From Halloween costumes to food, from sports to music to interpersonal relationships, it seems there’s nothing politics hasn’t touched these days. Rather than unify us, like King Midas’s “golden touch,” politics corrupts everything it touches, such that it renders those things incapable of bringing us the joys for which they are intended.
For those unfamiliar with the ancient Greek myth of King Midas and his Golden Touch, the Cliff’s Notes version is as follows: There once was a king named Midas, who had an insatiable appetite for gold. In repayment for a favor he performed for the god Dionysus, Midas was given the power to turn everything he touched into gold.
Upon waking one morning and discovering his newfound “gift,” Midas’s delight quickly turned to terror, for he discovered that he could no longer enjoy the taste of the breakfast that touched his lips, nor the scent of the roses he held in his hands; he could no longer see through his spectacles, nor make out the text on the pages of the book he held. Worst of all, he could not feel the warmth of the embrace of the beloved daughter in his arms, for all of these things were turned into gold as soon as he touched them.
We Have a Modern Version of This
I can’t help but think of King Midas and his dangerous desire for a golden touch when I see, almost daily, the latest aspect of our lives that the touch of politics has ruined—specifically, the politics of identity. Halloween is a recent example: Remember how we weren’t supposed to let our daughters dress up as Moana, because racism or cultural appropriation or… something?
Or what about the women in Portland who made tacos in their food truck so authentically delicious that they were boycotted and forced to shutter for similarly ridiculous reasons? The drama surrounding various National Football League players’ refusal to stand for the national anthem is yet another glaring example of politics coloring a once-enjoyable pastime, and not for the better.
Finally, and perhaps worst of all, the highly fraught politics of gender now seems to touch every interaction between the sexes, with our social media feeds full of loaded headlines like “If You Can’t Find a Spouse Who Supports Your Career, Stay Single,” and “Husbands Create 7 Extra Hours of Housework for their Wives.”
The “political touch” has corrupted so many simple pleasures that they’ve been rendered virtually joyless. Pastimes like the quintessentially American sport of football, which for decades has united people across the country, no matter their backgrounds or differences, have now been altered to do the opposite, dividing and demanding allegiance to a particular side of the political spectrum with every kickoff. Just as Midas’s golden spectacles prevented him from seeing clearly, we cannot even watch a football game or TV show without either being obscured by our politically touched lenses.
Likewise, the simple pleasure of watching our children dress up as their favorite characters on one of those exceedingly rare nights we interact happily with our neighbors has become yet another occasion for PC police hand-wringing, and judgment of other people’s unwoke parenting choices. Just as Midas’s touch isolated him from the ones he loved, the political touch robs us of camaraderie with our fellow man, and makes our communities more fractured and distrustful, further dismantling our villages and leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness on an increasingly massive scale.
Food and music, two things uniquely oriented towards fostering community (and what many would argue are better when including varied cultural influences), cannot bring us the pleasure for which they are intended for fear of offending some identity group. The political touch renders our food as unenjoyable as Midas’s golden eggs.
The Worst Effects of This Dead Hand
Saddest of all, even our relationships with one another are tainted, and our ability to love one another purely—that is, simply for the sake of the other—is polluted when politics is introduced. Much like King Midas’s beloved daughter turned to gold, our own beloveds become warped in our minds and hearts when we only see them through the lens of identity politics.
Among other things, identity politics tells women that our children are a burden and our husbands boorish drags, and tells people of color that forming true friendships with white people might not be possible. Here, the political touch works the worst of its twisted power, as it turns our hearts and loved ones into objects as cold as King Midas’s loveless, lifeless golden daughter.
In short, a life coated with the veneer of politics is both bleak and dull. But perhaps we may take comfort in the fact that the story of King Midas has a happy ending: realizing his foolishness, Midas begs for his “gift” to be taken away. He is told to wash his hands in a river, and to sprinkle the river’s water on everything he’d turned to gold to change it all back to its original form.
Like Midas, we must realize that “all that glitters is not gold,” and wash ourselves of our twisted impulse to paint everything in our lives—from our relationships, to our pastimes, to our pleasures—with something that only cheapens their true value. We, too, need something that will remind us of the value of the things we’ve been given, untainted by politics and cheap grievances, and wash away the veneer of the one-note identities with which we’ve so readily labeled ourselves and others.
If we can instead learn to love one another for the flesh and blood that lies underneath, we will be able to relate on a meaningful level, truly enjoy each other’s company in all of life’s pursuits, and so end our epidemic of loneliness.