Imagine you’re in a job that you’re not enjoying, a job that’s sucking up your time and energy and affecting your emotional state. One day it occurs to you that you don’t actually have to do the job: you can walk away and do something different. Doesn’t that feel good?
Or suppose you’re in a relationship. You drifted into it without ever really making a deliberate choice, and a couple of years in you realise it’s making you unhappy and irritable. You know what? You’re not married or anything: you can just walk away.
I started this blog at the end of February 2010. For its first year, I didn’t write anything at all about politics. In April and May of 2011 came a brief flurry of four posts on the AV referendum [first, second, third, fourth]. Then that was basically it until a couple of years ago.
At which point — for reasons I can’t really explain even to myself — I suddenly became deeply concerned about a whole bunch of stuff, most notably the EU Referendum and the Trump regime. And do you know what I’ve noticed? Knowing about these issues, getting informed, adopting coherent positions, all that … it hasn’t made me happier or more productive. The exact opposite, in fact. I’ve increasingly become miserable about the state of the world, disheartened by my patent inability to do anything about it, irritable at home, distracted at work.
Keeping up with political news probably burns an hour a day on average — which amounts to a whole extra working day that I could be spending on finally getting some more palaeontology done (my publication record for the last few years has been miserable). Or I could be spending it finally writing one of those novels that have been floating around inside my head since forever. Or taking those guitar lessons that I so badly need. Or actually mowing our poor, neglected lawn. Or a hundred other things.
I had forgotten C. S. Lewis’s observation (in Surprised By Joy):
I can hardly regret having escaped the appalling waste of time and spirit which would have been involved in reading the war news […] to strive to master what will be contradicted the next day, to fear and hope intensely on shaky evidence, is surely an ill use of the mind. Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn.
He’s right. I’ve been wasting my time, making myself less available to the people I love, and crushing my own spirit — all to essentially no effect, since nothing I say or write about politics is likely to make the slightest difference to anyone. Along the way, I have lost the friendship of a blogger who I liked and admired, who has blocked me because he objected to something I tweeted about politics. It’s been all downside, and I’ve achieved nothing.
So I am walking away.
Yes, I have tried to do this before. It didn’t work out well. So this time I have a specific plan. And I ask you all to help me to stick to it. Here’s what I will do:
- I will go through the politics list that I created on Twitter, unfollowing basically everyone on that list. No fault of theirs, no offence intended, I just need not to read about the issues that they tweet about.
- Once that is done, I will delete the list itself.
- I will temporarily block the Guardian and the New York Times, to remind me not to follow politics links that I stumble on elsewhere on Twitter.
- I will write one final politics post on this blog, summarising the things I have learned during the last couple of years.
- From then on, I will not blog about politics, tweet about politics, or discuss politics on Facebook. (Exception: issues directly related to intellectual property and civil liberties, which I have always had a stake in.) Nothing about Brexit, nothing about Trump.
- And I will make every effort not to think about politics, either.
I ask you all to hold me to this. If I blog about politics again after the lessons-learned post, call me a hypocrite in the comments. If I tweet about politics, reply telling me to shut up. I need to go cold turkey: if I slip, help me.
In exchange, I will write interesting academic papers about sauropods, learn to play guitar properly, be nicer to my wife and sons, and maybe even write a novel. Seem like a fair deal?
Update (the next morning)
I have completed tasks 1-3 in the list above. I will get that final politics blog-post written soon, maybe this afternoon, and then I’ll be out.
It remains only for me to say this: to everyone who reads this blog for the non-political stuff, apologies that I’ve wasted so much of your time with politics in the last couple of years; and to anyone who reads this blog for the politics (if there any such person), apologies that there won’t be any more of it. To such people, I recommend that you read the much better political discussion on the blogs of people like Andrew Rilstone, Andrew Hickey and Richard Flowers. (Not coincidentally, they all also blog about things other than politics: that is part of what makes their political insights interesting.)