For a long time, I have wrestled with the notion that I need to commit to a political party. Every time I have gone to declare an allegiance of one kind or another, something has stayed my hand. I have been ashamed of this for some time, thinking that perhaps I was too wishy-washy, too uncommitted, too weakly opinioned. I have been enticed by several political ideologies, most notably feminism and libertarianism, and have come close to choosing one on several occasions.
But again, something has kept me “aloof from all these parties” despite engaging in their several discussions as often as I felt drawn to them. Finally, I believe I have reached the root of the issues I have with choosing a political party.
I admire many people who subscribe to an ideology of some sort or another. (Many of whom are permas here at M*.) They have passion and conviction. Their ideas are well-reasoned, and generally based on good principles. Above all else, they tend to be thinkers, people who are dedicated to ferreting out truth and right. And I love spending time with these sorts of people. I love being challenged to look from new perspectives and being drawn to passionately defend one’s viewpoint against another’s.
So what holds me back?
When a person experiences certain events in their life, they begin to become involved in the things surrounding that experience. We see it all the time with breast cancer, women’s reproductive rights, homosexuality, domestic violence, and a myriad other interests. Eventually, they find themselves a group of people who believe as they do on that topic. Elated to find like-minded individuals, they realize that HERE is their tribe! Here are the people just like them. They have found their calling. They are a [Libertarian/Republican/Democrat/Feminist/LGBT activist/etc.] They begin to attend conventions, subscribe to blogs, involve themselves in meetings and groups, and associate more and more with the people who have the same label they have given themselves.
They probably don’t subscribe to EVERYTHING the group stands for, but it is close enough that they feel a valuable part of the group.
The more time they spend with like-minded individuals, the stronger their convictions get, the more well reasoned their arguments. Eventually, they begin to adopt more and more of the ideals of the group without even realizing it. Their minds become firmer, they begin to feel more and more justified in their beliefs. Anyone who disagrees may or may not be treated respectfully, but either way they disagree simply because they don’t understand the brilliance and perfection of the group ideal. That way, their arguments can be dismissed comfortably.
As time goes on, the group ideal becomes a trump card, a lens, an idol. Everything must be seen compared to the ideal, whether it is the gender equality of the feminists or the freedom of the libertarians. Those who make decisions based on other factors become blind at best, and the enemy, heretics at worst.
And thus a dogma is born.
One of the great moral stands of the Book of Mormon is the illustration of the damage that can be done by the creation of –ites. Almost immediately, the two main –ites of the Book of Mormon are born. At times, this is a genetic cultural divide. But after the dissolution of –ites at the coming of our Lord, when “there were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of –ites;” the –ites re-emerge. At this point, it is clear that the distinction between Lamanites and Nephites becomes primarily ideological, theological rather than biological.
And while the very first –ites mentioned after the coming of Christ were “true believers in Christ,” and the division was clearly righteous vs. wicked, that lofty moral state did not last long. Eventually, the Nephites were just as wicked as the other –ites, and it was purely political.
I believe this is because of the dynamic I discuss above. I’m sure that every one of us find it easy to see the problem in a group opposed to our own, but find it very difficult to accept that ANY division, ANY label, ANY –an, –ite, or –ism falls equally prey to self-feedback and pride, even ours. And the more committed we are to whatever ideal the group is formed around; the more difficult it becomes to see the problem. After all, the ideal is generally a good and righteous ideal. How could it NOT apply to every situation, and indeed even be the goal to achieve in every situation?
While divisions among people and labels can help in the short term, unifying groups and solidifying good principles, I believe that the capacity to nurture pride and damage society is far greater than the benefit.
And this is why I am glad to say that I will not be joining a political party.