Apathetic toward Apathy?

Posted in 2011 The Gnovis Blog  |  Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Since 1294, in the canton of Appenzell, Switzerland, citizens assemble in the town square to practice direct democracy. Their assembly to vote–this event–is named the Landsgemeinde.

Political participation, and its general decrease in our society today, is what motivates many to think about policies that can enforce activism. In a recent lecture I attended, Dr. Diana Owen said she strongly supports plans for, and studies on, civic education in elementary schooling as a possible remedy of political passivity. Politically inactive citizens she believes, and I agree, are disconcerting and detrimental to our sociopolitical structures.  This is especially true in pluralist societies, where the participation of citizens is the breath of the sociopolitical system; inactivity can bring the collapse of our country’s lung. We often hear about the fizzle of a pluralist society fueled by its inactive citizens. Voter turnout meausures the political sentiments and political expressions — or lack thereof – of young peoples, with our future in their hands — concern many, including both academics and politicians.
As a proponent of pluralistic notions of government — generally speaking — I often found myself quite concerned when I noticed my peers did not vote, or wholly dismissed politics and political discussions. Coming from a immigrant background, I relish the opportunity to participate and vote in every election and volunteer for other civic duties; I couldn’t wait to be selected for jury duty, to engage this beautiful pluralist system where people have power.
The fervor of turning 18-years-old faded away, and perhaps due to a busier career and life plans, the priority of political participation has taken the backburner for me. Perhaps I am an unfaithful spouse in this relationship of political participation. However, I could not vote for candidates about whom I had not fully researched; I could not bring myself to vote for amendments which I was not fully aware of, and frankly, I approve of my passive non-participation.
There was a time I thought my moral ground of political activism was higher than those who explicitly labeled themselves as politically apathetic. I do not have apathy toward socio-political issues or actors, but I have removed myself from direct political activity because I do not find myself fully versed, and as such, qualified to participate. I do not want to vote just along a party line without knowing the individual issue at hand.  I simply want to be as educated as I can if I am to support something. At the end of the day, regardless of my care for various sociopolitical causes, my (in)action of political passivity is the same as those who do not even bother to think about such issues. Is there a difference anymore?
So now, if I hear about passive citizens, I tend to think: “Well, would I rather have political participants who are fully educated about what they are doing, or would I rather participants vote without having a complete, educated understanding of the vote and its consequences?”  Not voting may be healthier than voting on false pretenses, with misinformation.
Maybe apathy is not a bad thing? Can it be good? Is it possible to be apathetic about political apathy without feeling guilty or morally unfaithful to the pluralist society with live in?