Those “Boring” Politics

A particular work of fiction opens with an attempted assassination of a prominent politician, which is thwarted by his security team. Over the course of the book, more assassination attempts occur, and a number of high-level elected politicians are killed. Some fifteen security buildings are bombed and destroyed, and two government ministries are gutted by terrorists. The engineer supervising the building of a government research facility vanishes after he discovers a plot to sabotage the construction. Despite all this mayhem, and more besides, a handful of reader reviews found the book “boring.”

Some of you may even recognize the book, but those “boring” reviews got me to thinking. What does it take to keep reader interest? How many people today have become so addicted to violence on so many levels that if there’s not something overtly violent in every chapter – or at least every other chapter – they lose interest?

Then there’s the complaint that politics are boring. Yet, in not only the fictional world, but in the real world, politics are only boring to those who don’t understand them. Failure to obtain a workable political solution to slavery led to the bloodiest war in U.S. history, and the incomplete nature of the Constitutional amendments and post-Reconstruction state laws led to more than a century of subsequent violence. The political decisions by Great Britain and France to exact maximum “reparations” from Germany after WWI likely led to worsening the Great Depression in Germany and to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.

In 1832, President Andrew Jackson not only refused to enforce the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that federal law prevented Georgia from disenfranchising the Cherokee Nation, but also sent troops to evict the Cherokees, a course of action that resulted in the death of roughly 4,000 Cherokees on the Trail of Tears and set a horrible example for dealing with other tribes. “Jacksonian democracy,” while high-sounding, enshrined universal white male suffrage, masculine privilege, and blatant racism and effectively supported the growth of southern slavery, all of which stemmed, at least in part, from a political decision to flout the law as defined by the Supreme Court.

So… as I see it, those who find politics boring are the ones who fail to learn the lessons of history (and politics) and so often doom the rest of us to live through the same mistakes all over again.

12 thoughts on “Those “Boring” Politics”

  1. Bill says:

    People who find things boring are often also inarticulate and boring covers many things including not flashy or not immediately relevant to my daily existence. In terms of the book empaths are not as flashing as order and chaos mages. But in terms of a comment on life and the world around us, there are no mages who can individually change the course of society by destroying large armies or killing of an evil antagonist. The book is a very relevant commentary on our current situation, and I eagerly await the next volume.
    In terms of people understanding how politics affects our lives people tend to learn in three ways – reading about it, watching other people experience it, or experiencing it themselves. Unfortunately, most of us have to touch the stove instead of reading about hot stoves or watching other people burn themselves. While I wish there was a simple solution, we often have to experience something to “grok” it as another science fiction writer says. Novels are a great way to vicariously experience situations and learn from them. But too many people would rather watch a short TikTok than read a novel or watch a complicated movie.
    As I get older and seeing things more clearly or just more paranoid, it seems that the powers that be don’t want the people to understand how things work. If we understood how politics and the world really worked, we would demand changes. What people believe that POTUS can do is very far from what POTUS can actually do. The power of a member of the house is generally very limited unless they are in a key position. Otherwise, they can’t do much despite the promises.

  2. KevinJ says:

    Remember that readers come from all over a variety of bell curves, so you’ll get all sorts of reactions.

    I despise Andrew Jackson. He certainly wasn’t all bad, and he was definitely effective. But in terms of what difference he made as president, I’m not so sure he was a good one.

  3. Hanneke says:

    Endless senseless violence committed by and to cardboard figures and faceless masses is something that I find a lot more boring than well-rounded characters and politics written with depth. I need a sense of connection to enjoy the story, not constant violence: I guess all readers are different, and a mismatch between some readers’ preferences and the book they are reading is not the fault of the book!

    1. Sandie says:

      Yes! And it seems to be getting harder and harder to find books that are not filled with violence and constant action.

  4. R. Hamilton says:

    Unfortunately the follow-on to fixing those boring amendments arguably went too far, in that “states rights” became a dirty word not just for where they were clearly abused (definitely that did happen, and not just in southern states), but for anything else that a constituency was unhappy about.

    The best government is the least government, but also as local as is consistent with doing what really does have to be done, provided there’s some oversight. For all the uniformity it may offer, doing things centrally has the downside that if it IS corrupt, it’s corrupt everywhere rather than just some places.

    What you describe sounds like one of your series; I certainly didn’t find it boring, and look forward to the next volume. Nor have I found crafts and interludes with apprentices or even a degree of logistics boring in another series, but maybe that’s just me.

    Whatever our differences of opinion re politics, I appreciate that the realistic politics in your novels are not a heavy-handed allegory for those in the real world; it makes the fictional politics more palatable than the real-world ones. Sadly some otherwise good authors have crossed that line, either not knowing or not caring that they’re likely to alienate roughly half their audience.

  5. JakeB says:

    Some of that complaint probably comes from your not writing violence porn, which used to be mostly found in the more bloody mystery novels but has become common in F/SF, or so it appears to me.

    When I was younger I found only genre fiction truly enjoyable and would never read say a history book much less a scientific article for fun. It took me a long time to appreciate that if you can develop enough understanding of a field, then (good) research in that field becomes inherently interesting because it makes your world even bigger — and because you test the model you hold in your head against the new findings.

    You talk a lot about people’s love of simple answers, perhaps because of the work involved in keeping complications in mind. And of their need to believe things that make them feel good about themselves, rather than what may be true. I think both those things, along with the issue of learning in the first place, play a part in the idea that politics is boring.

  6. JakeB says:

    I’m enjoying _Councilor_ quite a bit. I was wondering about Johan Eschbach being the author of Averra. Is he an intentional echo of your hero in the Ghost books?

    1. More like an unintentional echo, but when I realized that I decided to let it stand.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        A certain echoing across universes, not a grand overarching interconnect or ordered hierarchy of variations, but simply that there must be some commonality in anything relatable, seems reasonable. If there are parallel universes, one might suppose that the inhabited ones, even if not connected with what might be ours (perhaps at a point in our past or future), would have enough similarity to have beings and histories not entirely without such echoes. It has been done creating nearly incomprehensible aliens or cultures, but I think the success of that has been rare indeed, and if one has more familiar topics in mind, would often be a hindrance more than an opportunity. And certain commonalities of names or languages saves time coming up with something pronounceable in a consistent manner, leaving that time for other details.

  7. M. Kilian says:

    I’ve found that after talking to many young people, my age or younger, about the subject of politics- part of the issue about not being able to understand them, is that quite simply- they are convoluted. Politics are such a far cry from the simple representative democracy mechanism that it’s meant to be in the so-called liberal democracies of the west.

    You learn enough to know that there’s essentially a two-party system in every country with a “progressive” and a “conservative” side, only to find out that neither are all that good at representing their constituents.

    Then if you delve further you determine almost a pattern of overspending in one party’s cycle that is followed by austerity measures and an increasing oversight growth in the government consecutively each time.

    Then you get to learn what lobbying is, why banning it doesn’t change anything because in countries it supposedly is, the politicians have a toolbox for bypassing restrictions on serving the purposes of corporations for their own benefit.

    Then you start to tie everything to WEF financial management and global trade and diplomacy, and instead of getting a thoughtful adult who can make informed decisions, you get someone who is completely disillusioned and either apathetic or acclerationist toward politics.

    It’s once people realize that there is no easy solution, no band-aid large enough to untangle the mess that is modern-day politics, that they get bored.

    You can get this at any stage of comprehension, and it’s sad. You could even say that’s why some people turn to violence, simply because it’s “simpler”, if completely misguided.

    1. M. Kilian says:

      As for books though, the answer is as simple as the 4-second attention span that plagues people from platforms such as TikTok and mobile phone games. Even people who weren’t born with attention deficit problems seem to love distracting themselves these day.

  8. Alan says:

    I’ve known more than a few readers who feel this way about books. My ex-wife told me once that she simply could not get into a book if the first page or so didn’t have things happening at once. Since then I’ve discussed it with a few other readers, and I find that I’m generally in the minority when it comes to books.

    Readers want something to happen, anything to happen, in the first paragraph if possible. Certainly on the first page. I’m quite willing to enjoy a slow burn or a build up of things, but many readers seem to be impatient for things to occur.

    I suspect some of it is from the attention span people have, but I also believe it’s is because people are used to so much of media presenting itself that way. Movies, for example, often begin with some big drama or event. TV shows, likewise. The opening scene is an argument, a shooting, etc. People are simply used to this being what they receive and want more of it.

    As far as politics is concerned, I don’t believe many people read for political entertainment. Politics might be something they intellectually grasp, but in reading terms it’s not very exciting to read about. The machinations and jockeying for position with all of the plotting is a bit too difficult to compare with the excitement of shooting a character in the first paragraph.

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