Breaking the cycle of political apathy

Connor Guy

I’m politically apathetic.

Anyone who’s read my column with any regularity this past year will notice that I’ve subtly but consistently evaded discussing political topics. I’ve never put a bumper sticker on my car. I’ve never joined a political Facebook group. I’ve never even felt that strongly about an issue. So I must be apathetic, right?

I’m not the worst, though. I’ve been to an anti-war demonstration, though, truth be told, it wasn’t my idea to go. I’ve voted, most of the time. I even volunteered with my high school’s chapter of the ACLU.

Even so, there have probably been countless columns printed on this very page denouncing me as some kind of villain for this. And in many ways I’m inclined to believe them. I fully understand how my stance can be a huge hindrance to the political process. But that only makes my offense worse. I’m privileged; I’m educated; I should know better.

So, needless to say, it’s kind of a big deal that I’m coming out (to borrow a phrase that I really oughtn’t) in this way, especially here at Whitman.

I find the political process most disillusioning when I actually try to engage in it by informing myself; usually, I find that the information I’m looking for has been pre-sensationalized and reduced to sound bites.

Trying to draw me back into the political realm, the mass media has dumbed down the political arena for me to such an extent that I can’t help but turn away again in disgust. And even if I could stomach it, it wouldn’t inform me. This has probably been said one too many times already, but I’ll say it again: De-contextualized segments of Barack Obama’s pastor rambling about AIDS are not helpful or even relevant to voters.

But there are viable sources of information out there, so I really can’t excuse myself in this way. I can’t give up on informing myself just because I can’t turn to Fox News.

When badass journalist Salim Muwakkil spoke last week at the annual Hosokawa Lecture, I was inspired to be more politically active. He made me understand that unless we inform ourselves as well as possible, our political system won’t work.

But one thing he said made me shy from activism. It was something like this: It’s possible to convey just about any side of an issue or political perspective in such a way that it sounds completely reasonable. If we were to let George Bush talk at us long enough, he might make war with Iraq sound completely reasonable. Oh, wait…

This is scary. If anything can seem reasonable when properly explained, who knows what we might be convinced of? But, we shouldn’t let this scary thought and this particular case scare us into making generalizations. We can’t assume that only conservatives are ever this deceitful, just because Dubya has gotten a lot of negative attention for doing just that.

Just like it could seem perfectly reasonable to go to war with Iraq, it might also seem reasonable to make vast assumptions about conservative politics. Despite what many would have me believe, I don’t think that all conservative ideas are totally devoid of value.

So it seems to me that when one becomes politically active, one had better be pretty sure of oneself, or one risks becoming a pawn in a political struggle that one has a really limited understanding of.

It is partly in an effort to avoid that fate that I remain apathetic. I think it’s far better to remain unopinionated than to jump blindly to conclusions, subscribing totally to a school of political thought: especially when jumping to the wrong conclusions can be as disastrous as our experience in Iraq.

Despite this dilemma, and with the encouragement of Mr. Muwakkil’s speech, I think I’m going to turn over a new leaf, and try harder to inform myself. Our nation has suffered long enough the effects of uninformed citizens.