My thanks to Russell, without whose timing I may have written about something else…
Apathy: lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern:
Origin: early 17th century: from French apathie, via Latin from Greek apatheia, from apathēs ‘without feeling’, from a- ‘without’ + pathos ‘suffering’
Is apathy the right word for the public’s attitude to politics and the democratic process?
Is there really a lack of interest? Perhaps in the current content spewing from most mainstream mouths but this is not the same as a lack of interest in the issues.
Is there really a lack of enthusiasm? Perhaps for the direction in which said spew wants to take us. Perhaps for some issues: immigration gets some people very heated, for instance, whereas others refuse to see it as an issue worthy of so much time.
Is there really a lack of concern? I should bloody well hope not! Considering the political and the personal are irrevocably intertwined, how can one not be concerned? – Unless one has managed to completely detach from all national/global systems by living free in the woods or on another planet, never needing any assistance from anyone for anything. Ever.
Modern Politics, like religion used to be, is the vehicle by which a Society constructs itself. How can any individual or group maintain a lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern for the very processes which determine and govern with so much inescapable relevance and influence? To sustain that level of detachment beyond a temporary knee-jerk reaction, surely takes some ignorance or selfishness? It is a myth to assume that individual or collective apathy can either be sustained or helpful except to the interests of the most powerful. Apart from pleasing the most libertarian, anti-government types, all it does is leave far too much to chance and the presumption of or dependency on the goodwill of others. Abstention from voting, especially continual abstention, is about as conducive to progress as a toddler stamping his foot. Do people really think that not voting will bring forth the altruistic service of our politicos; that they will correct themselves in the face of such meaningless punishment? No one in secure authority gives a shit. They don’t need to.
Far better, I think, to turn out to vote and spoil one’s ballot in the absence of a palatable choice. At least spoiled ballots show you’ve noticed and care. And they are counted. After all, it is one of the few official platforms we have through which to exercise choice and show our consent or disapproval. If those who currently subscribe to the apathy label were to turn up and spoil their ballots, would this not go further towards speeding up politicians’ incentive to do more than pay lip-service and start to take us seriously? They could not so easily use the ‘disenfranchised’ argument with such carelessness nor inflict the response of using their grassroots as an apologetic excuse buffer because it would already have been made clear that their manifestos didn’t cut the mustard. Imagine if the spoiled ballots in a General Election outnumbered the ticked boxes? Besides, it’s hardly as though it excludes us from organising other platforms simultaneously. I’m pretty sure we can multitask.
1, a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system:
2, an instance of revolving: revolution about the axis of rotation
Origin: late ME, from Old French, or late Latin revolutio(n-), from revolvere ‘roll back’
Is revolution the best or only response to our malaise?
Maybe, but it is also like rolling dice. Revolution is another one of those generalising, shorthand words we throw around with casual ease. I have. This is because I hate what our present government is doing and also what other governments and the corporatocracy are doing all over the world. But I could have said the same thing about the Labour Administration in its last years as well as the Tory one before that. And probably, those older, would cite an earlier regime. But that’s because since, well, forever, it has always been that the solutions to the reasons for our discontent have been piecemeal and hard won. So, ‘roll back’ to what? To when? The golden age when we all thrived?
Rotate until we’re back where we started? Revolution usually comes when the causes of frustration reach a critical mass, something snaps and along comes momentum. This invariably makes for an indeterminate period of deadly uncertainty and violence. The initial gratification is short-lived and it usually chews up and spits out those who start it and theirs is rarely the enacted vision when it is all ‘over’. The leaders of the new epoch are usually those who had the power and/or opportunity to fill a vacuum. That does not guarantee a successful outcome for everyone else. I’m not saying no hard revolution under any circumstances. More that we should be careful what we wish for because this sort of revolution is a risk of unknowable proportions, the kind of which should be a last resort.
Some people talk about a revolution in terms of ‘evolution’ but this is much more akin to natural adaptation. In this context it involves a shifting of the psyche; an altered perspective because of changes in thinking and/or direct experience. Truly progressive shifts in consciousness come about over time and rest more within the domain of the spiritual. It is the sort of shift that is seen as revolutionary in hindsight. It cannot and should not be commanded or forced: to do so is to manipulate Free Will and that is an unsustainable and black magic.
As I’ve said elsewhere: it took us a very long time to get into this mess so ‘fixing’ things will certainly not be a quick affair (with or without a revolution). Plus, one person’s version of fixed is going to be another’s vision of a nightmare and, whatever my politics or my view of progress, I don’t want it to be at the cost of causing misery to another. I know what that’s like. I’ve also no time for the notion of a utopian view. It’s a romantic sounding synonym for dictatorship unless everyone shares exactly the same vision and how often does that happen? If there is a utopia in our earthly destiny – and there may be – I believe we might be looking in the hundreds or even thousands of years, for it must create itself organically and our species is nowhere near sufficiently evolved.
That doesn’t mean we don’t need leaders. We do. Not the command types or would-be messiahs to follow blindly and who do our thinking for us. That would just be another form of abdication or surrender; a choosing to be children that takes us right back to chance on another’s utopia. We need leadership that comes more in the form of inspirational thinkers and creative visionaries. We need the voices of practical wisdom and emotional intelligence which connect the small and large picture and the short-term with the long. Leadership of the kind that facilitates joined-up thinking about the connectedness of the problems we face so that more appropriate questions are asked and the solutions, therefore, more likely to be obvious, of better quality and embraced. We also need to remember, in our justifiable fury, that not everything needs to be razed as violent revolutions are want to do: some old scaffolding is as essential as a keystone. Baby and bath water, so to speak.
Sometimes changes, both good and bad, happen with tsunami speed but mostly they come by increments of evidence, experience and persuasive argument until the tide turns. That is what normally forces the reluctant political will. That may not seem very satisfactory but it won’t happen at all if the people for whom democracy is supposed to exist – us – are reluctant to first fully engage their own political will in the existing process.
“Before enlightenment: chopping wood; carrying water. After enlightenment: chopping wood; carrying water.” ~ Zen proverb