‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?’ Lamentations 1:12
Thirty four percent of all registered voters chose not to vote in the last UK general election 2015, myself included. Lately, The EU referendum and the world wide pool of politics have for one reason or another, crept into a line of focus that many of us hadn’t been prepared for. Despite the concerning issues of new political candidates and abandonment of unions, the disturbance feels as though it has more weight behind it than just fear of outcome. The underlying issues seem more fundamental than that. It seems worth the effort of exploring the mines of latency in the hope of finding something a little less bleak than that which could easily be seen, as an epidemic of social indifference.
I can’t claim to know an awful lot about our political environment and infrastructure. At the same time, I’ve never been a great fan of ignorance. As dichotomous as it sounds, I’m wondering if, inside this gap there might be some insight into the psychology of ‘Non Action’ and how this might impact us both personally and socially. Why are so many of us turning away from that which claims to give us a voice? Perhaps a perspective of the ‘I’ can give insight into the ever growing perspective of an ‘us’ that is losing trust in all that seeks to govern.
I’ve always assumed the reasons behind my own and other people’s decision not to vote were axiomatic. Until recently, I never looked at the importance of asking and expressing the question – Why not? The explanation, for me, lies beyond policies and legislation and makes its self uncomfortable next to the concept of humanism.
‘If he (man) lives under conditions which are contrary to his nature and to the basic requirements for human growth and sanity, he cannot help reacting; he must either deteriorate and perish, or bring about conditions which are more in accordance with his needs’. (Fromm. The Sane Society)
In an age of distraction it feels as though, now, more than ever, we need to be extremely diligent in where we choose to prioritise our focus. In the field of politics, that can often feel like making a choice between collusion and silence. But does silence have the same impact as neutrality? Is inaction inadvertently supportive of the oppressor, never the oppressed? (D. Tutu) and how do we begin to support an ideology that has not yet reached full gestation? Without the luxury of vision – do we need to begin to feel our way into a healthier society?
In his book the ‘Fear of Freedom’ Erich Fromm talks about the interpersonal dynamics of dominance and submission. He describes how the play between these two states of being is an unconscious directive born of our relation to power. The inability to find a ground between them he explains has destructive consequences. As Brexit, Trump and other political Frankenstein’s assist in what seems to be, the great unveiling of a nation once masked in a form of passive aggression, the question that lingers is… Is not voting a form of submission? Or, is it a response to something we feel is out of our hands regardless? Like peering inside a dairy farm window, have we come to know a truth deep down? That without smaller more localized and contextual spaces for reason and mediation, we are just, in one way or another, doomed to some sort of consumption?
If politics is an organising body whose aim is to provide fair and accessible aid to the general public, don’t we have an obligation to express what isn’t working? And do we begin by paving a way outside of the vulnerable mind frame of a political system that is stuck with the weight of a nation on its shoulders? Unless we demonstrate what is needed and unless we take more active responsibility for our own welfare, we will continue to enable the ignorance of those who choose to capitalise on the demoralised character of our society.
How much influence do we really have?
Arnstein’s Ladder of citizen participation (https://acawiki.org/A_Ladder_of_Citizen_Participation) demonstrates how consultation can be a form of tokenism, a step or two above, therapy and manipulation. If resource, in any sense of the word is consistently attached to targets of quantative demands, is then the schema for ‘consultation’ not already set by an unmediated current of power that is beyond our circle of influence? Is the evaluation of evidence governed by an ignorant system, or is it governed by those who dishonestly draw resource from something which assumes measured order is more effective than justice and impact? How can that assumption change unless we have the courage to start by drawing help from each other first and fore most? If we jump into the unknown we can begin to build a framework in which to approach activism. All while creating the new emergent evidence necessary to begin systemic change. Perhaps the beginning is as simple as ending the culture of pretence.
On an experiential level, we know that in our careers, our home lives and in our institutional relationships, most of us are in one way or another conforming to a practice of compliance. Why does that not feel right? Why can’t we just be good and grateful little milkers and relax in the hammock of dependency? Maybe, figuratively speaking, it’s because the majority of the human population are now lactose intolerant (65%). Some don’t even know that they carry the ailment. When rashes begin to erupt from the skin of the social body it is difficult to defend old ideologies that no longer fit the former diagnosis. Is the evidence of what isn’t working not enough to support the leap of faith into building something new? Is this fear of the unknown the reason for the voting paralysis of a massive percentage of the population?
I decided to begin to ask questions of friends, families, taxi drivers and anyone willing to disclose their political stance. The general theme was one of trust and personal proximity to authority. I found theses three quotes in particular, really interesting:
‘I know the suffragettes fought for my right to vote but I won’t be forced into making a decision I don’t feel confident enough to make. Even if I wanted to know more about politics I’m not sure I would ever trust the source of information because there is such a divergence of opinion and perspective. Who do you trust as having reliable and honest information in such a motive based environment? The suffragettes fought for my right to choose. I’m choosing to not know.’ (E. Thompson, 28 )
‘The juice isn’t worth the squeeze. The amount of time it would take to invest in trying to understand the dynamics of politics is an empty economy for me. I’d rather figure stuff out for myself and my own life. Get on with being my own boss for me and my family. We have more opportunities to do that now’
‘So you are just talking from an individualistic perspective?’ (Me)
‘Yes, I don’t feel I have any other viable choice. People are either voting for the celebrity or are voting for the people they don’t want in. That’s starting from a place of fear, which I don’t think is a sensible place to start’. … (E. Hoare, 29)
‘Nah, I don’t trust what I don’t feel involved in. It’s too far from being personal for me to trust what’s going on. I didn’t even know we had any say about who represented us in Europe. Why don’t they tell us that? Access feels a bit guarded to me, like you’ve got to know the right people. I’m not an educated man, I work 60 hours a week. I don’t know how to find this shit out; do you know what I mean?’ (Delta, taxi driver, Steve, 47)
Is democracy an illusion? Or are we creating a self -fulfilling prophecy of disempowerment through means of separatism and dependency?
Maybe true politics is between us. Our friends, neighbours, and people we trust and work with.
How do we use ‘the disorganized dust of our individuality’ to build something that makes more sense to the animal of our beings? Something that will create a paradigm shift that isn’t dependent on things we feel is too far away from our influence? We are more capable than we give ourselves credit for.
Perhaps the only illusion in this dynamic is non action. So, I’m starting here. A no vote, and a reconciliation to the sense of community my biology seems to remember. Growing veg, connecting, and learning together the art of awareness;
What could possibly be more radical than that?