One of my politically active friends recently decided to suspend her Facebook account. She did it to protest misuse of account information for political purposes, specifically false news aimed at susceptible individuals.
As a gesture of disapproval, it will have no impact, of course, given the worldwide scope of FB. Remember the Arab Spring of a few years ago, when social media was used to oppose autocracy?
The problem isn’t social media, though. It’s us, the gullible recipients of targeted pap. More specifically, it’s our laziness in civic matters outside the most narrow of local definitions. We’re the ones who share shocking news about a politician we’ve known for years without confirmation. We’re the ones who jump on a bandwagon without thought if it agrees with our prejudices.
We’re the electoral sloths. Only thirteen percent of eligible voters in Texas turned out for the recent primary election. Come on, folks.
My vote won’t matter anyway. How many times have we heard that? How many times have we said it? Why bother?
Because people with an axe to grind will bother, for one thing. They’ll take over your party, and before long your life.
Representative government requires people to represent. If you don’t vote, who is your member of Congress representing? Who is your state rep representing?
The causes of apathy go deeper, though. My physician recently commented that she has seen a huge surge in anxiety among her patients. I am one of them. For the first time in my life, I can’t seem to tune out the orchestrated agonies of politics long enough to breathe.
Most people can’t tolerate an atmosphere of conflict for long. The heightened emotions of the past eighteen months have taken a toll on daily life. Friends tiptoe around friends; husbands are at odds with wives. The woes of the body politic walk into your kitchen, your bedroom. It becomes overwhelming.
Every headline. Nuclear war with North Korea? Shrinking ice caps? Ten children killed at school in Texas! Fifteen killed at school in Florida! Sounds like the heads you see in line at the supermarket on tabloid rags you never buy.
If you rely on FOX, you will learn that “experts” doubt everything from vaccines and public education to the effect of human activities on climate change. Nothing you rely on seems safe any more, not even lettuce.
In our emotional overload, we no longer have the energy to check out the “alternative facts” we hear and read about. We hear the term “fake news” so often, we begin to hear “fake” whenever the word “news” is mentioned.
Apathy is the effort of our nervous system to protect itself and our health. Eminently reasonable.
And ultimately wrong.
Because apathy is the desired objective of large scale enterprises that do not have our true interests at heart. They do not know what is better for us than we do. They act only in their own narrow self-interest.
And they’re more skilled at manipulation than any entity has been for most of a century.
That’s why freedom of the press is under attack. Because information--verifiable, transparent, scrutinized by many skeptical eyes--is the one sure defense against tyranny.
I mention “a skeptical eye.” It’s the genetic equipment, honed in training, possessed by newspaper reporters. Even in conversation among friends they can’t let an unfounded assertion slip by. I’ll say something bland or generalized, and they’ll ask, “How do you know that?” It may make for awkward social interchange at times, but it’s the gold standard of our democracy.
Tyranny is a big word, until recently seen mostly in history books. We thought we had checks and balances to protect us from it. But all we really had was the Fourth Estate.
Journalists. Newspapers, like this one. Independent news divisions of broadcast media. Print media. And now social media. Twitter.
If our children, and their children, are to enjoy what we think of as freedom, we need to summon what’s left of our energy and work to perceive reality amid all the hoo-rah, and skilled hullabaloo.
In a flood of snake oil, there must be one or two snakes.