A disease of ignorance and apathy is spreading across the country, and those most susceptible to it are those that have the most power to cure it. Immigrants and benefit claimants are sacrificial scapegoats on the altar of neoliberalism, a system that propagates inequality and rewards flagrant self-interest. Kurt Kobain once said that it was “the duty of youth to challenge corruption”, and yet I look at a Facebook feed bereft of political commentary. Voting turn outs are falling and confidence levels in politicians are at rock bottom in the wake of the expenses scandal, and the disinterest has increased most in 18-24 year olds, with this age group showing the lowest turn-out at the voting booths. My generation are seriously disinterested in politics, the majority of whom lack any coherent understanding of economic theory, and fail to grasp the implications of party policy on their own lives. This disease of ignorance and apathy will kill democracy in this country- and it will be my generations fault.
Upon finding out that I have set up a political society at my university this year, my fellow students initial responses are usually confusion, quickly followed by politely masked boredom- why on earth would I wish to do such a thing? How incredibly strange but also slightly tiring I am, wishing to actually engage in the democratic system, and how irksome it is for them to have to hear me comment on life-changing policies that they know nothing of. Bewilderment quickly turns to outright terror when asked for their opinion or input- as was the case when polling students for a topic for our inter-society debate. Occasionally, if really goaded, someone of my age can be provoked to anger, but this is unfortunately usually a general tirade against politicians, whilst not necessarily wrong, usually just not that well-informed. Vague phrases such as “they’re all in it for themselves” and “what’s the point, you can’t change any of it- that’s just how it is” are fairly common in such enraged individuals, who seem to be quite angry with me as well. Aside from possibly having to work on my inter-personal skills, these responses suggest to me that there are at least some (aside from the minority of actually politically aware/active young people) in my age group that recognise there is something wrong with the world, and when forced to face it are pretty damn angry about it- they just don’t believe anything can be done. Russel Brand (I can hear the groans and grinding of teeth now) was unequivocally on the mark in his conversation with Jeremy Paxman – the public (though particularly the young) are so sick of the lies, corruption, and dodgy dealings of the political elite that they’ve simply lost hope in it. Even the Lib Dems, the once revered party of the students, the party that promised so much and had so much potential, has utterly failed its voters since forming the coalition. Why bother reading the manifesto when it’ll be torn up as soon as they’re in office anyway?
Then there’s the other group of students/ young people- that simply don’t understand what’s going on. In a very real sense none of us do- the world is simply too large and detailed for anyone to understand all the complexities involved in all political debates. The sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies talked of this huge weight of past human contributions, of the modern man being crushed by the weight of it and so most choose to simply busy themselves in their own little area- king of their own corner but beggar everywhere else. We cannot, if we wish to utilise the democracy so hard won around the world, allow ourselves to be restricted to our corner. I’m not asking you to get a masters in politics whilst studying intricate financial workings in your spare time- but I am asking that you read a few pages of an otherwise discarded newspaper (unless it’s the Daily Mail- then you can go ahead and discard it) or to turn up the otherwise muted news bulletin on your TV. The world is confusing and complex- but it can be explained, discussed, and most importantly, understood. Dissemination of knowledge along with thoughtful reflection are vital for real democracy (not the populist version we have now) to flourish.
I by no mean wish to insult my fellow students- I’m not commenting on their intelligence or ability- rather the lost enthusiasm and hope. And despite the title of this article- the people at the top need to recognise that they have caused this apathy and ignorance. I’m not calling for a march against the Bedroom Tax or workfare schemes (despicable as they are), I’m not calling for an overhaul of the political or economic system, I’m certainly not calling for more people to take politics degrees. I’m calling for a far more subtle but infinitely more fundamental revolution- the click of a mouse and the turning of a page. Yes our system is terribly flawed, and yes it’s incredibly confusing, I know what it’s liked to be overwhelmed by a world full of ambiguity and complexity, and I know what it’s like to feel small and insignificant in the face of the political elite. But we owe it to ourselves and future generations to engage our minds- to challenge the norm by challenging ourselves. It’s so incredibly easy to bury our heads in the sand, to ignore the problems or accept populist myths because they provide a simple worldview, and an even simpler solution. Democracy will only ever work if we as a nation strive to be more informed and educated about the issues that our politicians debate, if we hold these men and women to a higher account, and if we become skilled and courageous in expressing our opinions. Our country is at a turning point- we can choose to accept populist myth and populist democracy, forgoing any hope for social justice through our political system and hoping that whatever the politicians do doesn’t affect us too much, or we can arm ourselves with knowledge, and wield democracy like we never have before. So instead of seeing this article as an arrogant reprimand from a puffed up leftie, see it rather as an unashamed call for hope. We can change this country, and with a bit of a push maybe even the world, and the biggest thing in our way isn’t greed or corruption, but our own pessimism and apathy.