Verity Johnson: When did everything – even a BBQ – become so exhaustively political?
Verity Johnson is an Auckland-based writer and business owner.
“Ooh, I love these,” says a slightly irritated lunchtime diner, glancing at the beetroot burger I just made on the grill. “We have them at work…”
The guy behind her in line is someone’s obnoxious friend who wears a shirt so loud he has to yell his opinion on immigration about it.
He leans forward: “You eat that voluntarily?”
His laugh shakes the whole garden and shakes the decorative side table on which this chick clearly keeps his cut glass political opinions. She sniffs, “Yes, we have a meatless workplace.”
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The guy snorts drunk like a dog eating too fast and she oozes moral superiority like an angry cat watching him. “I think all workplaces should be meat-free…”
“This is some bright left-wing police crap…”
The calm of the backyard on a Sunday afternoon explodes in a shower of morally superior beetroot. Dear God. Is 11 too early for a drink?
Has anyone else noticed this happening to them recently? Finding yourself in the middle of a conversational political firestorm seemingly sparked out of nowhere and about nothing?
And if so, ask yourself when did everything become so exhaustively political these days?
It’s not surprising in a way, considering the social media logic that everything is a sign of the evil awakened left or the enraged fascist right taints real-life conversations like beetroot juice. Also, everyone from your insurance provider to your underwear supplier feels compelled to speak out on political issues as part of their “corporate responsibility” these days.
But what surprises me is the vehemence in everything. This is not just an official position on climate change, but an attack on the whole being of the other.
Take Beetroot Gate. Veggie Girl thinks Loud Shirt is irresponsible in life. Loud Shirt thinks that Veggie Girl is telling everyone to be more aware of climate change and telling him how to live, so he scolds him. And he rips the stuffing out of her like he’s ripping into a supermarket chicken.
Because that’s what we did to the political discussion. We have made everything political personal and everything personal political, fusing them so closely that it is impossible to have a discussion of one without the other. Therefore, any political statement is a personal attack. It is someone who tells you how to live or refuses to be told how to live. And everything is fully charged.
Therefore, any political statement is a personal attack. It all comes down to someone telling you how to live, or telling someone never to tell them how to live.
And I don’t know about you, but I personally hate both sides of that mentality.
I find Veggie Girl infuriatingly pious, and Loud Shirt reminds me of a cross between Wayne Brown and a Joe Pesci character. But what irritates me most isn’t just the uncertainty, predictability, intellectual rigidity, or cheerless-tasteless-brainless-godless-stupidity of it all.
That’s how everyone else feels about politics.
It feels like politics is a boujee bun fight now. Between what Max Rashbrooke calls the “Kelburn Left” (ceramic necklaces, works in government, later very accustomed to telling people what to do) and the “Remuera Right” (G Wagon, works on construction, built a whole life nobody tells them what to do.)
And everyone else, the quiet middle and the ignored worker, just get mad at all this personal pretentiousness and freak out.
Or worse, it derails talks about structural reform by making everything about you and your life. Discussions about climate change or housing inequality degenerate into cow milk shame or boot-pushed rants, making real conversation all but impossible.
In fact, our current political stance only creates a pissed off silent group in the middle. We’re increasingly morphing into my grandma, reaching for a gin just to get through lunch.