This is what I have learned from my discussions recently: almost no one can discuss political issues without personalizing them. We used to say “the personal is political” but it seems to go the other way, too. Here in the US we are all connected by a common, complex culture. Every disparate facet of that culture is attached to every other in some way, like a giant gossamer spider web. What you ate for breakfast this morning is unimportant, but any event that impacts the culture—trends, policies, prevailing beliefs—reverberates around the whole web and exerts effects that may or may not be noted. I make a habit of noting them.
Nevertheless, the response I often get in discussions of cultural events is, “what do you care?” As if I am not allowed to concern myself with the reverberations if they are not actually going to dislodge me from the web.
At this point I must admit to making this same mistake. Consider the standard liberal response when someone expresses opposition to equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. “What do you care? It won’t wreck your marriage if Joe and Bob get married in Dubuque.” True, it won’t, but that doesn’t invalidate an individual’s earnest concern about the wider cultural impact of a policy change. (No, I have not altered my opinion on the question of same-sex marriage. But I’m dropping the “what do you care” argument. There are better ones.)
I am deeply, even obsessively interested in the effects that public policy has on the culture, and effects that the culture has on individuals, and the effects that individual behavior collectively exerts on the culture, and the effects that the culture has on public policy. I am especially obsessively interested in all of these things as they relate to women. (Anyone who has spoken to me, pretty much ever, can attest to this. It’s tiresome for them, I’m sure.) But, since I am myself a woman, others often think I feel deeply, personally aggrieved by whatever issue I am discussing, and they just can’t understand what my problem is. Or they try to “help” me solve “my” problem.
It’s a symptom of a pathologically (and delusionally) individualistic culture that we all find it so hard to see, let alone care about, community-wide effects. It’s a symptom of a certain cultural bent that community-wide effects that impact men are more easily seen as deserving attention, while those that primarily impact women are relegated to the “personal” realm. (Go ahead, roll your eyes. I’m used to it.)
Here is another thing I’ve learned: I need to channel my obsessions more productively. Unlike much of my conversation, how exactly I’m going to do that is personal question.