Frequently, my friends tell me they have no interest in politics, and I typically don’t belabor the point. Frankly, I don’t blame them for their disinterest. Corruption, endless scandals, torrents of wasted money — it’s enough to discourage even the most committed political idealist. It’s easy to succumb to the mindset that there’s nothing we do can to change the system, so we shouldn’t bother trying. But I still believe that change is possible, that we can and should care — not in spite of governmental failure, but because of it. I’ll explain why.
The first reason is simple. Government is the only institution in our society that has the power to administer its policies with the force of law. In other words, the state can lock you up if you don’t do what it says. This isn’t to say all laws are bad — obviously, some laws are necessary. No one is in favor of legalizing murder. But since there exists a group of people claiming the legitimate authority to impose its will on us through force, it makes sense that we should pay attention to what that group of people is doing.
Second, as mentioned before, the government occasionally (okay, frequently) does things that are just wrong. From locking up Japanese-American citizens for no good reason during World War II to spying on all of us via the NSA, the state has a long track record of violating people’s rights. Even though these injustices happen, and it may seem insurmountable to change government policy, there is always value in standing up against that which is wrong, even if we don’t prevail immediately. And if we want to step into the ring, we have to know where the venue is.
Third, if you want change, you have to be change. And the first step to change is awareness. It’s easy to complain about the state of the world. Take your pick — a stagnant economy, multiple wars abroad, a shifting moral landscape. The government, for good or for ill, is never far from the epicenter of these dilemmas. We’re faced with a legion of difficult issues constantly, and at the end of the day the only thing that burying our heads in the sand accomplishes is making our eyes red.
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” —Plato
In next month’s column, I will illustrate simple ways that citizens, from those with the busiest of lives who can only handle small tasks at the moment, to those with time on their hands but who don’t know where to start, can begin to enact change in government.