As a regular part of our reading and listening and speaking, we blow by the most amazing caches of information. As a practical matter, we would all agree that the price of attending to this is that we are forced to ignore that. And that and that and that. That is most often just the right thing to do. If you can’t hold an intention in mind and screen out “distracting” information, you probably can’t work effectively. On the other hand, it is good to take a look, now and again, at what you are passing by.
I want to think about what we mean when we say that something has been “politicized.” Let’s start with “personalized” greeting cards. First there were greetings that I sent to you. Then there were “depersonalized” cards. These cards were commercially available and, because they had been depersonalized, cheap to produce. “Personalized cards” say “Happy graduation, dear daughter” or “Peace on Earth from Our Family to Yours.” The question these cards pass over is this: what were they before they were “personalized?” To answer that, you need to have a word that fits into a question like this one. “No, this batch hasn’t been personalized yet; they are still just ___________________,”
It’s a little bit of a puzzle. I used to run without socks. I liked the feel of my foot in the shoe. Then, when I had to wear an orthotic, I had to wear a sock on that foot. But, since I still didn’t like socks, I didn’t wear one on the other foot. Friends would rag me about it sometimes. “Look” they would call, “ You have one sock on and one sock off.” If I was running well at the time, I just smiled and waved and kept on running. If I needed a break, I would stop and try to carry the topic a little further. “Well,” would say, “you are right when you say I am wearing only one sock. But when you raise the question of how many socks I am not wearing, you have moved into one of the dark regions of philosophy.” Generally, that was long enough to catch my breath, and I went on down the road—usually, not being chased by angry villagers.
No one likes to have something “politicized.” If you like opening a question to the preferences of all the people who will be affected by the decision, you call it something else. Accountability? Democracy? Neighborliness? Most commonly, we call it “the way it should have been done.”
It should have been done by the bureaucrats who, after all, know how to write rules that don’t contradict themselves. It should have been done by the judges who, after all, know what the Constitution says. It should have been done by the President and the Speaker in a private meeting. The All Stars in the recent, hugely underwatched Major League All Star game should have been chosen by the managers, not the fans.
Why does everything have to be “politicized?”
I think there’s a pretty good set of answers to that question, but they are legion and they are long. Here, I will content myself with pointing out that the virtue of the “politicize” charge is that is passes over the question of what it was—what was the decision rule—before it was “-cized.”