Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Apathetic vs. Alienation

A response to Adam's recent post. In general I find myself in agreement with most of Adam`s conclusions and ideas.

My major quibble is his reasons for "voter apathy" (a term he finds inaccurate and misleading) as voters who are "angry, depressed, disappointed, revolted" in short, they are alienated.

I agree that "voter alienation" is a better term than "voter apathy". Many of the alienated are truly disenfranchised for all sorts of negative emotional reasons. But I wonder how many of alienated truly are actively disgusted with federal politics.

The "apathetic voter" is a subset of the "alienated voter". I know many apathetic voters. They aren't angry or disgusted or have any feelings for or against the government. They just don't care. They don't care about any world events or anything beyond what is immediate to their world. They do not consume any of the news or pundit media dedicated to political or non-political world events.

Many of these people are friends and colleagues of mine. As a rule, most of the people I know are in this category. Which makes conservations difficult at times. I have a hard time just talking about pop culture, sports, video games. (Like any parent, I can drone on about my kids for hours though.) When political topics do come up, they're mis-interpretations of the 5 second sound bite between radio shows. This is why I blog, to find people to discuss this crap with. It is my belief based on observation, that the online world of bloggers and other online participants is very small minority of the population. When I come up for air from the online political world, I am often disoriented by the completely different interests of the people I am surrounded by.

This dissonance has left me appalled at the general level of ignorance by Canadians about the levels of government that affect them. Finding an informed Canadian to converse with is harder than finding a competent contractor. Or an honest lawyer... Pick your own metaphor.

Most of us can live a very comfortable life without ever getting involved in the "issues". We all bitch about taxes or regulations, but for the most part they do not impinge on our ability to live our lives as we choose. It may be a perverse thing, but genuine voter apathy can also be voter contentment. My life is working well enough, I see no immediate threats, so whomever is in government isn't affecting me that directly. I get that concept. My life has only been significantly impacted once by government action. And even that was indirect. But it was the infamous "Rae days". My father's income was majorly impacted by that decision, I remember quite well the extra financial stress my parents went through during that period.

As much as I dislike Harper, he hasn't done anything to negatively affect me or my family. Most Canadians probably can say the same thing (and also of previous governments too). Unless and until a government causes one to lose a job or a house or something else of significant value, they do not see a risk to non-participation.

Life is a complicated exercise. It gets more so every year. The activities that demand our time and attention are overwhelming. I don't think any adult is ever free of items that could use more attention or involvement. Granting more attention to one area (political involvement) means less of something else (family time, recreation, heck even sleep which is what I should be doing right now.)

As long as we can manage what we can see, we trust the rest will work itself out. And if that means ignoring politics, well its worked for a lot of us so far.


Ken Breadner said...

Great post. (Not just because I agree with you.)
The sense I get with many people is that government doesn't matter, not only because it doesn't affect them immediately and profoundly, but also because the same sorts of things happen no matter who's in power. The petty (sometimes no so petty) scandals, the mismanagement of tax dollars, the bribing us with our own money...everybody does it. I think people are disgusted with the lot of them. And the hell of it is, if somebody burst on the scene promising to do things different, he or she would have to overcome Mt. Logan of Cynicism...because they all do that, too!

Catelli said...

I can't find it again, but I just read a post somewhere about this topic.

People were surveyed about politicians. In general terms, everyone thought that politicians were corrupt, except for their own MP, who was an exception.

Which to me means, general attitudes are somewhat misinformed. Any organization will reflect human tendencies, both the good and the bad. In a large enough group, bad attitudes, actions and beliefs will eventually surface.

Since these get reported, and are what people remember, we associate these tendencies with that particular group, and ascribe it to all individuals for that group. In a reversal, we can't see the trees for the forest.

ADHR said...

I notice something interesting here. You started by talking about people who have no particular interest in politics at all -- who don't find it even remotely relevant to their lives. You certainly can call them "apathetic", and I'd consider them a subset of the alienated, my read being that the apathy results from alienation. When some institution doesn't speak to you, doesn't meet your needs, isn't relevant to your life, doesn't respond to you in any real way, then eventually you just start ignoring it. It's an attitude many atheists have developed towards organized religion, for example.

What's interesting, though, is that in your exchange above with Ken, you refer to "corruption" of politicians, and Ken speaks of cynicism. Rejecting government because of corruption isn't apathy, though, and neither is cynicism -- they're both versions of disgust or revulsion. So, I wonder how large a group the truly apathetic really are, as compared to those who have turned off due to some combination of anger, disgust, despair, etc.

Catelli said...

That is the question isn't it? I only have my observations and life experience, based on that I would say the apathetic are actually the larger group.

Since the argument is fairly subjective, I avoided the conclusion inherent in Ken's statement. Which is why I went after the merits of the complaints rather than the "numbers" of people that feel that way.

When pressed, many people will mention the "corruption angle" as a reason for not voting. I wonder how genuine that feeling is? There isn't a lot of rancor that accompanies the statement, more of a feeling of overall indifference.

I admit I don't have hard data, but I am fairly certain of my interpretation of the interactions experienced so far.

ADHR said...

I think we'd have to get people earlier to really tell, though. If I'm right, after all, then apathy follows from one of the more violent emotions (anger, etc.), almost as a sort of exhaustion. If you're right, apathy is there from the get-go.

So, what we need to do is get some funding, then track a few hundred kids who haven't really thought about politics yet, and see how their opinions develop. Come to think of it, I wonder if someone's already done that. Not sure what keywords I should use to search, though. Nor where to search. Psych? Polisci?

Catelli said...

Sounds like a research grant is in your future... ;)

Upbringing would likely have a lot to do with it. If your parents didn't care, as a teen you are unlikely to as well.

Now as to why the parent's didn't care... This can snowball a bit from generation to generation. If I don't instill a sense of civic duty/responsibility/interest in my sons, they will have to get it from somewhere else.

Ken Breadner said...

I just had a kid from work ask me about politics. He knows practically nothing, and he just starting dating somebody who's passionate. So he doesn't want to look stupid.
I threw him a lifelink to the Political Compass on the grounds he should decide what he thinks rather than hear what I think. I'm curious to see if his views diverge from his girlfriend's for long. 8-)
I think both Catelli and I are right for different subsets of the population. Some grew angrier and angrier and then just said "screw this"; others never cared and will never care.

Catelli said...

Ken I'm going to assume you didn't read Adam's post that I linked to at the beginning. 8P

His post was dealing with those that have become alienated by actively rejecting politics. He argued that "voter alienation" was a more appropriate term than "voter apathy". In his words "Apathy" describes an emotional grey state, a lack of interest or feeling toward something.

Which prompted my post, the fact that I believe that there are genuine apathetic voters because they have never cared, not that they became uncaring in response to political machinations.

It is true that the alienated voter can eventually become apathetic. But I think that would be a different form of apathy, like what you described. Its more a depressed lack of interest, rather than an avoidance of caring.

For instance, I have always been completely apathetic towards country music. I am now apathetic towards music in general, due to the actions of big media and their heavy handed approach to copyright.

Barring some form of divine inspiration (or really bad drugs), I will always be apathetic towards country music. However, if the media corps ever get their shit together, I may start to purchase other forms of music that I do enjoy again.