APATHY – What Causes It?
Having found myself floundering in a quagmire of apathy recently, I decided to spend some time understanding it better.
- Merriam-Webster defines APATHY as: lack of feeling or emotion; lack of concern. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. There is also a clinical definition related to depression and other disorders, but I’m looking at apathy from a sociological perspective.
Not that I had lost all caring or emotion, but I was feeling deadened to the aftermath of the elections in this modern era where we have so many advantages; instant news reports, multiple daily polls, daily (and sometimes hourly) briefings from every angle, and an opinion on everything from every pundit imaginable. I wanted to stay tuned in, to catch all the nuances of the various outcomes across our nation.
Before the November election, I heard that many voters were apathetic this year. Mostly, it was attributed to the lack of trust or faith in either major candidate. I, on the other hand, was extremely interested in the campaigns and platforms, or lack thereof, for both the Republicans and the Democrats. I tried to learn more about the Libertarian and Green party candidates as well, but there was precious little to be found. What I did find was than many voters planned on voting, but not necessarily for either major presidential candidate. They were interested in their local elections, and even state elections and federal congressional representatives, but many had developed apathy towards the presidential race. Several were going to vote for the Libertarian or Green candidates as a protest vote. Others planned to write in names. Some simply intended to leave the vote for president blank. And sadly, a great number of people simply decided not to vote at all. I couldn’t understand the apathy. In my research mode, I was learning more and more, and developing my own opinions as the months passed. I read about and wrote about the Electoral College. I was developing my own theories about that, as well. There were opportunities if we only used our heads.
I voted early but continued to watch with enthusiasm as tensions mounted and rhetoric flew between the parties. I kept waiting for revelations, for some kind of knock-out punch from either side. It never came. I expected a big change in both the Senate and House because polls showed that the voters were disgusted with the lack of representation by the “do nothing” congress. I wondered would the parties flip, or would the incumbents be replaced with upgraded models? With only a few exceptions, the incumbents were voted back in. What?! And so it followed in state and local races. For the most part, governors and state legislators retained their positions.
On the night before the election, the polls showed the democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton leading, but by only by 2% to 3% – well within the margin of error. Republican nominee, Donald Trump was holding his own, and it was anybody’s game. I was encouraged by the initial turnout reports. It looked like we might see a much better than projected voter response. In fact, it ended up being lower than expected at 58%. In the end, using the latest numbers I’ve been able to find at http://www.electproject.org/2016g although complete numbers for three states are not currently available, it seems some 15,000,000 citizens who cast ballots did not vote for either of the two major party nominees for president. What?! What?!
Donald Trump / Mike Pence ended up carrying the Electoral College numbers (306), with Hillary Clinton / Tim Kaine capturing the popular vote by over 2,800,000 votes. As of this writing, the Electoral College has not yet convened to cast the final votes for President-Elect Donald Trump and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence. That happens on December 19, 2016. Theoretically, they will vote as their states voted. They don’t have to, but penalties for changing their vote vary from fines and jail time, to rejection of their vote, to no consequence whatsoever. [UPDATE: On December 19, 2016 the Electoral College officially named Donald Trump the President-Elect, with 306 electoral votes.]
So here I sit, pondering the future, and wondering how we spent billions of dollars on campaigns (when you include all the state and local elections, the expenditure is staggering), and basically changed nothing that will fix a single problem for the average American citizen. In all probability, many people will end up losing much more than they gain. Health care may be gone entirely. Minimum wage may stay stagnant, and the elderly may see decreases, rather than cost of living increases. Veterans will still be ignored, and education will remain unattainable for the people who need it most to pull themselves together and become contributing members of society. On November 9th, I began to understand “apathy.” It starts with confusion. Sometimes frustration or anger steps in, but basically I felt myself becoming drained of enthusiasm, lost to reason, and unable to communicate with my empathy for humanity. Apathy comes from constant defeat, lack of progress – no matter how hard one works, and the slow knowledge that one’s voice is no longer heard.
My sense of apathy does not come from any one single person winning or losing, but rather from the lack of interest (apathy) I saw from the American citizens who did not take the time to do a little bit of research in order to find out how the government works, to fact-check what candidates said – or was said about them, or to consider what brought us to the place we are today, and what needs to be done to better our situations and the situations of millions of other people who are still struggling. They voted blindly for “their congressional representatives” because they were told that it was the other ones that were doing nothing. They voted carelessly for their presidential candidate because theirs wasn’t as bad as the other (?), but they did so without finding out more about the other, or considering different views. Worst of all, they chose to only listen to the rhetoric that shored up the opinions they had already formed, many based on memes from Face Book and tweets from friends and members of the parties they felt affiliated with. The answer for too many was “do nothing.”
Writing this commentary is my first step in escaping the grasp of apathy. I don’t like it here. I know there are people out there like me… still fighting, still knowing that we can change the path we are following right now if we find our courage, beliefs and passions again.
My second step will be a thorough research project and post about Fake News. Freedom of the Press is one of the basic elements of our United States Constitution and our democracy, but it has been egregiously undermined and abused. It’s all part of this frightening journey we’re on; road signs giving false directions, dragging us through apathetic darkness and leading us to unintended destinations. Look for my post in the coming days.