I am inclined to say that a large number of the problems in this country today are attributable to obsessive political activism and protest movements. Now, I am not talking about people who have a cause or two that they deeply care about and work on from their home in a way that actually accomplishes something, such as animal rescue, local environmental work, charity, or something similar. These people actually do something instead of going to some public square and spouting off about their grand vision for an ideal society. What I am talking about are the Tea Party movement, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Stewart/Colbert rallies, the 9/12 rallies, and so forth. Massive mobs of people mill around, hold up posters with cheap one-liners (politics by slogan), dress in foolish costumes, and shout simplistic platitudes.
As Tommy Lee Jones said in Men in Black, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.” Most people are prone to emotionally-based appeals, mob mentality, and group think. This kind of activism does nothing but encourage all this at the expense of individual thought. In an extremely propagandistic move, these movements call enforced conformity “purity,” a term with a positive connotation, and promote no-holds-barred smearing of people whose views are not “pure.” These types of movements coined the terms “DINO” and “RINO” (Democrats/Republicans In Name Only) for those who are insufficiently in lockstep with the ideas of the protest group, and let me assure you, that is nothing compared to what they are capable of. Left-wing activists accused people who didn’t support Obamacare of wanting to see thousands of people die to score a point (a fact that I find extremely ironic, since numerous left-wing web outlets evilly insinuated that the South got what was coming to it with the tornado outbreak because of Southern voters who don’t believe in climate change). On the other end, right-wing activists knee-jerk to baselessly defame Mitt Romney as the source of any leak of negative information about their preferred primary candidate. Needless to say, there is substantial overlap between these activists and the protest organizations associated with their respective points of view. This kind of gutter-level rhetoric is how they operate, and it is a classic tool for rabble-rousing and stirring up a mob.
When they aren’t slandering and libeling them as outright evil, these loudmouth activists regard moderates (left-leaning, right-leaning, or truly centrist) as “stupid” and “uninformed”… and don’t even get them started on “apathetic voters” (which, more often than not, means anyone who isn’t out on the streets making an idiot out of himself). These proclamations are what’s causing the polarization of the country. They are dehumanizing and crass. It’s very easy for this sort of polarization to happen when you can declare that everyone who doesn’t think just like your group is stupid or evil.
One has to wonder just how these people manage to do what they do. Who can just drop work or school and mill around in a public square in some distant city, or even a close city, for several days? Some of them even bring their children along, if they have any, and no doubt they excuse this by saying that they are doing this “for the children’s future” or that it’s a “family protest,” instead of the obvious, which is that this activity is the most important thing in their lives at that moment. It’s no different from people who bring their kids to the movies, or to any other inappropriate place: Going to that place is what’s really important, and they are not about to sacrifice what’s so important to them just because there is a child. It’s not about the future of their kids. It is all about them. And that is true across the political spectrum for these flamboyant ideological protests. Either they personally want something material (such as free four-year maintenance, disguised as “college loan forgiveness,” in the case of the Occupiers, and those who footed any part of their own bills are just out of luck), or they want to push their personal beliefs on society through law (such as Tea Partiers who want to push women into getting married because of the idea that single women are responsible for a myriad of costly social ills, when in reality it is something that requires men too: promiscuity).
What they call “apathetic voters” are actually responsible people who have things to do in their own lives and aren’t all that inclined to drop these responsibilities to go hang around with a bunch of fanatics to prescribe how other people are supposed to live. If this is the opposite of apathy in these people’s minds, I’ll gladly be called apathetic. Perhaps there is some truth in it; I certainly don’t care what a bunch of naive, scruffy layabouts or smarmy suburbanites in Colonial drag think of me.
I am working on an advanced degree in an earth science. This is far more important to me, and will have far greater value for society (if being useful is what is most important to you), than making a fool out of myself in public with a pack of other fools. Not to mention that a person who is working on a thesis tends to develop an aversion to simplistic slogans that would fit on a poster.
Moreover, these protest movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party represent populism, which can be described as “rule by the lowest common denominator.” Take a good look at “populist” movements in history, especially those who believed that if only the government enforced their personal subjective beliefs as law, everything would be perfect. Most of them turned out very, very badly. They actually ended up being history’s villains. As bad as the current system is, I don’t think it would be any better to be ruled by a bunch of people who have no more responsibility in their lives than to hang out with like-minded others, dressed in costume or tent-camping in city parks, for several days. People who don’t have anything else to think about tend to fixate on what little they are doing, and, like any obsession, it can develop into extreme dogmatism and evangelism. The fact that people with different points of view are not welcome in the protest encourages and edifies this insular type of thinking.
What these loudmouth protest movements call “apathy” is actually a responsible way of life. It entails taking care of yourself and your loved ones. It entails minding your own business and not demanding outrageous sacrifices or unfair favoritism. It entails being responsible with your money and your employment or academic work. It entails keeping yourself away from a shouting, poster-carrying mob, a mob which by definition puts pressure on every individual member to have conformity of thought and behavior. And it entails setting time aside to do real activist work on a local scale that actually makes a difference.
“Apathy” is nothing of the sort.