffington Post article. Certainly some politicians are clearly anti-science, some do not care about women’s rights, some cannot articulate well at all. But let us remember that elections come around often enough that we’ll be able to rectify the situation if John Doe of the “Stick it to the Man” party is spending frivolously while the economy is tanking. And we’ll be able to vote out that woman-marginalizing misogynist of the “I Hate Female Reproductive Rights” movement if they try to take away any personal liberties of women.

It is okay to be pumped up. It is acceptable to want to engage in discussions with friends and family and — on a scheduled break — your coworkers. But remember that the person you’re talking to is not a pundit, they are not Fox News representatives (or MSNBC representatives), and they do not make policy decisions. They are just people, who live lives and fight their own battles, and if their candidate gets in, with the exception of starting another world war, we’ll probably be okay. Trust me when I say that your candidate is not going to be the salvation of the country; Camelot is not as it seems. “There goes one honest politician,” said no informed voter ever.

All I am saying, in the end, is to be aware of your rival eschatologies. Be aware that you are a voter — you have the ability to change things or to keep them on the current path or to alter the future as much as any other person alive. And that is saying something, isn’t it? You have a power that few people in the rest of the world have. Be informed of the issues, not the propaganda. Be alert to the consequences of the policies your candidate wants to install, and also those they want to veto. Being a voter is not just about pushing a button. You have a moral obligation to know the facts. And by “facts,” I do not mean what you heard on Facebook or through normal Internet channels.  

As a Classicist, I rather like Thucydides’ quote from one of Pericles’ (the foremost defender of Athenian democracy) speeches on voting: “Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics — this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.” Or more directly, if you want a say in what happens to your future, instead of worrying about whether or not you will have one, go out there and forge one — go out there and vote.

Tom Verenna is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in classics and history. His column, “Dose of Logos,” normally runs on alternate Mondays.

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