The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'apathy'
The Demos thinktank in the UK claims that democracy is facing a crisis of legitimacy, with the public losing faith in the trustworthiness of leaders and the integrity of the political process. This appears to be result of the Blair Doctrine, which holds that in the short term, honesty is a liability and a mastery of weasel words and spin, a good relationship with the press and a faith in the public's short attention span are what counts.
It probably also has to do with the disconnexion between the polite fiction of democratic accountability and the reality of where the power really rests. For example, it's likely that Blair had no choice but to do whatever Washington ordered as far as Iraq went (as Britain has surrendered most foreign-policy sovereignty to the US since World War 2, though maintains the illusion of being an autonomous world power, even having a nuclear arsenal of its own (operated by US technicians)), and to spin it increasingly tortuously into the context of an independent decision, with increasingly bizarre results.
Anyway, the article claims that the main parties have become obsessed with a "strong leader myth", and that the solution is to recast democracy to the neighbourhood level. It is reported that Downing Street has been listening, and is "experimenting with new more direct forms of consultation with the electorate", "experimenting with" presumably translating as "looking at ways to rig".
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have their own crisis with claims that Charles Kennedy has adopted his own version of the Blair Doctrine and put the party too much under the influence of campaign strategists.
One thing we can thank George W. Bush for is that apathy is no longer hip. After September 11, conservative pundits went on at length about the "death of irony" and a rising New Earnestness of getting behind your leaders, doing as you're told and, if you disagree with the national consensus, keeping your mouth shut. They were only partly right; something did die out, though it wasn't disobeying one's elders and betters, but rather apathy; the grunge-slacker "yeah, whatever" that resonated throughout the 1990s has gone from the height of cool to the political equivalent of living in a trailer and sleeping with one's cousins. Not caring about issues is just not cool anymore.
The facts haven't changed: the US democratic system is centralised and structured in such a way to keep the levers of control well out of the reach of people. Both parties (and there are only two parties in US federal politics; thanks to the first-past-the-post system, the others cannot be more than spoilers) are primarily beholden to gigantic corporations and special interests. (Big Copyright is to the Democrats what Big Oil is to the Republicans; if Kerry wins, for example, reversing the Betamax precedent will probably be high on his corporate constituents' wishlist). Meanwhile, democratic governments sign more and more of their sovereignty over to unelected multinational bodies, as part of the "Golden Straitjacket" of globalisation. However, on the other hand, party discipline in US Congress is a lot less rigid than in Westminster-style parliaments such as Australia's; some political scientists claim that the US parties are best thought of as umbrella groups of unofficial sub-parties.
What has changed is the realisation that, even though powerful interests exert enormous influence, they are buffeted by public opinion, and an informed, activist public (or even a well-organised non-apathetic minority) can exert enough pressure to keep things in check. With enough awareness of issues, and the decentralised organising power of the Network Age, they can agitate for reforms; with awareness of the power of the media and the manipulability of reported facts, and decentralised means of communication, all of a sudden the Murdochs of this world are not the almighty kingmakers they seemed to be.
It is my hope that, in the foreseeable future, we could see the rise of a new golden age of public awareness and activism, where the public wakes from its sleep and demands, in no uncertain terms, more accountability from their leaders, and the devolution of decision-making power to be within closer reach of the public.
Merlin "Free Th' Refugees" Luck has got an opinion piece in The Age, basically about how people need to start caring about what's going on in the world and doing something about it, rather than just apathetically consuming entertainment and lifestyle products:
There's a perception in my generation that if you care about human rights issues, you're some left-wing hippie extremist.I'm 24 years old. I have a bachelor of commerce. I go out all the time to see bands and DJs with my friends, without talking once about politics. I love watching the Swannies play over a beer with my mates, or going to the movies with a girl and having a nice evening out. I'm an ambitious and driven person. I'm happy, positive and energetic, but that doesn't mean that I can't have time in my life to think about the broader picture. That doesn't mean that I can't do my part in being an active campaigner and an informed, compassionate person.
You might think: "But how can I make a difference?" But it's all about another drop in the ocean. As the Dalai Llama once said: "If you ever doubt the power of one, try sleeping with a mosquito."