The illusion of control
Jeff at Alas, A Blog blogged about this irritating, smug idiocy from Firedoglake's Janet Rhodes, who blogs about how she is completely willing to destroy this country in order to punish Barack Obama for not running the debt ceiling discussions in the way she believes he should have. She claims to have told a representative from the DNC that she's so mad at Obama for "caving" that she'll be voting for the Republican in November, even if that Republican is Michele Bachmann.
Now, I personallly have little patience for people trying to prove how hard they are generally speaking, and especially when said people are highly privileged liberals preening like they're tough because they'll "punish" the Democrats with their precious, precious votes—didn't you know their votes count five times as much as yours? Well, they should anyway. The belief that the choice is to do things 100% your way or to give up altogether is what drives the Tea Party, which is why Rhodes has functionally become a Tea Partier, who will give the resentment vote to whatever asshole the GOP runs. I'm not going to argue the relative merits of Obama over fucking Bachmann, or Perry, or Romney. That just creates more opportunity for idiots and assholes to preen about how they're lefter-than-thou, so left that they're willing to destroy this country in order to make a point about how superior they are to everyone else.
Instead I'm going to talk about the illusion of control, which also feeds this ridiculousness. The illusion of control is the belief that you (or one of your allies) personally has the power to make everything go your way, and having complete control of the eventual outcome is just a matter of making the right move. In this case, Rhodes has convinced herself we can elect Republicans until Democrats, chastised for being too conservative, start acting right, even though the whole of history tells us that Democrats look at Republicans winning elections and think, "What I need to do is move to the right, because that's where winning happens." But in reality, you don't have control. You have power and you have influence and you have hard work, and these can affect outcomes, but some times shit is out of your control. Refusing to believe this can drive a person around the bend, as demonstrated by Rhodes, as they become increasingly irrational, looking for that magic bullet that's going to make everyone else start behaving the way they want them to. If you let go of the illusion that you can, if you play your cards right, determine the outcome with certainty, you can actually be more effective. You can shift your attention from trying to control the outcome to trying to exert influence and accumulate power. But in order to do this, you must be willing to lose.
I would recommend a little memento mori to rid yourself of this toxic illusion of control. if you start thinking, "If I could just make him realize how mad I am at him, Obama would suddenly turn into a superhero who could get Republicans who literally believe he's Satan to cow before his mighty powers and his newly invigorated progressive agenda," it's time to step down, and think about the fact that one day, you will be dead. Not just in the abstract—I recommend thinking about how your death will come with a lot of suffering. Most of us don't just get to pass away gently in our sleep. You might be crushed in a car accident or come down with cancer that causes you to be so mangled by pain that death starts to look like sweet release. Now that you've pictured one of the many horrible possibilities that is the end of your life, remind yourself there's nothing you can do to stop it. You can take measures minimizing how bad it's going to be: you can eat right and wear a seatbelt and go to the doctor regularly. But one day, crushing pain will overcome you, your heart will stop, your bowels will release, and the people who loved you will be torn with grief. And there's nothing—nothing—you can do to change that outcome.
If that doesn't work, then I recommend you thinking about how the human race will eventually die out, and at best, we can delay this outcome, but one way or another, all species go extinct eventually, and that also means our species. And there's nothing you can do to stop it. Influence it, sure. Accumulate power that will increase your influence, sure. But control it? Nope.
I find this personally allows me to let go of the illusion that the only thing between me and the way I wish things would be is taking the right measures. If you're going to lose the same battle with death that everyone else loses, then it makes it a lot easier to grasp that the reason that government isn't working the way you wish, it's because there are too many factors in play to give you control. And that you cannot gain that control by preening like you're so hard core you're willing to vote for the Republican rather than allow a Democrat to make decisions that you disagree with, especially when it's based in having knowledge you may not have.
I'm personally becoming more convinced every day that our political culture is so toxic in this country because suffering from the illusion of control. I notice, too, that people who fall into illusion-of-control thinking—the Nader constiuency on the left, the Tea Party on the right—tend to have relatively high levels of privilege. I'm not "calling out" their privilege, which is a useless exercise in guilt-tripping to no avail. It's more that I think people who are used to things working out for them get easily frustrated in politics, where almost nothing ever goes completely your way, because there's so many groups of people with different agendas influencing the outcome. The notion that there's some way to just get your way in a hot hurry is widespread on the left and the right.
*It's created the Tea Party, people who are sincerely convinced that being big enough assholes will somehow make the country go back to being completely controlled by white Christians, preferably conservative ones.
*Many of the more irritating tendencies on the left also go back to this. For instance,the belief that changing the language around a concept will have a dramatic effect on meaning, even though, for instance, replacing "liberal" with "progressive" simply made right wingers start bashing progressives like they did liberals.
*God knows on the right you see this with sex. One reason the culture wars are so out of hand is that right wingers just continue to insist that by withdrawing education and access, you can actually bring an end to fucking for pleasure. Talk about illusion of control!
*It also causes liberal tendencies to misread who the Tea Party is. No matter how much evidence you pile up to show that Tea Partiers tend to be wealthier than average Americans, liberals continue on portraying them as economically stressed people. The reason is that it feeds the illusion of control—if Tea Partiers are under-privileged somehow, then we can write off their anger as an irrational response to real stress. And that therefore the removal of that stress will shut them up and get this country back on track. But if we look at the facts, we realize these people aren't being driven to be douchebags, but that's their natural state. And we have to accept that there's nothing we can actually do to change their minds or shut them up, and that therefore the possibility remains that we can lose.
I could go on, but this post is getting long enough. I just want to point out that the illusion of control ironically diminishes your power in the world. Time spent chasing phantoms is time not spent doing the hard work of trying to exert influence. I realize that working with the ultimate understanding that you can easily fail no matter what you do can be demoralizing. The cure for that is, in my experience, to give yourself permission to enjoy small victories even if they fall short of perfection. So, for instance, someone who has relinquished the illusion of control can look at the HHS requiring full coverage of contraception and say, "Hurrah! We got one!" And someone who is still stuck in the illusion of control says, "Sure, that's good, but the Christian right is still out there and as long as we haven't wiped them out completely, it's not time to break out the champagne." The latter person no doubt styles themselves as a cynic and a hardcore progressive, but in reality, they are someone who retains the illusion that perfection is achievable, and that therefore being happy with "good" is selling out. They, in other words, are an idealist trapped in the illusion of control, and their inability to accept incremental victories is demoralizing to the people around them who are willing to fight through many losses and enjoy even minor victories. Meanwhile, the person who allows themselves to feel good about achieving something, even if it fell short of perfection, is someone who can get up the next day and fight for the next incremental change.