My Rights, Your Responsibility

“My Right to Force You to Be Interested in Politics,” In which I commend blogging, and demand an ASBO for on fifth of the adult population.

“A person without imagination is like a teabag without hot water.”
Mark Twain

Now the last thing I want to do is write a meta-blog post about a meta-blog post, not least because Tim Worstall coined the frankly hilarious ‘meta-meta-blogging’ conudrum at the weekend, and I do not wish to be shouted at, again. Suffice to say it was pleasing to see Sunny include a post of mine, among others, in his first contribution to Comment Is Free, the Guardian’s new superblog.

What interested me about the post was how the opinions of several people had contributed to the meat and substance of the piece. I was reminded of a great article by Nosemonkey at The Sharpener:

In some areas it’s already almost turning into a Britblog hive mind…

Whether this truly captures the nature of blogging I am not sure, since ‘hive’ seems to imply one homogenised idea, rather than the diversity we see online. I am reminded once again of ‘democracy‘ in the proper sense of the word: Not the vote-every-four-years kind, but true democracy, where a diversity of opinions and ideas are thrashed out in public, and everyone can have a say, play a more active part at every level, from war policy to whether the so called ‘Green Parking Zone’ outside my flat is a good idea (and in case you were wondering: no it most certainly is not).

Blogging – change the world it won’t.

I am not so sure, Sunny. Ministers, and MPs are increasingly realising that the medium simply cannot be ignored.

What can be ignored apparently, is politics. All of it. This is the analysis of an astonishing 17% of the electorate, who said that they ‘did not want a say’ when questioned. The Third Audit of Political Engagement by the Hansard Society and the Electoral Commission, also found that 14% of people were ‘not interested in politics’.

The report of course links lack of political engagement with wider social exclusion, and points out the need for better political education and communication to widen this gap. Nevertheless, even with these measures, there will be a proportion of people who, regardless of their upbringing or social class, will still describe themselves and ‘not being interested in politics’.

I have infinite tolerance in the general case. But in the individual case, those people I actually meet and interact with, the one thing I cannot and will not abide is “Oh, I don’t do politics.” I will not patronise them by suggesting it is merely down to social exclusion, because most of the people I meet would not describe themselves as such. No, these are people who proudly announce they are ‘not interested’ and revel in knowing more about Big Brother 6 the TV programme, than whether the government’s ID Cards bill is a surveillance too far. I invariably challenge them, and an argument ensues.

Being ‘interested’ in politics is not like being ‘interested’ in sport, the arts, gardening or cooking. Politics is not simply about the Reds or the Blues at Westminster, but about the interaction between the State, groups and the individual. Unless one retires to a hermitage and lives in total solitude, you will interact with society, and you are therefore a political animal. If you drive a car, you are political. If you turn on a tap, you are political. If you buy food, have a bank account, go to school, use a telephone, you are political. To suggest that you are not is actually antisocial in every sense, and those who do not engage, though they have the capacity to do so, are every bit as liable for an ASBO as the hooligans who kick over wheelie bins.

Apathay devalues every decision taken by every government: Voter-apathy means that decision makers are elected by a tiny minority; and issue-apathy means that decisions are not subject to proper scrutiny, not made with enough public debate.

So to the fourteen percent, I say this: Your lack of engagement affects me in a very real way. I would go so far as to say that I have a human right to hear your opinion. Denying me that right is an abuse of your own human capacity for rational though, but more importantly, it inconveniences me a great deal.

To say “I’m not interested” is to be the tea-bag without water. It is a ridiculous and impossible position, and I will not stand for it. Moreover, if people start asserting their right to disengage, to be apathetic, then other people will soon start trying to deny them the vote, which we cannot condone.

So please, Mr and Mrs Fourteen Percent, I’ll make you a deal: Start engaging in some way, any way… and will I promise to stop droning on about my blog.

Over at Minority Report, DE discusses dumbing down: Playing Grand Theft Auto is probably more socially responsible than the more adult pursuit of corruption or aerial bombing. But when it displaces keeping up with the news or communicating with offspring then it seems less benign.

4 thoughts on “My Rights, Your Responsibility”

  1. When I say it won’t change the world, I mean that its not going to kill all the other media organisations or take over. The vast majority of people who read blogs are still bloggers. Not only that, sooner or later the number of blog readers will plateau out. So the medium will stop growing.

    That means any impact blogs have on the world at large will only come through being reported on the truly mass-medium outlets such as television or the press.

    right now there’s a lot of hype around blogs because mainstream journos are paying attention and thus the political establishment is. I’m not sure that will last forever… though I could be wrong… we shall have to wait and see 🙂

  2. Well, that last promise is one I cannot fail to take up, so here goes from someone you may class as Mrs of 14%
    One must admit when you read the blogosphere that there are very many and varied views on all subjects. I believe that the view of us who are not what is known as “political animals” is that it is difficult to get a handle on all issues, and trying to make well informed judgements on politics I find nearly impossible and I am sure I am not alone in this.
    The parties themselves cannot be trusted to give us ALL the information even if you trust that the information they do give is indeed truthful – journalists tend to write articles with a particular slant and in blog blog land, having read a few of you now, I can see that no-one is totally able to inform the uninformed impartially – to be fair I am not sure how that can happen.
    Yes, we can open our eyes, in our daily lives and form opinions – but how do we find out why things go wrong, or let’s be positive – go right.
    In domestic government we may therefore have a bit more savvy on some issues but on the international front – how are we supposed to know?
    I was interested in a comment in this blog when there was discussion as to the state of repair of the wall/fence/barrier/hedge – one upmanship as to who knew more about the wall – those who travel only to soak up the sun or relax or are unable to travel at all, are therefore not likely to know at first hand about these things and who can we trust to tell them.
    I, therefore stand up for those who feel too ill informed to vote – I would hazzard a guess that people are not as apathetic as you think Robert – they are just afraid to put their cross in the wrong box. Bring up a local issue which people have a view about and the apathy soon fades.
    If someone were to form a political party (utopia appears here) who gave the facts as they are – no messing – their leader would be the next in No.10

    This may sound like I am in cuckoo land, but take a look at how the political parties are paying so much attention to the image of their leaders
    they are trying to trick us into believing that they are that party I describe above, but you in bb land and in fact we (Mr and Mrs 14%) no they are not and that is what makes us worried to jump out of the plane.

    BTW – I read the blogs but do not blog myself.

  3. Indeed Sunny. What is more likely to happen is that blogs may evolve into something different. WAP might have died, but surfing the net through your phone lives on by other means.

    Kathy, I fear you may be lumping yourself in with the fourteen percent unfairly. By the very fact that you bother to read blogs, I would doubt whether you would answer “not interested” to the survey. Not knowing about something is different from not caring about it. Indeed, the report I mentioned has a separate section dealing with those who worry that they ‘do not know a great deal about politics’. As you say, the fault of this probably lies with the parties themselves.

  4. Yeah, be interesting to see how blogs evolve. I see more ‘group blogs’ emerging and vying for noise and competing with mainstream publications for opinion and commentary.

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