Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Political Apathy

In America, we have reached the stage where letters to the editor and op-ed pieces make us feel as if we are whistling in a typhoon. They make us feel as though no-one is listening. It's not true, but we feel that way because there is no mechanism to pursue the topics we raise. If the material we write touches 10,000 souls in our community, there is no way for us to organize those 10,000 souls to rally in support of change. (This is not to say that rabble-rousers and unions don't instigate rallies. They do, but those are special interest events. They are not intended to advance the public interest.)

I believe that years ago ... many, many years ago ... letters to the editor were heeded by politicians. I'm quite sure someone, somewhere, calculated a relationship between a letter to the editor and the number of voters who shared the author's view. I think, in those days, the formula guided legislators.

Over time, as radio and then television became more effective at manipulating voter response, and polls grew more sophisticated, such outmoded means of political guidance fell by the wayside. I suspect letters to the editor are now viewed as a grounding mechanism; a means of letting voters vent their spleen. The result of this transition is a growing sense of alienation and ineffectiveness.

I have absolutely no doubt that most of us want to find solutions to our political problems, but there are several reasons why we are unable to do so:

  1. Thinking is hard work. It is difficult to meet the economic demands of our lives and also concentrate on political solutions. I've been told by political science professors that, even though they describe the failures in our political system in their lectures, they are too busy with their families to contemplate solutions to the failures they describe. (I felt they "should" make such an effort because they are considered our intellectual leaders in the field of political science ... I now realize I was wrong. My expectation was unreasonable. The fact that they are college professors does not make them any different than a truck driver or a machinist or a farmer. Their goal is to get from day to day. Those, like me, who expect them to do more are unrealistic and ideological nincompoops.)
  2. We trust. We hire (elect) people to handle political matters for us. We not only expect them to do so, we believe they will. However much we lament the blatant corruption in our government and the bad laws that come out of our legislatures, we rarely think "our guy" is responsible. We find it difficult to understand that corrupt practices could not exist nor bad laws get passed if "our guy" did not condone them.
  3. We have no options. The parties control every aspect of our political existence. We are inundated with pap and nonsense intended to establish or re-establish control of our government by one political party or another. What could be more pathetic than the political choices available to our people? When a candidates' greatest claim to fame is cynicism, we are all losers.
If we don't have a lot of time to devote to political matters ...

If we've given someone the job of handling those matters for us ...

If we have no choices anyway ...

What can we do?


... and that's what we do.



Anonymous said...

I had intended to post a comment on apathy but in the end found that I just couln't be bothered.

Sorry Fred, I couldn't resist. Please feel free to delete this bit of idiocy.


Anonymous said...

Just happened by - found this lovely posting and am e-mailing you hoping to get back in touch after about a decade - changing e-address is a pain to all ;-) ; your writing was great then and seems to have continued so and your editing was so much appreciated.

Fred Gohlke said...

Thank you, Anne

Unfortunately, 'great' writing doesn't light the kind of fires we'll need to demand better people in our government. As long as we can watch our congressmen demand and get 100-billion-dollars in bribes to pass a (presumably) urgent bill, we are foolish to expect our government ... or our society ... to improve.

We can do better, and if I could really write, I'd be able to help others see a way to do it.