Political hobbyism is to public affairs what watching SportsCenter is to playing football.
Many people are of the perception that they are political activists. They follow the news, reading articles like this one and debate on a lot of political issues on the internet. They might even sign up for some online petition and making donations for political causes. They consume political information as a need to satisfy their own emotional and intellectual needs. These are what we term as political hobbyists. What they are doing is no closer to engaging in politics than watching SportsCenter is to playing football.
Politics is not a hobby where people talk about engaging big important things, debate political issues on their abstract merits. Media commentators and good government reform groups have generally regarded this as a cleaner, less self-interested version of politics. People who have a personal stake in the outcome of politics often have a better understanding of how power can and should be exercised and not just at the polls, once every four years.
What explains the rise of political hobbyism? One explanation is the culture of comfort that engulfs college-educated people. They have decent jobs and benefits. Harvard’s Theda Skocpol argues that as the percent of Americans with college degree has increased over time, they have become to feel less special, less like stewards of their community and that these communities depend on them. Community participation has decreased as college graduates increases. They may be front allies on social media, but very few are actively engaging in face-to-face political organization, committing their time to fight for issues they care about. Instead, they are strolling through their news feeds, keeping up on all the dramatic turns relation to politicians.
As stated by Eltan Hersh, there are a lot of power relationships we have outside of politics where we are trying to get other people to take some action that they wouldn’t otherwise take that we want them to take. We have to understand where people are coming from and understanding their needs. We have to be empathetic to them. Because, that’s how you can bring other people along with you. That does not describe the way that people do politics online. If the whole point of it is to have fun, then anger and outrage and not taking the opinions of people serious will be normal. Actual politics requires a sense of empathy and understanding the interest of others. Otherwise, you can’t get anything done. Just practicing the wrong skill set.
Politics is not a hobby, not a way to just pass time.