No, that’s not a misspelling.

Two remarkable articles came my way early this morning. They touch upon the same subject from different perspectives. What they reveal is critical to the quality of American life.

First, let’s have some plaintive commentary from a sweet woman better known for her beauty and her acting:

What has happened in America?

When did we stop listening to those with whom we disagree? When did we stop respecting the opinions of those with whom we disagree?…

We hate — we love. There is little — or nothing — in between.

We have taken unmovable positions about everything. We’ve nailed our feet to the floor and angrily refuse to move left or right or (God forbid) to the center. There is no longer a center for anything. You are or you are not, period. End of story.

How did this happen so quickly? Why are we not talking to each other? Why do we not respect and honor the opinions of those with whom we disagree?…

Where are the Ronald Reagans and the Tip O’Neills of today? We are in desperate need of leaders who will bring us together and talk to each other, so we can all begin to talk to each other once again.

I have no doubt that many Americans are just as upset over it all as Suzanne Somers.

Now hearken to the great Photon Courier, David Foster:

One reason why American political dialog has become so unpleasant is that increasingly, everything is a political issue. Matters that are life-and-death to individuals…metaphorically life-and-death, to his financial future or the way he wants to live his life, or quite literally life-and-death…are increasingly grist for the political mill….

When everything is centralized, the temptation to deal with dissent in a draconian manner becomes overwhelming. Just as Rubashov (at that stage in his thought process) justified Stalin’s ruthless suppression of dissenters on agricultural policy, so do many American “progressives” today seek the silencing of those who disagree with their ideas. It will not be surprising if they escalate their demands to insist that dissenters should not only lose their jobs or be imprisoned, but should actually be killed.

Yet again, an “obvious” point that virtually everyone overlooks.

Politics is strife. Every subject that becomes a political subject therefore becomes a battlefield as well.

It’s not hard to see the dynamic. Let some subject be politicized: for example, the physical sustenance of persons who can’t support themselves, a.k.a. “the poor.” What follows from the decision that this is properly a responsibility of some government?

  • Decisions about “who:” i.e., what criteria shall determine who is eligible to receive sustenance.
  • Decisions about “where:” Shall the State go to “the poor,” or shall they be requred to come to State facilities? (i.e., outdoor vs. indoor relief systems) If the latter, where shall those facilities be situated, what should they offer, and so forth?
  • Decisions about “how much” and “until when.”
  • Staffing decisions.
  • Choices of vendors and the acceptable range of contractual arrangements.

Those are just the important ones that spring immediately to mind. Alternately, consider education:

  • Who shall be taught?
  • Who shall teach him?
  • What shall he be taught?
  • When and where shall it take place?
  • To what standard of achievement shall he be held?
  • What resources shall be put to this task?

And so forth. Each of these will become a subject of contention in the polity that’s been charged with the decisions. Given that a political decision inherently creates “winners” and “losers,” we may expect the losers to fight to reverse the decision and the “winners” to labor to solidify and enlarge their gains.

Now apply that dynamic to a society in which nothing is deemed a private matter — where all personal choices and all modes and manners of interaction with others, regardless of motivations are considered political, at least potentially. Over what shall we not quarrel?

“The personal is the political.” — Leftist slogan

When there was general agreement on the borderline between subjects that belong in public discourse and subjects that are properly private, our combat was restricted to the former and the latter was a zone of peace. The sense that others had no license to talk about anyone’s “personal business” was general, and generally respected. But candidly now: Are there any subjects that haven’t been politicized in recent years? Is there anything Americans might choose to do or not do that isn’t considered grist for the political mill?

The “orthodox” conservative tends to politicize matters he deems pertinent to “national security,” moral choices, and cultural traditions. The “orthodox” liberal tends to politicize economic and commercial matters, which he usually extends into such realms as “labor law” and “discrimination.” (To be fair, in recent years many self-nominated conservatives have recognized the importance of privacy and have striven to reintroduce it as protection against political interference, even on subjects they previously deemed fit for legislation and law enforcement. To be as fair as possible, there are some self-nominated liberals who recognize a zone of privacy, but unfortunately they keep shrinking it under pressure from those further to the left.) There isn’t much of a No-Man’s Land between them.

Many a head of household has declared his dinner table a “no-politics zone” precisely to avert fusillades over the pork chops. It can work, if he’s firm enough and commands sufficient sway over the kids. But when every subject of consequence to anyone has been politicized, that can make family dinner an awfully quiet affair.

Worse yet, he who steeps himself in politics and political discourse will frequently find himself becoming more combative regardless of the subject or venue. That’s certainly happened to me, and as much as I regret it, deplore it in myself, and pray for relief from it, that conditioned-in pugnacity can get the better of me when I’m not vigilant about holding it down. I doubt my experiences are far from the norm.

We will not be able to get along with one another until we resurrect the concept of privacy — and even then, we will continue to quarrel over whatever remains in the political sphere, because politics is strife and can’t be anything else. For maximum peace, the zone of politics should be very small, and the zone of private decision making very large. The Founding Fathers understood this, but their insight is shared by few persons of our time.