Political Neutrality

Today I read a story in The Economist’s 1843 publication: “In dough we trust: How donuts fueled the American Dream”. This story, as you may be able to tell from the title, is about the impact that donuts have had on the growth of the American Dream. I encourage you to read the story in full, but in essence it describes the LA donut scene, and how immigrants from around the world have previously turned to starting donut shops to assimilate, and become American. I enjoy reading stories like this not just because I love seeing how hard work can pay off, but also because it describes the beauty of the world. Immigrants from Cambodia, Japan, and more moved to Los Angeles and started donut shops. They wanted to become American, and saw donuts as a great way to fit into the culture, contribute to the economy, and perhaps, on a broader level, make other people feel just a little bit happier. They had achieved the American Dream through donuts.

This essay is not about donuts — nor the American Dream — but rather a lesson that story reminded me of. Something that I have been thinking a lot about lately has been “Where do I fit in on the political spectrum?” — a question which only gets more complex as every day passes and the political landscape changes. Earlier this year, I adopted a principle of political neutrality, where I decided that I was no longer going to participate in discussions of a political nature. More recently though, I started to question whether or not political neutrality was a good idea, because I was scared that I was missing out on doing my civic duty — to participate in politics, read the news, and, indirectly, hold the government accountable for their actions. After thinking about this in more depth, I made the final decision to abstain from all political discussions. Sure, I occasionally write a political perspective for my research, but I try to refrain from as many political discussions as possible.

The one thing I have learned from this principle of political neutrality is that the world will not end every day. When you read the latest news story about a geopolitical crisis that is about to emerge, or misconduct by the President, it is very easy to think that things are not going to turn out okay — that things are broken. But, if you tune out of politics, then you realize that the world continues to pass by. That is not to say that what we read is not important — indeed, many of the stories published by news outlets cover real issues — but rather that not every story means that the world is going to end.

The proliferation of technology has played a part in this, because many journalists are now trying to optimize for page views and clicks rather than the quality of their content. The journalists that emerge prosperous are those who can write the most attractive content that provokes a response from the reader — a share, a comment, a discussion in conversation. This is the goal of all writers — responses mean someone has cared about your article — but in modern journalism, the loyalty is toward revenue more than readers at some points, unfortunately. In sum, when you tune out of politics, it is easier for you to adopt a more optimistic approach to life — everything should work out fine in the end, contrary to what many news publications report.

Anyway, let’s get back to the topic at hand — political neutrality. Another thing I have discovered by abstaining from political discussions is that I have more time to focus on what matters most to me — reading engaging content, working hard, and embracing every moment. I am no longer worried about the latest news story, and I no longer feel the pressure of being the first person in my social group to read a particular article. I now have more time to focus on doing what I love and doing things that provide me with value — politics is no longer a part of my life. When I followed politics, I found that I needed to read the news every day not to stay updated with the latest in the world, but to find out the latest in political policy, which would ultimately reflect my beliefs. However, after refraining from reading the news, I no longer felt this urge — I had more time to do things which actually provided me with meaning. Upon further reflection, I would much rather write this essay than spend 30 minutes listening to a podcast about the latest news in politics.

In addition, political neutrality also makes it easier to maintain objectivity in discussions where you do not have enough information to render an informed opinion. As I have remarked before, it takes a lot of work to form an opinion. Many of us read through articles quickly, and form opinions within minutes — and sometimes even within seconds — of reading through something. However, in order to have a good opinion, we need more time to synthesize information, read alternative perspectives, and evaluate our true thoughts on a subject. Charlie Munger summarized this well, stating: “We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.”

I will not go into too much depth here, but suffice to say that politics is all about opinions, and everyone seems to have one about every political subject — immigration, healthcare, among other topics. As a neutral party in political discussions, I am able to stay objective and therefore learn more about the specific issue in itself. I do not feel like I need to hear either the Democratic or Republican response because I resonate with the party; I feel like I want to hear both responses so I can make an informed decision about where my opinion should lie. For the most part, I hold no opinion on anything political, but where I do, I always adopt an opinion from a neutral stance.

Politics is becoming increasingly divisive, and one of the core reasons I started abstaining from political discussions was that I no longer wanted to be referred to as a liberal or a conservative — a Democrat or a Republican. If I gave myself a political label, then I would likely find myself defending policies which I did not believe in. For example, let’s say I called myself a Democrat. I may believe in their policy on immigration, and if I say I am a Democrat and someone asks about healthcare, I am more likely to support the Democratic stance on healthcare too, even if I have not educated myself in full on their stance.

I have labelled myself as a Democrat, and so I am more likely to defend Democratic beliefs. This was a situation I wanted to avoid, and something which Paul Graham remarked on in his essay “Keep Your Identity Small”. In any scenario where you give yourself a label, as soon as you assign yourself a label, you are implicitly agreeing to all of the associations with that label. If you call yourself a Republican, people will think you are pro-business and pro-tradition, even if you do not align with both policies. Political abstinence allows you to take a step back and think independently about what opinions — if any — you want to form, and spend as much time as you need to develop informed opinions.

The donut story told me one more thing. It said that it doesn’t matter if you are a liberal or a conservative — if you are a Libertarian, Democrat, or Republican. These donut store owners and employees did not care about politics, but only the work they were doing. This is exactly the position I want to be in — a place where I am able to do my best work, without being scrutinized based on my political views, of which I hold none. I think that now every time I eat a donut, I will think back to that story and remember the importance of hard work, and how if you work hard enough, you can achieve any goal you want. The great thing about donuts is that they have no political leaning — they are neutral and don’t have to worry about division. Becoming neutral in politics has been one of the best decisions I have made lately, and I no longer feel obliged to defend beliefs with which I do not agree on the basis that they are the beliefs of other party members. I am politically neutral, just like donuts. The story of America is not fully a story of Democrats and Republicans — it is a story of hard work. The story about donuts reminded me of just that fact, in a time where sometimes we lose sight of what is important.

Don’t get too involved in politics. Only form an opinion if you have researched it fully. Don’t focus too much on political news. Remember donuts — delicious, and neutral.