I recalled an old, make that VERY old joke. Students were asked “What is the difference between ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Apathy’?” The most common answer the questioners received was “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
I thought of this while I was listening to all of Barack Obama’s blather on Thursday suggesting that it would be an absolutely terrific idea if voting was made mandatory in the United States. And “blather” is a fairly accurate description which pleases all of Obama’s handlers, or if he prefers “communications specialists” who desperately want to change the subject from the so-called negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Within mere hours, talking heads on television took the bait and wasted a lot of air time acting as if the idea was worth discussing.
I agree with Obama that larger participation rates in our political elections would be helpful for the health of our republic. Of course with all of this President’s ideas, there is always a question regarding his ulterior motives behind any of his suggestions, recommendations, endorsements and notions. Inevitably, Obama’s idea of increased political participation might be different from my own. For instance, I don’t think making it harder for the Tea Party to register as a 401(c)(4) tax exempt organization, or limiting the freedom of organizations such as Citizens United when they attempt to voice their opinion of the electoral qualities and qualifications of candidates of whom they disapprove is the right way to properly expand the level of political participation.
Members of the televised punditocracy also questioned the efficacy of increasing political participation in a meaningful way if new voters don’t have a useful working knowledge of how the government (at any level) is supposed to work, versus how it actually does work. I doubt that many people, from either party (who are not actually elected politicians) can argue with that idea.
Image how much support the idea that packing a jury with people who don’t understand what the concept of “homicide” really means, or why it should not be tolerated. OK, those indicted for homicide and awaiting trial would probably think that it would be a great idea, but everyone else? If a citizen has no idea what homicide actually is, do you think they could effectively vote on the guilt or innocence of the accused, especially with the prosecutor and the defense attorney describing the same act of homicide as if they were totally unrelated to an underlying reality?
This is where the question of “Ignorance versus Apathy” comes into play. If the people of the country don’t understand exactly what is being done TO them, how can they become outraged? If they are being overtaxed to pay for boondoggles in every single department of the government can they become outright uncooperative with the idea of doing it again with the same elected Congressmen and Senators who wasted our hard earned tax dollars the last time? It would seem that there is a direct connection between being ignorant of what is happening and caring about what is happening.
The source, or more accurately the blame, for this ignorance reflects the old saying “Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan”. The lack of knowledge is always described by politicians as being an orphan. It’s explained in terms such as “Well, you have to understand, this is complicated” or “People have to do research” or the best of all “The (other) Party causes too much confusion about the subject”.
Politicians are supported in this rubbish by the alphabet soup of the television media. How much can really be explained when there is a total of no more than twenty minutes of “news” coverage that “informs” the public about the Iranian nuclear negotiations, the issues in question about Hillary Clinton’s email imbroglio, the Fed Funds rate increases or decreases, the change in the Dow Jones Industrial Index, the local weather and how the local teams did in the basketball finals and baseball spring training. Yeah, twenty minutes is plenty of time to explain and expand on the questions that the average citizen needs to use to select for whom they vote. Yeah, right, sure.
And if people don’t understand what is happening, how can they get incensed at the poor performance of the government that they are forced to pay for?
Perhaps we should toss a little abuse toward the teachers and professors who actually are supposed to educate our embryonic electorate. Does anyone think that they even attempt to educate or do they simply indoctrinate their students? Perhaps what they actually try to do is to prevent their students from actually thinking or prevent them from trying to understand to what they are being subjected. It seems like the last thing that teachers want is to help their students to decide for themselves whether to be enraged about things and, because of that rage, become motivated to take action. That action, more specifically, would be making an informed vote. A vote that actually impacts the government.
Without good, accurate information, without knowledge, what are the chances of voters to actually go to the polls? I’d place the odds of expanding the number of voters at something that approaches zero. The key is knowledge, because without knowledge there can only be apathy.
When a culture educates, encourages or misinforms its citizens to be ignorant, there can be no knowledgeable prospective voters. If voters are not knowledgeable, they cannot become determined to change an intolerable political situation. If they have no interest in addressing a problem that they don’t even know exists, it all boils down to the old, and very bittersweet line in the joke:
I don’t know. And I don’t care.
Published at Canada Free Press on 3/20/15