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October 2nd, 2008
Apathetic Until It Hits Your Wallet
Reviewing the responses of American citizens to various political events over the past few years, it seems that many are plagued by a type of cognitive dissonance. Their reactions are wholly inconsistent and their outrage polarized to a few select issues. For the most part, Americans are largely apathetic, indifferent as to what’s going on in Washington.
But there’s one sure way to trigger the ire of any American citizen: hit him where it counts. No, not below the belt, but in his wallet. This manifestation of selective concern is demonstrated by the following comic:
It’s a sad observation to claim that people don’t care about issues until it impacts them directly. We’re slow to rise in fury when an issue is being promoted that may or may not affect us in the future. But there’s no better way to make Joe Q. Taxpayer feel the weight of an issue than to make him suffer financially for it. That, better than any other incentive to act, gets people to care about an issue. (What few realize is that nearly every act of Congress increases their personal financial burden.)
While America has been asleep at the wheel, Congress and a power-hungry executive branch have been running over the Constitution repeatedly with their machinations. Only in the last couple of weeks when people have been threatened with footing the bill for a financial intervention of epic proportions do they show any amount of concern.
It’s astounding to see what an active citizenry can do; Congressmen (and their website) have been overwhelmed with responses as of late, and have realized that their job is threatened when they fail to comply with America’s wishes. It’s an eternal shame that we fail to act with the same level of vigor when the issue is not perceived as being as important or costly.
4 Responses to “Apathetic Until It Hits Your Wallet”
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It is unfortunate. I guess our human brains are wired to respond to short-term threats rather than long-term. Ask any smoker.
But there is a silver lining. When the economy was fairly good, the only thing people responded to was that ‘culture war’ rubbish. Remember Quayle and Murphy Brown? Family values, so-called? Outrage over homo art at the NEA? I could go on.
Thank goodness that seems to be over. Now that the stakes are bigger, people don’t seem to care so much about the artificial controversies that Republicans love to throw up. So much the better. If it takes a real emergency to focus the public attention span and (perhaps) elevate the public discourse, then let’s have it.
The deluge of e-mail was so bad that they had to start bouncing messages. And it makes me smile that you used a Sinfest strip. Tatsuya is one of the most insightful cartoonists I’ve ever seen.
“What few realize is that nearly every act of Congress increases their personal financial burden.”
This is only too true. But most of the time the effect is incremental and/or indirect. And it’s not just legislative acts. Every regulation imposes taxes on us that are so indirect as to be invisible to all but the astute.
Another part of the problem is that government has become such a sprawling beast that the average citizen simply doesn’t have the time or capacity to keep an eye on everything it does. In other words, big government begets increasingly bigger government due to lack of oversight. And the bigger it gets, the less oversight citizens can muster.
The apathy you note stems largely from this inability to grasp the extent of government action and from the utter sense of disenfranchisement when contemplating one’s capacity to do anything about it. Every government action that treats individuals as faceless numbers is like a single drop in the Chinese water torture — the combined effect is to keep us in our places and to engender apathy.
If only the sleeping citizen would hear the words “we gonna invade a third world nation” and immediately recognize that this is going to cost somebody something, and that this somebody is probably him, we’d only have a one-panel cartoon.