Just don’t discuss politics

After working on political campaigns and in government, spending much of college in a political debating club, and generally using up untold hours reading about and discussing politics, I’ve finally concluded that this is basically an expensive habit, and a relatively pointless one, since unlike in other hobbies you can rarely do anything with your knowledge.

Now to be fair I have some relationships that I wouldn’t have had without a common interest at its base, so I’m grateful for those. On the other hand there are diminishing marginal returns, and so after a point there’s just as much risk of alienating people vs. cementing alliances. And I know as a fact I’ve ruined some relationships too, and I know others who have, for really no good reason.

I used to talk about this with people all the time, like way more than almost anyone else wanted to. It was super annoying.

Three things changed:

  1. I actually just really like coding all the time now, and there’s a nearly infinite productive space to explore here. So I wonder how much of the compulsion to provoke and seek competition through discussion is out of boredom, or lack of a more meaningful focus.
  2. People just keep getting angrier over politics. I liked to explore ideas through intensive discussion. It’s at the edges of ideas that I thought you could learn the most and sharpen your thinking. Often I would accidentally contradict myself within the same conversation as the story evolved, even as I made forceful arguments for both sides. But it’s no fun and not productive when so many are actually angry and it becomes a personal or tribal battle, not just an intellectual one.
  3. You can get fired and ostracized now.

The last one does the most work here. There have been a few high profile cases now, all with different specifics, but I suspect the hostility towards divergent views will become routine as we settle into a more divided new normal, where politics spills over its old levees and becomes a concern for more people and organizations. At the same time, I tend to view America as in the political divorce phase, where it’s no longer a fraught but workable marriage of people with conflicts, but more of a hard break, where many are moving to live and date and work with only the like-minded.

Some argue that it’s far more important than ever to discuss and reach across the divide and so forth, for the health of the country. That very well may be true, but the individual calculus doesn’t change one bit: if you don’t broach the subject at all, you have by definition zero chance of angering others (over politics at least), getting ostracized, fired, or suffering other consequences.

I’m also suspicious of the value of low level interpersonal discussion, except for the purely mind sharpening aspect. There is to be sure some value in prominent people sharing well crafted ideas with large audiences. Obviously communication must happen. But for the amount of pain and conflict I see ordinary people shouldering daily on social media, it’s hard to point to any concrete result other than just a little bit more resentment every day. It’s also important to remember that for all the noise, there’s only so much signal, and that probably the majority of the country doesn’t talk about most of this stuff monthly, let alone daily.

If your reaction to that last bit is that we must do something now because of urgent problem X, that’s fine, go ahead and do something. I see a lot more talking than doing, especially in myself but also in others.

So anyway, legacy friends who already know me will get grandfathered in (and via phone only so there’s no record that can harm either of us later, especially since it’s hard to say what mainstream opinion today will be anathema tomorrow). But going forward in general I intend to say nothing on whatever new firestorm is brewing, especially not in public, especially not online, especially not where there’s any record. Instead, I plan to have adventures with my girlfriend, water my plants, play with my dog, write good (and eventually better) code, try to help businesses and try to live quietly for a change, in peace with the world.

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