On Political Participation

purelyspeculationWhat does it really mean to be politically involved? As the fortunate (if primarily happenstance) citizens of one of the most free and democratic nations on earth, some level of informed political involvement seems like a given. No argument can be made that our hard-fought right to vote is an inalienable extension of our citizenship—and one that should undoubtedly be utilized in a well-considered and informed matter.

Sadly, in a world where so much is secure, people are often far less passionate about what they have. If voting were to be taken away, there would surely be riots in the street, and a full-scale political revolution to follow as people realized the worth of the vote when faced with its absence.

Yet all too often, the simple act of voting feels like a chore. In a world so blessed, it can seem that one choice is as good as another, and there seldom exists any true fear that the rights and freedoms we don’t even know we enjoy might ever be taken away.

And so voting becomes an apathetic duty—inspired all too often by a simple knee-jerk reaction. Vote for your party, or your dad’s party, or the politician with the nicest hair, brightest smile, or genitals which match your own. At any rate, for the vast majority of people, the simple act of dropping their card into the box will suffice to add a patriotic swagger to their step as they exit the polling station and turn their feet towards the nearest fast-food outlet.

But in this time of failing systems and warring factions, it may be that simply casting a ballot every few years is not enough. The political environment these days is a much more confusing and twisted affair than most people are even capable of considering, as we have covered in depth in previous articles such as ‘The Global Scale’ (Link).

Entire political parties are bought and paid for by nefarious and self-serving Corporate interests, and politicians are willing to pull off whatever sort of unthinkable atrocities it takes to keep them in office and pleasing their financial benefactors. It’s a heinous affront to the notion of elected representation, and renders the artful marking of a ballot about as effective a tool of political expression as your common soap-box evangelist’s wailing into the wind.

So the question becomes—what does it take these days to be politically involved? Based on the quagmire of modern politics, voting simply isn’t enough. The sheep has little concern for which wolf eats it in the end, and choosing the flag of the political party which will strip away your rights and sell them to the highest bidder is far from the lofty ambitions of universal-suffrage.

Similarly, loving your country blindly is also quite a stretch from any true means of involvement. It is the sort of affection a child has for a babysitter who gives them late-night candy. Affections can be easily won and are defended passionately, even when everything about the relationship is harmful. Just ask any divorce counsellor.

So voting will not suffice, and patriotism is only turning a blind eye. This is turning out to be a bigger question than we may have anticipated. So, as always, we must do what we always do when met with a difficult question—and that is, dear readers, to ensure that we fully understand the question, and can define the its terms.

True political involvement, for the purposes and intentions of this discussion, must mean to have an active role in defining the state and outlook of your nation (or perhaps more fittingly, your society in general). It means taking an active role in creating the sort of society we want to live in, rather than simply doing what we’re told and keeping our flags clean.

If this is an acceptable definition, then perhaps we can make a bit more headway towards our answer. If we want to actively shape our society, the first step at the very least must be to fully understand how it works. It thus behooves any politically involved adult (and burgeoning adults for that matter) to learn the system. We must understand the relationship between economic and social systems, between campaign donations and party values, and between our own actions and laws. This last, more than any perhaps, may hold the crux of the issue.

All too often, the process of political involvement is sickeningly circular. If you’re too young to have watched it go round a few times, or simply too ignorant, I’ll be happy to break down the basic cycle.

  1. The active political party seems to be serving the interests of only themselves and their benefactors.
  2. A movement is started to create a positive change.
  3. The movement gains traction by outlining the specific changes they would make to fix the system. It sounds great. Some people are upset—but there lingers some small hope that things could actually turn around.
  4. The party is elected, and begin to enact their promises. However, these attempts are met with opposition, and compromises are created.
  5. The finalized results don’t seem to quite work for anyone, and everyone begins to take a different approach to meeting their needs. Most of these approaches involve finding some savvy way to con the system, cheat the neighbour, and benefit—despite those shyster politico types!—off the backs of those around them.
  6. The system changes to meet these unexpected results, while maintaining a close eye on the intentions of their sponsors as the next election cycle draws near.
  7. Finally, the citizens take a serious look around them, and realize that the active political party seems to be serving the interests of only themselves and their benefactors.

No doubt about it, the situation is dire. Still, people in the scenario above have taken active efforts to change things. This may be done through grassroots awareness campaigns, in-depth political discourse (an approach facilitated greatly by our access to the internet), selective consumption (don’t like a product, don’t buy it) and many other means of political involvement which lie somewhat outside the standard ‘mark a ballot and drop it in’ mindset.

Yet despite this, things seem to fall apart. Now…why might this be? To the savvy reader (the majority here, I trust) the answer may be obvious indeed. The missing element in the cycle described above is common decency, or personal accountability. The world may never be entirely perfect for everyone—this is a certainty—but even more certain is the fact that no law, or set of laws, can ever be written so soundly as to create positive change in spite of being enacted on a mass of liars, cheats, and cowards. No growth can happen if the citizenry harbour suspicions of their government, and feel thus justified to act in the same manner.

One of the greatest dints in our system at present are large scale Corporations cheating taxes—taking money out of social systems and leaving the public as a whole far poorer for the benefit of a small and select few.

It’s brutality—a gang of thieves running roughshod over the very fabric of society. Nothing can justify such selfishness and deceit—but it can be fought. For it is lies that breed lies, and fear which begets fear.

This isn’t a new idea by any stretch. In fact, we’ve covered this same notion in our somewhat more humorous article ‘In Defense of the Villain’ (Link). Here, we explained how the assumption that everyone else was out to hurt you (and in this discussion certainly, the government itself is the chief example) creates a sense of diffused responsibility. If you cannot trust your neighbor to be honest after all, there is little sense in being honest yourself.

But decency is not a zero-sum game, and if there is still honesty and courage in the world, then so too is there hope. Simply put, if everyone could show even the most basic commitment to living their own lives with righteousness and integrity, there would scarcely be any need for laws at all.

Now certainly, this is a high-minded, starry-eyed sort of claim. Any hair-brained child could tell you that being good makes good things happen, but what most adults forget is that the wisdom of a child is often the truest.

It has been claimed that for a political movement to succeed, it needs only 3.5% of the population supporting it (Source). If that’s true, it stands to reason that if only a small group of people committed themselves to the precepts of right-action and honesty, the world really could change for the better. Should this fall on one political party or another? Should it fall on a specific religious creed, or cultural identity? No. No, no, no, you damnable fool. It should fall on you alone.

In the end, the truest means of political participation is to be the best person you possibly can—and to call out any lack of decency or integrity with a furious and justified rage. Never forget it: We are better, we are capable of more—and we need to start acting like it.

-Brad OH Inc.

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