Underpants are political

Everything is political. Nothing is political.

When people think about politics, they often think about elections, and parties and legislative processes and nationhood and state authority. And campaigns. And speeches.

But if you’ve been around for the last fifty years, and making even a slight attempt at following along with social progress, then you probably have an inkling that politics is so much more.

Most of us think, yeah politics is everywhere and, yeah the personal is political. But also it makes intuitive sense that some things aren’t political.

After all, if everything is politics than it’s a meaningless term. It’s like saying everything is matter or everything is energy. Hmm. Well okay, that might be true too. But how useful is it?

Like everything, it’s about context.1 Because if you say a movie on a movie screen isn’t made of matter, you’re gonna be right. Roughly. And if someone disagrees with you and says that the movie is made of light and light is really just a form of matter, they’re gonna be right too. Roughly. The conversation just switched contexts.

The second speaker didn’t understand what you meant and switched the context and meaning of “great.” They switched the context so they could be righter than you.

Context switching happens all the time in conversation. It’s inevitable, and it can happen in a shared way where all speakers all cool with it. But it can also be very annoying and non-collaborative.

It’s what happens when someone says something like, “Wow, that new Captain America movie was great.” And then some jackass says, “actually, no, it underperformed at the box office, and Scarlett Johannson was all like, ‘pew, pew’, and it didn’t pass the Bechdel test, and it reified masculine norms.” Yeah whatever. You’re both right, sure. But one of you is grumpy (It’s usually me). The second speaker didn’t understand what you meant and switched the context and meaning of “great.” They switched the context so they could be righter than you.

And this brings me to statements like, “such and such is political” or, “such and such is not political.” These statements usually don’t provide any extra information about such and such. They usually give us information about the context of such and such. And these statements do also tell us about the speaker.2

These statements often reveal the interests and priorities and psychology of the speaker. Which can be fascinating. So the next time someone says, “that’s political,” or it’s close cousin “that’s too political,” I suggest that you ask them what they mean. article ending Interrobang flourish

  1. Irony alert, “everything is about context.”
  2. compare, for example, Oxfam is political, or the Fraser Institute is political.

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