I’m not head-over-heels about any of the four candidates from either the Democratic or Republican party for the 2008 Presidential election. I wish I was. I admire the intelligence, oratory prowess and campaigning skills of one of them, but that’s about it. When you become apathetic about the direction of your democracy, what should you do about your voting privileges? If you vote, you vote for candidates you don’t want to vote for. If you don’t vote, your acquiescence gives permission for things to continue. On the surface, it’s a paradox. But there’s a fallacy in this paradox. Let me explain.
In a democracy, each citizen possesses enforceable rights to use reason, to speak mindfully, to assemble and act peacefully to promote ideas, passions and goals. Democracy abhors apathy and eventually punishes an apathetic citizenry with tyranny. It’s important that reasonable voices call and that responsible minds answer.
The paradox I face is not a paradox of democracy. It’s a fault of mine. I spectate, not participate, in the political process. I don’t often enough correspond with my local, regional and national representatives. I don’t publish my political thoughts sufficiently. My apathy may be justifiably rooted in my country’s disappointing addiction to gossip, quick-fixes, appeals to emotion, blame and rivalry for its own corrupting pleasure. But it’s my apathy. I have given permission to a system which rewards bile and punishes reason.
In my choice to become apathetic, I have committed something far worse than a crime: I have committed what Talleyrand would call a blunder. Sadly, I’m not the only one who has committed this blunder. We who have chosen to just let a botched political process continue to demolish this precious refuge for tranquility and peace must awaken from the sleep of our blundering. Our Republic, which was founded upon reason and common sense, is faltering. It can only be rescued by reason, skepticism, wise passion and deep love.
I have no party to honestly respect. I feel like my choices have become stretched between the derangement of Creationist Homophobes and Socialist Atheists. The former are heretics bearing false witness against the One. The latter are fanatical know-it-alls who protrude their agnosis with the impotent omniscience of arrogance. At times, I feel terrified of the future: the apocalyptical projections of each side against the other just might be made manifest.
I know there are reasonable people out there. I know there are people who might be pro-life but are willing to appreciate the reasons for why someone else is pro-choice, and vice versa. There might not be many, but surely there must be some, right? How do you argue against someone if you don’t even understand why they think what they think?
I know there are Americans who love our country, who love the meanings we ascribe to our Constitution, who understand the critical but narrow filter of reason, logic and conscience among a world of confusion, superstition and evil. I don’t hear their voices much. Perhaps I’m not listening hard enough, or my apathy has me tuning out so much of the noise that I don’t hear the music.
I love this country. (I believe in America, as Bonasera put it.) I love that I can speak my mind. I love that I can criticize policy without being taken off to jail (although that dystopia seems closer at hand). I love, I love, I love what we could be. I love that we have a chance to be more grand and civil than Rome, to be far more democratic than ancient Greece, to build monuments which could shame ancient Egypt.
I love that we turned the other cheek against terrorist states after World War II to break a thousands-year tradition of vengence after every single war before that horrifying time. I love that because our acts put us above the hatred poured forth by our criminally psychopathic enemies. We halted a world-threatening cycle at that moment in our history. That took guts, wisdom, vision and reason. What have we done with that hard-fought asset?
I am so sorry that I’ve turned my back on our political system. I am so sorry I haven’t written my representatives lately. I am sorry for not speaking my mind at important points in our history. I am so sorry it hurts.
I want to escape this paradox I put myself in. It won’t be easy. I need to plan a prison break.
Maybe you can help me piece together my prison break. Here’s a part of my plan so far:
- Read Common Sense by Thomas Paine
- Read our Constitution and all of its ammendments
- Write (email, Twitter?) my local, regional, national representatives (who’s on Twitter? – Twitter me with some user names, please!)
- Come to understand ideas and opinions which I oppose
- Reach out to others who aren’t afraid to wear their enemies’ hats
- Enjoy more political humor
My name is Phil Baumann. I am a politically apathetic American in love with a brilliant set of ideas. I might not save the Republic, but I can at least ask for help in rescuing it from the tyrranies of ignorance, hatred, tribalism, bitterness, cynicism and Schadenfreude. Will you help me?