Tuesday, 16 January 2018

I Was Wrong about...the Apolitical

Evening - philosophy is an ongoing process in which some humility is not just desirable but necessary.

In the coming weeks I will (amongst other things) be going into several subjects on which I have changed my mind in either the very recent or not-so-recent past and offering a few reasons why I was wrong in the first instance (given the scale of the eureka moment I had in the Autumn, there are a surprising number which fall into the former category).

We'll be discussing such challenging topics as Conservatives, Libertarians, the BBC, Political Correctness and Societal Pressure.

But first up it's our apolitical friends - thanks very much to any non-partisan neutrons who've decided to drop by, I hope you're not disappointed.

Before we start let's get a definition of the word apolitical out there that at least most of us agree on. From where I'm stood, defining anyone who rarely or never votes in elections as apolitical strikes me as being far too broad brushstroke a way of approaching it, an over-simplification which fails to examine the possibility that at least some apolitical people do vote with a degree of regularity. A far more sturdy and reliable definition of an apolitical individual would be someone who does not identify themselves as being of a particular party, tribal, ideological or philosophical label (left/right, small state/big state, libertarian/populist etc) and generally does not vote.

This, I think, is what I'm gonna roll with.

Now at the heart of my previous misunderstanding of the apolitical was a mistaken belief that the failure to get to a point where you could identify some sort of consistent thread running through what you believed could only be attributed to either a) a basic lack of intelligence or b) a sort of intellectual laziness - in short, either an inability or lack of desire to think about a number of different subjects and then rationalise the angle from which you tend to approach at least most of them. Look, there's the collectivist angle, the individualist angle, conservative, liberal etc. Some monumentally thick people at least manage to establish a tribal affinity, so what's the problem?

The apolitical always struck me as being possessed of a particular brand of immaturity. These, I reasoned, were the zombies who sat there watching Strictly, then switching channels right on cue for another exciting episode of the X Factor, followed by an hour of the 'utterly hilarious' Ant and Dec (who, lest we forget, are actually about as funny as leukemia). How can this gerbil-like existence be satisfactory to anybody but the incredibly fucking stupid? Did they ever think about anything more meaningful than their favourite colour, or who they wanted evicted from the Big Brother house that week? Day 31, and Karen from Telford is still missing a chromosome...

Only...I should have known better at the time. My younger brother is and always has been apolitical - as far as I'm aware when he voted Remain in the EU referendum that was the first time he had voted in pretty much anything and I've never heard him apply a particular preference, label or name to describe 'what he believes' in layman's terms. Knowing that he is certainly not Strictly/X Factor/Big Brother fodder and could not be described as dumb in this lifetime or the next, I concluded that he was simply a bit of an oddball, a statistical outlier, someone who had fallen into being apolitical for reasons we could only ever file under 'miscellaneous' or 'other'.

This is probably as good a point to state the obvious - my brother is not an outlier at all, and quite inexcusably, I found that I was guilty of treating 'the apolitical' as if they were some homogenous block rather than unique individuals.

Eventually I realised that it was me who had been arrogant, intellectually lazy and just plain wrong.

Once I began to retreat away from party or tribal politics myself, one of these misplaced assumptions began to collapse around me immediately - just because someone is apolitical does not mean that they do not think about and/or discuss deep, serious topics that might fall under the umbrella of politics or philosophy. In fact, those of some intelligence who detach themselves from 'the process' of politics tend to be some of the most rational, objective and rewarding people to exchange ideas with. In many ways, the failure or refusal to pin a convenient label on what you believe should be considered a strength rather than a weakness.

If others 'don't get it' then that's their problem - and none of us are under any obligation to dumb ourselves down for the benefit of the genuinely dumb or intellectually lazy.

Labels are helpful most of all to those who refuse to acknowledge the presence of nuance or grey areas, and in that regard they are very much a mixed blessing.

I remember an ex-work colleague and the father of a childhood friend who both liked the game of football but didn't have a team that they particularly supported. As well as talking more sense about the sport than most, they had the benefit of not getting ridiculously stressed out or anxious in a way that many football fans do about their team's results. In the same way, the apolitical don't have 'a horse in the race' and are therefore more likely to remain clear-headed, not become 'politically angry' and start playing the man rather than the ball through the use of ad homs and personal insults. It usually augurs well in terms of the honesty and value of any discussion you might have.

Perhaps most importantly given the nature of so much of what we're been discussing on here, the apolitical by definition are not on the lookout for a messiah and have altogether more realistic expectations of politicians generally than those who have 'picked a side' in the team sport being played around them. The politically active and tribal have this dreadful tendency to put 'their side' on some sort of divine pedestal while regarding 'the other lot' as Lucifer's representatives on earth. This leads to all sorts of logical and moral inconsistencies which you just need to turn on your PC or television to be exposed to. Being apolitical is basically a bulletproof vest to this nonsense.

So from a position of sweeping and misplaced generalisation, I've come to regard the apolitical (and particularly the thoughtful apolitical) with a great deal of respect. Refusing to take part in 'the process' does not (as some stupidly claim) deny you a right to an opinion, in fact that non-participation is itself an expression of a wider view in many cases. Even if it's a straightforward case of "can't be arsed", well the examples we know of within the Toddler Left and Toddler Right should serve as compelling evidence that getting off your arse and doing something is not automatically a good thing (this is another ridiculous and oft-parroted claim by politicos which is easily rebutted).

Once we establish that this is true then some sort of reverse thesis also applies. The apolitical are, by definition, a threat to the life, liberty and property of precisely nobody solely by virtue of inaction. They are not chasing a messiah, demanding bribes or validation in exchange for their vote or identifying 'enemies' who will be 'punished' by their demagogue of choice in a rather unhinged act of passive-aggressiveness by proxy. Seeing as they never had false expectations of the government or politicians in the first place they're far more likely to take responsibility for their own lives and think with a greater degree of reason and logical consistency than their tribal counterparts.

In short I was wrong about the apolitical and must say on reflection I rather like at least most of them - sincere apologies for my previous stupidity.

I'll leave with some appropriate music and catch you all at the weekend - thanks once again for reading and take care.

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