Whatever Dude: The Virtue of Political Apathy
One Sunday evening, while I was relaxing on my couch, with my girlfriend, doing what couples in loving long-term relationships do – not talking to each other while eating Pringles and watching “Law and Order SVU” – I was shaken by a voice booming from a speaker.
“Welcome to Mid Centre Mall!”
Evidently, a political rally was about to start nearby.
“Oh I guess we should see if it’s on TV,” my girlfriend said nonchalantly, as she changed the channel. And of course it was. On all three local stations in fact.
I didn’t say anything. I just sat there with my girlfriend in silence, eating Pringles, watching the rally on TV, which I could also hear in the distance.
In my mind, however, I was picturing myself being interviewed by Benson and Stabler. I was telling them how here I was sitting in my own home minding my own business, when all of a sudden a political party broke in, and forced me to listen to their rally.
“The things they made me see and hear were horrible. And no matter what they say, I tell you it was not consensual,” I tell them.
I often read crazy statistics that describe how supposedly ignorant and apathetic Americans are, when it comes to politics. Like how 12% of Americans think Captain Kirk was a founding father, or how 52% of Americans can name all the Simpsons characters, but not the last five presidents, or how 14% of Americans think Barack Obama is one of the X-Men. More Americans watched “Honey Boo Boo” than this year’s Republican National Convention.
People love to make fun of Americans for being politically unaware, but I can’t help feel so insanely jealous of them. How wonderful it must be to live your life in complete ignorance of politics, or political rallies. I can’t imagine it. That kind of freedom isn’t possible in Trinidad and Tobago. Here they make you look and pay attention, even when you don’t want to. You can’t go welcome home an Olympic hero, or go to a Chutney show, or go to the Divali Nagar, without a politician showing up and demanding you pay attention to them. You get so used to it, you find yourself changing the channel to watch them without thinking.
Conventional wisdom has always taught us that the informed and the politically active are the backbone to our democracy. That people who can quote Hansard are better for society that people who can quote Khloe and Lamar. When it comes to politics, the worst thing you could be called is ignorant or apathetic. The phrase “ignorance is bliss” is the most condescending put-down there is.
But I disagree. I think political apathy is a fine virtue to have, and that, as a nation, we desperately need more of it.
We love to lament how apathetic we are to politics. Don’t we? But that’s not true. Politics dominates everything in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s the only thing that’s on the news, the only thing columnists write about, the only thing comedy shows are about, the only thing contemporary artists talk about, and the only thing calypsonians and musicians sing about. Even Soca, once a reliable source of wonderful mind-numbing emptiness, has seen its biggest star performer become politicised.
Why should the things I enjoy doing, and are important to me like watching “Doctor Who”, playing cricket, and wasting time on Facebook be seen as less important than knowing what Jack Warner said today, or what Keith Rowley did today, or what latest self delusion Basdeo Panday harboured today?
I am not suggesting that we become completely ignorant of what’s going on in our society. For example, if the Government was planning to build a highway through your living room, that’s something you would need to know about. But in our daily lives, must we always give politics such a high priority? Can’t we knock it down in status a little bit? Can’t we treat it like say…remembering to put out the garbage? Something that’s important, but is the last thing you think about.
Political parties may be motivated by greed and corruption, but politicians themselves are motivated by ego and narcissism. Isn’t giving them all this attention part of the problem? Isn’t putting politics and politicians at the centre of our lives precisely what they want us to do?
I think we need a Revolution of Political Apathy. I mean, we have had other revolutions and nothing has changed, so why not give apathy a try? The next time we get angry with the Government, instead of burning tyres and blocking the road, instigating a mutiny or going on a hunger strike, why don’t we just shrug our shoulders with indifference and say, “Meh”. Then sit down and start watching Monday Night RAW. Imagine what a blow to the inflated needy egos of Government ministers that would be.
You can almost hear them say, “Wow! They’re pissed off. They think watching John Cena take on Triple H in a closed cage match is more important than us. How dare they!”
Come to think of it, all the great political revolutions of the 20th century were driven by apathy.
Martin Luther King Jr’s movement was started by someone saying, “Dude, I am sitting here, I am not moving to the back of the bus. Oh you gonna throw me in jail dude? Whatever dude, I don’t care.”
Gandhi’s movement of non-violence had the rallying cry, “Look I don’t care to know your rules. This is my country, I can do what I want. Oh you gonna beat the crap out of me? Sigh…whatever dude I don’t care .”
Sure political apathy might make us unaware of what’s going on in government, but it can remind us of who is really in charge. We are. We get to determine what is important and what or who is not.
Political apathy can keep us focused on the things that are really important in life. All the boring things we do, hanging out with friends, watching “Doctor Who”, arguing on Facebook about whether Bunji Garlin’s song “Differentology” is really that different. And so on.
I mean, what’s the point of living in a well-informed, knowledgeable electorate, if at the end of the day, you can’t even spend a boring Sunday evening with your girlfriend, not talking to each other, eating Pringles and watching “Law and Order SVU”, without being reminded of politics?
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