I had not heard the author Eitan Hersh until I heard him on a few podcasts lately:

  • Hidden Brain Podcast, “Passion Isn’t Enough: The Rise Of ‘Political Hobbyism’ in the United States” on February 10, 2020
  • What Divides Us? Podcast, What Divides Us 016: Political Hobbyism with Eitan Hersh on March 23, 2020
  • The Ezra Klein Show Podcast, “Are you a ‘political hobbyist?’ If so, you’re the problem” on March 8, 2020

He was promoting his new book, “Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change”. The podcasts piqued my interest enough to read the book.

I found his message to be something that really made me think about what I was actually doing in the political realm. He coins the term, “Political Hobbyism”. He describes it as someone that approaches politics similar to how many approach sports. This would be someone that is passionate, loves to get riled up, spends lots of time listening and responding to people just talking about their team or the opponents, but in the end does very little to actually change the game. He comments:

It would be hard to describe our behavior as seeking to influence our communities or country. Most of us are engaging to satisfy our own emotional needs and intellectual curiosities.

In Political Hobbyism there is a desire to support “our side”, but a real lack of looking at what would substantially changing the game in any substantive way. Just reading our favorite websites/news show channels, posting a rebuttal on FaceBook, or retweeting probably does nothing to nudge any voters to reconsider their positions. In fact the backfire effect will often kick in and just make the recipient that doesn’t agree with us more resolute in their existing position and often will think less of the person pushing back.

Hersh claims there are two main problems with Political Hobbyism.

  • Making politics a sport affects how politicians behave as they feel they benefit for something going viral instead of real legislative change.
  • Hobbyism takes us away from spending time to acquire power/making real change. While we sit at home in front of our computers or on our phone, people who want political power are out winning over voters.

The majority of the book is not attempting to convince the reader that there is such a thing as Political Hobbyism, but instead goes through examples of why and practical how-to steps for someone wanting to become more politically impactful and move beyond hobbyism.

One of his first examples is where the KKK was offering help to opioid addicts. Other people say they want to help, but are sitting behind their computers. Political leaders are often just trying to get money. Slowly the KKK will probably be gaining political power in this case. I was born in Louisiana and reading the history of that state sure sounds familiar to the political shenanigans that went on in the state before I was born. The KKK wants the power and is doing what is needed to try and gain that power – something that no amount of FaceBooking or Tweeting will ever match. I highly recommend the book for those that want to understand how they can be more politically effective.

In reading this book, it did make me think about the progressive or even ex-Mormon groups and are they as effective as they wish to be.

I couldn’t help but think for me individually, I spend way too much time reading blogs, participating in FaceBook groups, etc. that have very little effect on trying to push for real progress in the church. I certainly can use the excuse that is I am walking the tightrope of being in a mixed-faith marriage (which I have to plug the “Marriage on a Tightrope” https://marriageonatightrope.org/about/ podcast and social media groups for anyone in this situation). I also have not yet leveled with my own family about where I am at in my faith journey for several reasons. So I am not as vocal as I would like to be (I would emphasize “vocal” vs “confrontational”). But I have heard from so many that have tried and most have not made much of any substantive progress.

The many online nuanced/progressive/post Mormon resources have helped me and many others in my transition. But do any of you also have concerns that you just spend too much time being a “Progressive Mormon Hobbyist?” instead of really having an impact for good?