Politics is exhausting. For pretty much my entire university career, I’ve been involved in the area in some way. Be it through organising events, writing articles, or interning at think tanks, the sheer nastiness and aggressive opposition really sucks the fun out of it all. You just have to read through the comments under any article or twitter thread to start questioning why you bothered in the first place.
After all, politics (at least to me) is an altruistic thing. People get involved because they want to see an improvement in society, and they think they know how to bring that about. I don’t doubt that there’s more than a few self-interested individuals, but I fully believe that people get into politics, regardless of which party or ideology (barring the hateful few), do so out of a genuine interest to improve society.
Why, then, is politics so toxic? Why do we shout and fight over disagreement on the means, when we broadly agree on the ends? To me, the biggest tragedy of politics is just how uncooperative it has become.
The answer to this comes from a fairly unlikely place: the tabletop game Secret Hitler.
For those who don’t know, Secret Hitler is a game which splits players into teams of liberals, who have the majority but don’t know who the other liberals are; fascists, who know each other; and Hitler himself. The objective, naturally, is for the liberals to learn to trust one another and prevent Hitler from being elected, while the fascists do all they can to muddy the waters, convince liberals to support them, and ultimately get the dictator in power.
Playing the game usually results in a lot of shouting, wild allegations, and a great deal of mistrust. It becomes almost impossible to work out who your fellow liberals are, and the fascists can easily, and insidiously, trick you into thinking they’re on your side.
While the game is great fun, and I fully recommend you try it out, there’s a silent genius to it as well. Being based so heavily on trust, the game shows how difficult it can be to truly know who your friends are. Just like in real politics, players often wind up shouting down their perceived opponent, while unknowingly bigging up your worst enemy. The fascists can only win if the liberals turn on each other.
The allegory is perfect, and also terrifying. Today, we often see shouting matches and social media firestorms between moderates. We see communists masquerading as ‘social democrats’, as well as fascists wearing the hats of conservatives. The modern political climate is, almost too fittingly, just one big game of Secret Hitler.
The solution? Cooperation and conversation. It’s far easier to recognise a potential ally when you actually listen to one another, rather than always screaming. Identifying the bad-apples, too, becomes much simpler when you really question them.
No-one wins if we keep such a high level of distrust in politics. We have to start listening to each other and finding common ground. Otherwise, it’s game over.