Today’s passionate Geek is Gene’o, who can be found at various places around the internet!
When I was a kid, I had a friend who was so fascinated by machines, he’d take them apart and put them back together again just to figure out how they worked. His dad owned an auto shop. The summer after he turned sixteen, my friend disassembled an old jeep down to its frame – he even took the engine apart – and then put the whole thing back together. My friend wasn’t into any of the activities we think of as classicly geeky things to do. But man, he geeked out on some engines.
I am passionate about social systems in the same way my friend was passionate about machines. “Social system” is just a fancy word for “an organzed group of humans,” and I’ve always been obsessed with groups. I love to try and figure out why they form, how they function, and why some dissolve but others persist. When we start asking questions like that, we’re asking political questions, even if the groups we’re talking about don’t have anything to do with government.
Elections and international relations are just the tip of the political iceberg. We can also talk about gender politics, racial politics, cultural politics, political economy, political theory, academic politics, office politics . . . you get the idea. When I start rattling off all the different ways I know of looking at politics, I remind myself of Bubba from Forrest Gump talking about shrimp recipes.
Since we can’t dismantle social groups, study the individual parts, and put them back together again, things get a bit abstract. The most basic definition I can give you for politics is that it’s about power relationships and how they work. Since even the most equalitarian, apolitical groups depend on some form of power to function, every group can be examined politically.
My passion often drifts into obsession, especially during high stakes elections. I’ve never thought very much about why I’m so fascinated by it all until recently. The best answer I can give is twofold. Politics matters because it affects the way we live our day-to-day lives; and even though I don’t have much influence on the outcomes, I do have a little. I believe we all do.
To illustrate. Does anyone think that if the U.S. Congress repealed all our anti-discrimination laws, we wouldn’t see an increase in race and gender discrimination from authority figures such as employers, judges, medical professionals, etc.? I hope no one thinks that, and this is only the most basic example of they way our political choices affect peoples’ day-to-day lives.
Here’s a more realistic example from my own experience. It made a huge impression on me as a child. In fact, it’s probably what turned me into a political geek.
When I was nine or ten, some people in my hometown decided to get together and outlaw the sale of alcohol in our county. A huge campaign and months of debate ensued. Most of the churches in the city and in the surrounding rural area supported the ban. Many retailers in the county seat, and people who enjoyed being able to have a drink without driving 30 miles to buy one, opposed.
Even though the merchants had a ton of money, this was in the rural south during the late 1970s. You can imagine how the vote came out. We ended up with a dry county and a city ordinance which allowed the sale of beer and “light wine,” (meaning wine coolers, not the real stuff) inside the city limits.
In January after the new laws took effect, I was riding around with my grandmother. I noticed these two stores at either end of town were dark and there were no cars in the parking lots. The month before, they’d been lit with neon signs and bustling with activity, especially on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. I wondered where all the people went, so I asked my grandmother about it.
“Remember when we voted against the liquor? Well, that’s about all those stores were selling. They had to close because they can’t make enough money to stay open now that they can’t sell the liquor.” She was pleased, and she had good reason to be. Our conversation taught me the power of one vote, and since that day, I’ve never doubted that how we cast our individual votes matters.
Much later, I figured out that the ban on liquor and the city ordinance allowing the sale of beer in the county seat must have been a huge windfall for the convenience stores. Most of those stores were, and still are, owned a few local families who are in the gasoline distribution business. I have no idea who supported the liquor ban and who didn’t, but the winners and losers in that transaction have always struck me as curious to say the least.
A lot of people who prefer other forms of alcohol, but just fancy a drink, will buy a six-pack that’s five minutes away rather than driving 45 minutes for a pint of whiskey. Political decisions always entail winners and losers, even when the changes are legal and just. I don’t think politics always has to be zero-sum, as many of our elites would have us believe. But there’s no such thing as a political transaction in which everyone wins.
I’m a passionate political geek because groups are fun to analyze and because power is sexy. But also because I belive very strongly that a more just and equitable society is possible. The way we get there is by educating ourselves about politics and engaging with the issues we care about.
I don’t do a lot of blogging these days, but I talk about politics frequently in public Facebook posts and I do get passionate about some issues. This election has crowded most of my normal stuff out these last few months, but it’s done now. (I hope you voted!) I talk a quite a bit about intersectional issues and I advocate nonviolent solutions to problems caused by bigotry. That’s pretty much my whole game when there’s not a high-stakes election sucking all the oxygen out of the internet.
I occasionally post about books, movies, and other non-political geeky things at Comparative Geeks and at Part Time Monster, my sister’s blog. I hope to have a few pieces for both those sites later this year and in the spring.