Americans' leap... from concerned citizenry to apathetic public

Not that I believe you get an accurate cross-section of public opinion on any subject by reading the “letters to the editor” of major metropolitan newspapers. At times, however, some of these letters can make interesting reading and, occasionally, even provide a clean bull’s eye on socio-political ills. Thoughts written in anger, or hope, or perhaps despair… just a few words that speak volumes when read. It just takes a letter by a stranger bringing forth a message that is but a tracing of the one you carry within, one you’d wish to shout to the four winds.

Such was the letter I read in The Oregonian [Portland, Oregon] on November 2nd, a letter in response to an article by columnist Georgie Anne Geyer where she had underlined Cheney’s proposal “that Congress legally authorize the torture of foreigners by Americans.” Under the heading “All seems lost in America ,” the writer of the letter, J.C., condensed in a 41-word paragraph what could easily be the political state of the nation.

J.C. wrote:” What has our country come to? Here we have a figurehead president, with the real power vested in [the] vice president. Add to that an impotent opposition party in Congress, a lapdog press and an apathetic public, and all hope seems lost.”

It’s at the tail end, J.C., where it all starts, with that apathetic public doing the waggling. A lapdog press, an impotent opposition party, and a thuggish executive misgoverning the nation are only byproducts, or side effects, of that apathy. An apathy which may be the result of a self-prescribed inoculation of some lethargy-potion diluted in greed and consumerism. Either that or, what could prove to be much worse: non-elective surgery performed on our political brain in the form of irreversible civic lobotomies.

Participative democracy has always been a work-in-progress … even in those nations at the vanguard of promoting freedom of expression; the US among them. Apathy can and does bring that work-in-progress to an end; and what’s even worse, it can erase whatever achievements had been made towards democracy.

American stakeholders in democracy have decreased their involvement in all the institutions that affect their social, political and economic lives. As involvement decreased, so did accountability and transparency of those institutions. And as accountability decreased, so did the decision-making power of those institutions at the local level… the place where democracy really starts and ends.

Free expression has become in the US a very scarce commodity… and pluralism is shrinking fast as institutions and people that determine the rules for our American society are no longer held accountable.

Americans seem to have taken a great leap in these past two decades from a somewhat concerned citizenry to untreated somnambulism, and single-issue ideologue masses. Not just during these last five years under Bush, but extending back to the time of President Reagan and his addictive “feel good” pills that turned much of the nation into legions of euphoric automatons… perfect dupes for multi-level marketing in both commerce and politics.

But even in this critical comatose stage we find ourselves in, there needs to be hope, J.C. The spirit of freedom and independence should give many of us the strength to shed the old skin of moribund cells: apathy. Perhaps we can let those corrupt and decadent institutions, including our two major political parties and much of the mainstream press, die of natural death… or shrink to a size that will no longer count or instill fear; only historical curiosity and/or disdain. This apocalypses of the corrupt to occur as fresh and truly democratic institutions see the light of day… thanks to the strong rays of hope we have left: ICTs (information and communication technologies) that allow the creation of peer-to-peer networks… principally, the flowing waters from that hope-giving river: the Internet.

All hope is not lost, J.C. The faithful among us are doing our share, preparing the ground for a new, humane and idealistic leadership to emerge and help us all, each and every stakeholder, ascend to the realm of true participative democracy… away from that placebo democracy of which we are now part of.

Don’t despair, J.C., a messiah is on its way… and that messiah is us, all of us who care. Together we may be able to take the leap back, becoming once again a concerned American citizenry.