By Sara Scarlett
In the past few days the comments on this thread on LDV have steadily built up in the predicatable fashion they always seem to do. As someone who used to be a frequent commentator on LDV, this thread seems completely typical to me. What has surprised me is that other commentators on LDV seem to be surprised at the tone of the comments. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that this thread is not typical of the Liberal Democrats.
Oh, but it is…
It is not only typical of LibDems but of all people who are intensely political. Cybernats, Corbynistas, Cameroons etc. All of them.
Only a few days ago Caron Lindsay was prompted by something or someone to post this article. Indeed, in the past I have repeatedly sent the Mods on LDV angry emails and tweets about myself being bullied and outright libelled, seemingly for fun, on the LDV comments thread. I actually regret directing my anger at the Mods over at LDV. I used to believe they were evil but now I genuinely think they are doing the best job they can.
The problem is this – politics destroys your soul.
As my former colleague, Aaron Ross Powell, writes:
Politics is nothing to be proud of. We shouldn’t believe in it, shouldn’t get excited about it. Shouldn’t think it’s noble or, worse, fun. On a good day, politics is a silly game with negative externalities. A waste of countless hours and countless minds—hours and minds that could’ve gone to productive, radical, world-changing, and life-improving pursuits. Politics, on a good day, is lost opportunities. On a bad day, it’s livelihoods and sometimes lives destroyed. It’s violence and ignorance and fear.
Politics inculcates pettiness, short-sightedness, Manichean thinking, tribal feuds, selfishness, and rage. It discourages reason and respect and a basic appreciation of the dignity of others, especially those who seek lives different from our own. It makes us less likely to find virtuous mentors or learn from the virtuous actions of others, because everyone we encounter will themselves suffer from its corrosive influence. Politics encourages extreme reactions instead of careful seeking of the proper, measured response. Politics distances decisions from local knowledge and so limits moral wisdom by making it less likely we will act to bring about virtuous outcomes even when motivated by virtuous impulses.
Nothing I have experienced in my time in politics has disproved this.
That includes the fairly minor stuff ranges from – being repeatedly libelled and bullied on LDV and on this site, being chewed out on twitter and had fights picked with me just because of what I am/what I believe umprompted by people I’ve never met/heard of, to the usual aggressive anonymous briefings/ emails/comments like the one below. Unpleasant but normal.
Then there’s the more serious level of threats/inappropriate behaviour.
I have experienced more violent and sinister anonymous emails, comments and facebook messages. A bit more rapey and personally unnerving but nothing a block button couldn’t fix.
When I was an unpaid campaigns intern for a LibDem MP, I was bullied by the Campaigns Manager who had hired me so badly that I eventually walk out on the job.
I have also been accosted for sex, unprompted, on Facebook by virtual strangers (LibDems/Politicos I have met briefly only once or twice at Conferences) no less than three times. Sometimes subtle. Sometimes not. I’ll spare you *those* screen caps…
Then there’s the borderline criminal/unforgivably aggressive stuff.
In my time in politics, several grown men (and, occasionally, a grown woman or two) have “joked” about violently assaulting me on Facebook and Twitter.
I have several screencaps just like this and my collection includes one where two LibDems on twitter joke about violently assaulting me with a fire extinguisher.
I was once groped in a Westminster pub after a free-market think tank Christmas party. The individual in question grabbed my breast so hard that it hurt for two days after. The next day this person was utterly indignant as to why I was not responding to his texts.
When people ask why there aren’t more women in politics, I often find myself wondering why there are any at all. The behaviour that exists in politics is the type of behaviour that would get most other people sacked from their place of work and/or a strong dressing down from any competent HR department.
But… I did once called a female Labour MP, “too thick to be an MP” on twitter for no reason. That is something I would have never done in real life. Some may say that is because the Internet makes it easy to do things you wouldn’t ever do in person and that is true. But I wouldn’t have done that to anyone else in my non-political life on the internet or otherwise.
In a political context, I have committed all the minor offences that I have outlined above. I have sent bitchy, unprovoked tweets and emails. I have been petty, short-sighted, guilty of Manichean thinking, tribalism, selfishness, and full of rage. I have left aggressive anonymous comments on other blogs. I have felt bitterness and anger at being overtly manipulated and used by other bullies. Oh and there was that time I heckled someone in a fit of anxious outrage… I am, at a least, delighted to say that I have never sexually/violently assaulted anyone, or joked about violently/sexually assaulting anyone. Well done, me!
The times in my life I have been the worst version of myself have been almost exclusively episodes in my political life and with people I have met through politics. You get little in return for selling your soul. When I think back as to why I got involved, it was because I was passionate about justice, freedom, and policy. When I look back as to how much I have achieved in politics policy wise, I can tell you, without a shred of a doubt, that what I have achieved amounts to very little, indeed.
My experiences are no way unique. This is true of 99.9% of political activists, even people senior enough to be high ranking members of staff, PPCs and even MPs. The activists who spent 20 years campaigning against the Tories only to see their party go into coalition with them. To get elected you have to wade through a sewer of shit for decades thickening your skin, tolerating dull local constituency events, parroting the party line whether you agree with it or not, being patient with your educationally subnormal constituents and fellow party members to get anywhere near to changing policy. Then your precious, rare, once in a lifetime Private Member’s Bill gets talked out. Next you’re turfed out of the job you’ve always wanted because of factors beyond your control.
For those saddened by this, I strongly recommend Aaron Ross Powell’s series of essays on this. You can find them here:
Politics Makes Us Worse 1 – Politics Makes Us Worse 2 – And this – This – and finally this.
The moral of this story is – expect less from politics and you’re less likely to be disappointed:
Politics is, at best, a blunt instrument, though perhaps an occasionally necessary one. But its use has costs, including, I believe, degradation of our character. We should resort to politics only when we have no other options, and then only reluctantly. At the very least, it should never be cause for celebration or held up as the ideal of civic virtue. In short, politics makes us worse. We’d be better people without it. Better off if we rejected the political as a means to flex our will in the world and instead made more effort to live up to our potential as rational, discoursive beings. The good life is not the life of politics and politics is, at a fundamental level, incompatible with the good life.