We’ve all met single-issue voters. “I’m not voting for anyone who will send troops overseas.” Or “I’m not voting for anyone who will try a gun grab” or …
This is a bizarre means of voting but my no means incomprehensible. I’m not a single issue voter, unless “absolutely no communism” is a single issue… Only that one is not. You pull at one edge, say, the government having privacy over individual conscience, and next thing you know you have me foaming at the mouth and screaming about taxes, the Laffer Curve and using blunt instruments for social engineering. That’s because when it comes to the primacy of the individual it’s not a single issue nor simple.
But I understand the people who say things like “provided I have my guns, they can’t get away with that other stuff.” That’s fine.
I’m not a single issue voter but I can kind of see where they stand, and though I might make merciless fun of them, if it’s an issue I disagree with, I can go along for the ride intellectually as it were and follow their – often very flawed – ideas. I also can understand, sometimes, where they came from.
What I can’t get is something else.
Here I have to do one of my digressions – TM – and point out America is very unusual in that people usually take up hobbies they take as seriously as careers when they retire/the kids move out.
It’s not that people in other Western societies don’t have hobbies, but Americans, at least it seemed to me when I came over in 1980 are unusually serious about their hobbies. They sometimes become money-bearing enterprises, but even if not, they’re taken very seriously indeed, not as something that happens when it happens, on its own schedule.
Well, recently I’ve been discovering a subset of the “retirement hobby” which is akin to the “single issue voter” and is the hobby-obsession.
We had an eruption of it in comments from Friday, and we know – I’m sure – many other people with these hobby-obsessions.
Unlike the “single issue voter” these obsessions are usually not something that is likely to ever come up for a vote; they’re not something you can ever convince the vast majority of; but they are treated as if they were one or both of those.
And as such they are unfathomable to me.
We’re going to go beyond the merits of each of these hobby-obsessions. Some of them, like the gentleman who posted here on Friday, I can almost see the merit of. Almost because I think it should be an individual choice thing and I’ve seen it pushed (though not disproportionately by women, I hasten to add) and because there are arguments on both sides. Others, like, say, the locavores are inoffensive but mildly insane, because of course if you convinced EVERYONE to do this, the food chain would collapse. Others still are – I think – pernicious and more than a little scary, for instance the zero-population- growth people who tried to make my kids sign pledges not to reproduce when they were in middle school and who’ve been known to convince young women to be sterilized. (Hint, bucko, if population is that bad, you kill yourself FIRST.)
But regardless of whether I agree with it or not, or whether it bothers me or not, all of these have two characteristics that drive me absolutely up the wall:
1- The people afflicted with one of these obsessions tend to bring it up apropos everything and nothing. Talk about Christmas trees and the zero-growther will pound you to the ground with the massive deforestation this will cause when the population is eleventy trillion. Talk about the new color you painted your nails, and the locavore will start screaming about tints made from local plants.
At best, on blogs and online communities, these people bring the conversation to a screeching halt (and here, yes, I’m going to include also those that in the middle of a discussion on taxes and economics start praising the Lord and telling us to repent – even for those who are believers, like me, that causes almost immediate revulsion – but at least their obsession is traditional.) At worst, in a party or something, you end up having to endure this person who sounds like a corner preacher while you sit there with your drink in hand wondering what you could have done not to bring about the fit.
2- These people treat their pet obsession as a political action thing. They want to convince as many people as possible (nothing wrong with that, which is what should be done, one on one, though might I suggest it’s more effective if the subject actually relates to what’s being talked about? Otherwise you risk seeming like a lunatic.) They want to make the other side of the matter illegal. No matter how irrelevant the subject is, they treat it as if they could just get it on the ballot and made the law, then, ah, then, the world would be perfectly right.
Why do these drive me insane? For the first it’s obvious. It’s not only a breach of manners (and I was raised to smooth over social interaction with manners in a society almost as formal – once you get behind the appearance of Latin devil-may-care – as the Japanese society. When people are openly rude, let alone lunatic, I have no idea how to respond.
The second bothers me because it feeds the first and because the people who want their pet hobby horse made into the law of the land never seem to understand the law of unintended consequences which will ALWAYS bite you in the butt. For instance, those who think we should eat only local don’t seem to understand that some regions of the country simply can’t support that much population, or that other regions of the country would starve without income from their agricultural exports.
This type of thing, should it come to fruition, would do more damage than “the problem.”
But more importantly it’s NOT something that can come to fruition. You’re never going to convince everyone in the land that it’s right and just to stop people circumcising their kids. For one, it’s a religious practice for at least two major religions. For another, it’s a tradition in many families and if it was “good enough for grandpappy, it’s good enough for me.” And for yet another, yeah it might be mutilation, but considering this is one of those parts of the human body that has been subjected to extension, reduction and shaping as far as we can look back in history and from what we can extrapolate from art and modern primitives, stopping it would amount to stopping human nature. It would be like putting in a law that no one can cut his/her hair or style it in any way. This has been managed in very small (or very stupid) communities for a little while, but it doesn’t stick. (Ask Hadrian about forbidding circumcision.)
So going around screaming at total strangers that this is a terrible thing, particularly when it’s apropos nothing (if women were the drivers behind circumcision, it would never have become part of Islam.) will only turn people AGAINST your cause.
To the extent a cause of this type CAN be advanced it’s one on one, person on person, with sensitivity and care.
However, all the issue-hobbyists behave the exact same way. I’ve been thinking about it, and I think I know why.
When masses of people behave in direct contravention to what would get them their goal, you have to do what you’d do with a crafty five year old and think “He says he needs to go potty, but he’s not giving any signs of it, so what does he really want?” (Usually in my kids’ case it was to escape a boring situation and/or to get mommy’s attention because mommy had been busy too long.)
First clue is the resemblance of issue-hobbyism to primitive religion – no, I don’t mean the more complex religions that enjoy you to live a good life, be productive and kind to your neighbors, as well as honoring G-d – I mean the sort of religion where you sacrifice a goat every Saturday and paint your privates purple and you’re all right with the divinity from then on.
This type of “religion” is of course the oldest form we know and it’s probably built into the human psyche.
It’s there for the same reason writer superstitions (those who write while wearing a blue shirt or by the light of a certain lamp, or…) are there. It allows you an impression of control over a world in which you do not – otherwise – have any controlling power.
Does it work? Who knows? It doesn’t work as magic to establish control, of course, but it might very well work to calm you down enough that you can function. (I know many writers, yours truly sometimes included, who are almost ironical about their superstitions. They know it’s goofy, but they still do them, because it makes them feel better.)
These hobby-obsessions accomplish this and also accomplish a radical simplification of societal and moral choices.
Look, I’m a political junkie. Given my choice and no work to do, I could happily spend the day cruising political blogs and arguing obscure points of policy. This is to me what porn is to other people. I can lose entire days and have no clue where they went.
HOWEVER even I will admit that this is not a hobby without consequences. Depending on how stupid politicians in charge are being (and they START at dumb and go down from there) it can make me nearly-impossible to live with.
Also, we’re living in the midst of very fast technological change that is affecting almost everyone’s job/livelihood and will only get worse/better/faster. (For the record, no, I don’t think we’re heading to a jobless society. I think our unemployment is the predictable result of following European policies. Their unemployment not only didn’t come down after the seventies but has gone up every year and is now structural. If you adopt the same structure, you get the same results. I do, however, think that jobs will change in such a way the change to mine – now writer/publisher/illustrator – will seem mild.)
People need to have a way of simplifying their choices and their way of looking at things. For more… uh… integrated people like a couple of my friends, it might be declaring yourself a politics-free zone once you’ve made a choice of whom to vote for.
Or as I do, when I feel less worried than right now, sane people will go “Okay, then. I can do this, this and this. Beyond that, I’ll mind my own business and work at my job.” I often use novels as defense against all the choices. While I’m in the novels, I don’t have to think about anything else.
But some people are too overwhelmed to do either of those. So they acquire an obsession, something they can use to keep all other choices and thoughts at bay. This is why those come up whenever something is being discussed that might involve their having to think about other issues/choices.
Is it healthy? Well, I don’t think so, but then I’m not a psychologist, except the practical psychologist I had to become as a writer who has to write plausible characters.
Also, I’m not one of those people. It’s entirely possible their back-up plan for coping with the pressure is something out of Theodore Sturgeons “And now the news” and that without the hobby-obsession they’d take up some form of choice reduction involving sharp objects.
So, as annoying as it might be, I think the hobby-issue obsessives we shall always have with us. Let’s endure them in good grace, and ignore them when we can’t. They’re likely to multiply over the next few years too as tech change accelerates and becomes all-pervasive. But if we remember this is a coping mechanism and not a genuine argument, we should be able to smile and let it be.