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?
I’m not sure religious activism is really possible in the LDS church. Kate Kelly was excommunicated for gender equality in the priesthood, a big issue. Sam Young was excommunicated for campaigning to have the Church change its policies on one-on-one youth interviews, which does NOT seem like a big issue. What could a progressive Mormon even do?
Even if you hope to become a bishop, you’d still have to strive to make small enough changes that they’d go unnoticed (and therefore unchallenged) by higher-up leadership. It seems like on principle, the Church will intentionally block any change suggested by a mortal, since they have to make it look like they got it by inspiration and nothing else.
“ … the Church will intentionally block any change suggested by a mortal, since they have to make it look like they got it by inspiration and nothing else.“
Thus the exodus.
Exactly, There isn’t room in the orthodox belief model that allows rank-and-file members to affect change on the organization. Keep on writing letters to all of the Q15; they will never reach their intended recipient. The few people who are effective in making changes to the Church are kicked out. It’s a system designed to concentrate power at the top while disempowering the average member. Progressive- and ex-Mormons who take their grievances to the internet are often just looking for a safe space to ask the tough questions and vent their frustrations, since the Church won’t give them that space.
And as far as political power, the Church has nearly exhausted its political capital in Utah, and is running a deficit in places like California (thanks to Prop 8).
While in a stake presidency, I introduced as many progressive ideas and changes to old procedures as I could only to see them all changed immediately back to the old ways by my predecessor as soon as I was released.
Here is an example of a small but subtle thing; I made it clear that the Stake Young Women’s President could direct and lead a meeting even if the Stake Young Men’s President was also there. They rotated the responsibility. That was changed back week one of me gone. The man must always lead any meeting, period. The stake YW’s president called me in tears to explain how humiliated she felt being told she couldn’t lead those meetings anymore. I think I failed her by giving her hope that she was equal and times were changing.
JanPaul – I contemplated stating as such in my blog, but I wanted to see if I could find some people with positive examples. Unfortunately I have seen what Dan has with a bishop in a neighboring ward.
Jack – I do think that some of the people you mention have certainly pushed the church to change and did indirectly cause changes, but like you point out – they paid the cost with their church membership.
Thanks for the comments.
During most of the five years before I stopped attending church, I had never heard the term “progressive Mormon”. I just thought that the things I was talking about as a counselor in the EQ presidency, Course 15 Sunday School teacher, ward missionary, and Gospel Essentials instructor were based in the scriptures and good reasoning – even though some were a bit off the official narratives.
I wasn’t on a crusade, just doing what I thought was right in the circumstance. I shared how important it was for me personally to look at my unexamined notions to see how they align with the spirit of the gospel and invited class members to do the same with some of the things we discussed. The stake patriarch and the RS president were regular attenders of the Gospel Essentials class – I didn’t ruffle their feathers or say anything that would get me “reported”. But did hope to challenge their thinking in a way that would strengthen their relationship with God.
I said something LGBTQ+ affirming to the 16-year-olds. Nothing provocative – no comment on church policy or about same-sex marriage. Just be understanding, kind, and loving. That God loves His LGBT children – the same stuff we see on the Mormon and gay website. It seemed all of the kids were on board. After church, my wife told me I was going to be released for it. I dismissed it. Two weeks later I was released.
I feel the church has grown increasingly “corporate” in its administration. Over my lifetime, Correlation has narrowed the breadth of gospel study and virtually eliminated intellectual stimulation in the course manuals – and they are full of “creative editing” of the brethren’s statements to support official narratives. To me, it feels like narratives are replacing doctrinal understanding. I commented once that it seems like we are at a time that, in the eyes of the church, you are either “all-in” or “all-out” . Every head nodded.
At some point, the internal tension became too much and I couldn’t be all-in. That left me “all-out”.
“either ‘all-in’ or ‘all-out’ ” — whether such an attitude is present seems to me to depend upon the individual and to vary by ward and stake. I wonder whose are the “eyes of the church.”
I should have been more clear. By “eyes of the church” I mean the content and tone that comes down from the brethren and official publications of the church. The covenant path, doubt your doubts, stay in the boat.
How people view their fellow travelers is, of course, local. I have been in wards that are very orthodox – old stock Utah families. Other wards have a more diverse demographic and are more accepting of those with some nuance.
It’s easy to say that if someone feels like an outsider that’s on them. It’s true to an extent, but it doesn’t negate the reality of the words and actions of those who clearly want you to know you aren’t doing it right. There is a responsibility on that end too. We would like to think we are Good Samaritans – but sometimes we can be the robbers.
I think there is a good point in the original posting. It is so easy to sit in our armchairs and declare that the church should do this, or the church should do that. But the great invitation of our Savior is that each of us may choose to be anxiously engaged in doing good within our own neighborhoods.