I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate – it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn ― Leo Buscaglia
We may have found a cure for most evils; but we have found no remedy for the worst of them all, the apathy of human beings ― Helen Keller
Hailing from an island as small and sheltered as Guernsey has its pros, most of which I acknowledged without having fully appreciated until flying the nest, and it has some subtler perks that one mightn’t notice without travelling or living abroad.
One such pro is the high standard of living, providing a vantage point from which one can easily discern the cons of foreign lands.
One such con of the UK – and I stick with the term ‘con’ for good reason – is the endemic political apathy, especially among its youth; that young adults live lives void of political engagement cannot be by anything but design.
The disinterest is at least as strong in Guernsey, but almost unperceivable: the role played by the supremely cushy lifestyle lived by many on the island negates the will and need to politically engage oneself. The (informed) cynic in me says that this is deliberate; the optimist (or apologist, as the oh-so informed cynic in me calls him) says that Guernsey’s too plush a place for politicking to be popular – what grave injustice would there be to rail against?
(The first article I ever wrote was of Guernsey’s chronically politically disinterested youth but, being politics, I had to water it down (and down and down) to a meaningless mush.)
But for the sake of, say, a biannual lesson in politics, I mightn’t have made it past my teens without knowing the name of a politician in my own island, let alone on the world stage (assuming Bush, Obama and Blair don’t count of course!). This mightn’t matter on an island that can and does squander money as if it were a perishable product, but when you live in a society as unequal, unfair and uninterested as the UK, it starts to make sense that political apathy isn’t remediated…
Politics is an Asshole.
I take my own political engagement for granted. I’m so far departed from the hours spent trawling through Wikipedia trying to make sense of wars as depressing as WW1, issues as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and terms as opaque as ‘austerity’ that I forget just how much of an asshole politics is to a person – any person.
It’s because of this that too many people don’t know of the greatest threat to the UK today: it’s not immigration, it’s not ‘the terrorist threat’ and it’s definitely not Jeremy bloody Corbyn – it is political apathy and the corollary poverty of political engagement.
To be blunt: politics is important but it is effing boring.
If apathy wasn’t this endemic disease we see today, we mightn’t be the only Western European charging tuition fees, the highest fees in the industrialised world (currently capped but due to be uncapped à l’Américaine); or have a secret spy agency known to be snooping (unlawfully) on its citizens whilst the Home Secretary pushing for increased powers; and, I’d like to think, we wouldn’t have a Conservative government if people had any clue what that entails, and has entailed, in reality.
The apathetic seem staunch, immune, even – they’re not.
Without a catalyst and cause, the apathetic will remain politically disengaged.
Example: your uncle Roy has always been on the large side, but thought nothing of it – why would he?
Since retirement last year, Roy has ballooned and suffered for it in terms of his health, self-confidence and mobility. So, Roy educates himself as to the reasons behind the issue: he identifies his diet and lack of exercise as causative and takes action in respect of such, overhauling his relationship to food and upping his physical activity accordingly.
Before his life was made uncomfortable, internet-searching ‘how to lose weight’, swapping his breakfast baguette for an omelette and taking a brisk walk every evening had never occurred to him. Old uncle Roy might’ve taken the mick for you suggesting so.
Such is human nature: to not give a fiddler’s feck about something that doesn’t directly affect you. We’re selfish. It’s not a ‘damning indictment of society’ to say so, as ole uncle Roy so aptly demonstrates. It’s simple: if you don’t know better you don’t know better.
Why would you willingly involve yourself in politics?
It is not the case that people only get ‘into politics’ because they fancy it or feel they should, though many obviously do. Some are born with a parentally proffered political education. It’s difficult to be politically apathetic if politics is a constant topic of familial discussion, though danger lurks where parents paint their offspring a political stripe without allowing them to decide their views independently – political self-discovery is a (if not the) crucial component in becoming politically engaged.
Oftentimes political activists only become such due to a political activation: scores of formerly comfortable families collectively looked up from their iPads, leaving unfinished rounds of Angry Birds to go and get real-life angry at the ‘tough decisions’ taken by the Etonion automaton looking to slash benefits of employed, unemployed, abled and disabled alike. (Such is the Conservative slant on equality: an equal shafting for all… but the richest few.)
Some emancipate themselves from political apathy with self-education. People want to find out more about what their politicians are doing in their name with their tax pennies. Again, danger lurks with the advent of freely available information: the forces of extremism and reaction are ever present (see Islamic State media strategy) and mis-, dis- and non-information is as freely available as information – a veritable minefield of dangerous ideas and plain bullshittery.
Others are enlightened by higher education. Sixth-Form colleges, or what’ll be left of them anyhow, offer A-Levels in Politics (so I’m told, though I don’t doubt they teach as biased a narrative as is taught in secondary school History) and the option* of a university education (*still at the bargain rate of £9,000 per annum!) is available to those willing to learn. And financially enslave themselves.
(The humanities (politics, philosophy, art, etc.) – for which funding has been pulled completely by a Tory government hell-bent on quashing free thought – looks to cultivate the critical thought that challenges dogmas, promotes political engagement and therefore menaces the Establishment’s monopoly on knowledge and power.)
There are worse examples of (pseudo-)political activation, often spurred by a mainstream media that should have other priorities but know better than to broach sensitive issues that might actually matter to their readership, such as the legion of newly self-declared animal rights activists that inundated social media in the wake of a lion being killed in a legal hunt when, perhaps and in my opinion, the British press should’ve had other priorities. [Disclaimer: I by no means endorse or condone big game hunting, it’s barbaric and deplorable, I just think the mainstream media might’ve done better to focus on any one of the plethora of crises affecting millions of their readership instead of distracting them with a big Zimbabwean cat.]
Many will continue to live lives void of political impetus and they can, to an extent, be excused for doing so: modern society is designed in such a way that the least interesting thing just so happens to be the most important thing.
If you’re preoccupied and/or comfortable (distracted), why willingly enter a world in which regurgitated catchphrases are impenetrably articulated by insufferable nonpersonalities, sporting vacuums where their hearts and faces should be, claiming to represent the people without a fucking clue what constitutes reality for the overwhelming majority of their countrymen?
The most important thing is packaged and delivered as the least interesting thing.
Emancipation from Apathy: Political Engagement
How does one escape apathy and become a ‘politically engaged person’?
Why would one willingly engage themselves in politics? I don’t pose the question purely for rhetorical impact – think how unappealing a proposition this is.
Why aren’t there more people politically engaged? Aside from the clear governmental interest in preventing political engagement and its action in suppressing or misdirecting such, what’s stopping people from just waking up and doing something?
What are politically engaged people doing to engage the apathetic? Or, should that be, why aren’t politically engaged people doing something?
I shan’t be attempting to answer these questions in this piece, thought I intend to so in a future piece.
So, let us wrap up these woolly uncertainties and finish with a hard and hateful truth: Kanye West and Taylor Swift (or any other vacuous, meaningless, manufactured celebrity) matter more to more young people today than the future of humanity does.
Please, please don’t read this as an uppity and holier-than-thou know-it-all railing against ‘the youth of the day’ (I’m flitting between watching boxing on a laptop, reading click-bait on my BlackBerry and writing this) – just take a second, think. Is it appropriate that iPhones and Frozen are ‘bigger’ than, say, the irreversible destruction of our planet, rampant but rectifiable inequality, unnecessarily extreme poverty and perpetual war perpetuating all of the above? Think.
A slightly softer truth: it’s not their fault they’re ignorant. In the same way it’s not old uncle Roy’s fault. Apathetic people comprise but one component of the institution of apathy – they (and we) are victims of a social construct contrived to preoccupy every second of our lives with work and consumerism rather than reflecting on the humanity as a whole, showing solidarity or entertaining any prospect of actually changing things for the better (of humanity, just not ourselves and/or the West).
More than one and a half thousand years ago, Aristotle wrote ‘that man is by nature a political animal’. He’s right. We’re just distracted; politically neutered. It’s no coincidence.
It’s no coincidence.
The onus is on the government to ensure inclusion and engagement, but that’s clearly never going to happen. So, on falls the onus to the politically engaged: to shove a political firework up the apathetic asses of family, friends and peers alike.
You can’t be apolitical. It will come and get you. It’s not that you shouldn’t be neutral. It’s that you won’t be able to stay neutral ― Christopher Hitchens
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