On the unfortunate occasions that I emerge from my lair to socialize, I end up having a lot of conversations that go something like this:
FRIEND: What do you think about Libya?
ME: Who’s she?
FRIEND: Umm, the country.
ME: Oh, right. Libya. I’m sure it’s lovely.
FRIEND: Uhh, you know they’re in the midst of a revolution, right?
ME: There’s a revolution in Libya? Wow, crazy. I hope that works out.
FRIEND: I was going to ask you what you think NATO should do about Gaddafi, but I guess that would be a total waste of time.
ME: Unless this Nate O. guy is someone here at the party and Gaddafi is one of the appetizers, yeah. It’d be a waste of time.
FRIEND: [Pretends to choke on a carrot stick to avoid having to talk to me any further.]
Okay, I’m exaggerating. Slightly. But it’s true that people tend to react with some mixture of incredulousness and disgust when it becomes clear that I simply don’t follow many categories of current events. When I’m asked for my opinion about health care reform, the House’s proposed budget cuts, or the race for the state railroad commissioner, I say the words that, evidently, informed citizens are never supposed to utter:
“I don’t have an opinion about that.”
Especially in this day and age of information overload, I simply don’t have the mental energy to keep up with most current events. I have four young children to keep up with, I’m pregnant with another, I homeschool, I do a bit of writing to help me unwind each day—and that’s enough to pretty much max out my brain. If I had a natural interest in politics, government or world affairs, I’m sure I’d be able to squeeze in the time to stay informed about the big news of the day. (In fact, some of my fellow homeschooling moms of large families are some of the most shrewd political analysts I know.) But those are not areas of interest for me, and thus it exhausts me to try to keep up with it all.
In order to maintain balance (and sanity) in my life, I’ve had to specialize: I choose carefully how I use my time in order to avoid getting overloaded. What this means for my knowledge of world affairs is that I’ve identified only a few key issues to follow (for example, I closely watch all news that has to do with pro-life issues). When it comes time to vote, I fill in my areas of ignorance by asking people whose opinions I respect and whose worldviews are similar to mine what they think of the various candidates. And when the subject of current events comes up at social events, rather than spouting off half-baked, uninformed opinions about issues I’m not really familiar with, I just admit my ignorance.
This all works for me, but I tend to get bad reactions when I admit that it works for me. I feel like I’m supposed to pretend that I spend hours each day ruminating on the conflict in Libya or brainstorming about possible new government infrastructures for Egypt. I feel like Bad Citizen of the Century because I can’t throw out witty commentary involving words like “trade deficit” and “GDP.” I feel like I’ve committed some kind of sin when I say those dreaded words: “I don’t have an opinion about that.”
Am I missing something here? Do I need to turn on C-SPAN and sign up for a lifetime subscription to The Economist? Or is it sometimes okay to just be an apolitical housewife?