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In Defence of Apathy
If the whole world, bar one man, lacked an object of desire, some pearl of unknown price, would the majority have any right to deprive the one man of it?
That would be an affront to his liberty.
If belief were a possession, would the majority have the right to deprive the minority of it?
That would be an affront to their liberty.
If right and action were possessions, would the majority have the right to deprive the minority of it?
That would also be an affront to their liberty.
I argue that belief, and right, and action, are all possessions; they are originated in the person who holds them, they are unique to the holder, and inalienable.
Apathy is a lack of interest, an indifference to the situation. In the political sense it is the belief that political inaction is as valid as action, that political action can lead to no change. Although I am very much distant from being a Marxist, Friedrich Engels tells us that each social action has consequences - a strike may not compel the manager or the owner to improve the workers' conditions, but it will strengthen the workers' confidence or enlarge the trade union.
If one refuses to participate in the political process, then one is taking a social action; one is effectively saying that the political process must be transformed before it is worthwhile to participate. This may not compel the Government to change the conditions, but it will send signals to the pundits and encourage other citizens to engage in apathy. Before long there will be a turnout low enough to worry the Government and the mainstream political parties - action will need to be taken.
There are a number of 'emergency actions' to be taken by the Government to remedy the situation. At the time of writing, we have just emerged from local elections in which a number of new voting techniques are being tested. These include online ballots, text message and telephone message ballots, all-postal ballot elections, and for some reason I am yet to determine, touch-screen ballots. These have had a varying level of success, with only all-postal ballot elections raising turnout by any significant margin. Clearly the Government and the Electoral Commission have failed to understand apathy.
Political apathy is not really related to difficulties in voting, and it is most certainly not remedied by electronic novelty gewgaws and trinkets. Instead it is a combination of disaffection and an act of protest, and better described as antipathy. It is the product of opposition to mainstream politicians as a whole - this phenomenon of apathy is not restricted to low turnout, but also the turn to minority parties, notably the extreme-right.
Austria, the Netherlands, France, and even Britain are not merely suffering low turnout at the polls, but the increasing electoral success of extreme-right, Fascist, and Nationalist/Socialist parties. As a libertarian, I hold such successes in great horror, but I will not withhold the right to commit such horrors.
Apathy is a protest movement, not an organised one, but the most populous. Apathy is a method of forcing the mainstream parties to accept their disaffection and address their concerns. Apathy is caused not by showers of rain or long working hours, but the centre-right consensus the main parties have found themselves in coupled with the distortions of the first-past-the-post system. Apathy is not a disease to be cured, but a message to be answered - it calls for clear choices of left, right, libertarian, authoritarian, and all colours in between.
I must defend apathy on the account of liberty. It is a legitimate act of protest, and as such it cannot be denied to any citizen. For what is it but an act of will, reinforced by a set of beliefs? What are free will and belief but possessions, and what right is it of the state, the majority or society to impose its will on the individual? If the people do not see the current political system as their representation or salvation, then they must choose an alternative, by failing to make choices within the system. If the public were to refuse to pay taxes, that too would be ‘playing outside the system’ and would compel Government to make a difference. It is clear from the 60% General Election turnout that the people do want an alternative.
The nature of that alternative is up to us.
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