"It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expence, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expence, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will." ~ Adam Smith
In Defense of Apathy
Column by new Root Striker R.K. Blacksher.
Exclusive to STR
Apathy is one of the most commonly derided dispositions that an individual can possess. We are constantly inundated with pleas to “get involved” by friends, colleagues, teachers, politicians, and pundits. These pleas come from people of all political persuasions: liberals, conservatives, moderates, greens, socialists, and libertarians. Are there any compelling reasons to engage in political activism? Does political activism ever produce desirable results? Are the people who are entirely apathetic about politics more rational than the people who spend large portions of their lives attending rallies, watching cable news, and writing letters to their representatives?
Now, it might make sense for a conservative or a liberal or a socialist to engage in political activism. People who subscribe to these ideologies do not object to state violence. They only want the violence to be directed at people other than themselves. From the point of view of conservatives and liberals, therefore, it might seem sensible to encourage agents of the state to point their guns at other people. I cannot, however, think of a single persuasive reason for a libertarian or an anarchist to engage in political activism. Political activism rarely produces libertarian victories, and the victories are always short-lived on the rare occasions when they do occur.
When I disparage political activism, I am not, of course, disparaging civil disobedience. There is indeed a compelling case to be made for civil disobedience. What I am criticizing is the naïve belief that it is possible to reform the state by “getting involved” in the political process and electing “better people.” The protestors in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have succeeded precisely because they have rejected the standard advice of political activists. If the Egyptians had followed the prescriptions of political activists, they would have written letters to Hosni Mubarak kindly requesting that he reduce the number of torture chambers.
I think it is worth questioning the motives of those individuals who incessantly prattle on about “civic duty” and the need to “get involved.” As Hans-Hermann Hoppe has argued, one advantage of a monarchy is that it provides a very clear distinction between the ruler and the oppressed. Subjects of a monarch never suffered under the delusion that they were the government. In a democracy, by contrast, state propagandists put a great deal of effort into ensuring that the distinction becomes nebulous and difficult to discern. By encouraging others to “get involved,” advocates of political activism are only further blurring the distinction between the ruling class and the oppressed. When people cease to recognize a distinction between themselves and the state, they become incapable of seeing the shackles that keep them in bondage.
So political activism, then, is not only useless, it can be positively destructive. Political activism is, at its core, a prisoner helping to build his own cage.
I find it profoundly perverse to deride the people who do not care to waste what little free time they have engaging in useless and destructive activism aimed at changing the nature of an inherently corrupt and violent institution. We should not fault people who, after working all day and having half of their income stolen by the government, decide that they would rather spend their free time drinking beer and watching football than organizing rallies and writing letters to their representatives.
I would, of course, prefer it if people would spend some of their free time reading websites like Strike The Root and engaging in civil disobedience. But the people who choose to remain rationally ignorant should not be the main targets of our scorn. We should instead direct our scorn at the people who nag us about “getting involved” and voting. They are voluntarily engaging in pro bono propaganda for the state.
So I would like to say a word in defense of the apathetic people who spend their free time watching “American Idol,” playing video games, and drinking beer. They are certainly behaving far more sensibly than the self-proclaimed advocates of liberty who believe they can free the world by participating in a violent, rapacious, and destructive system. Ignoring the state is perhaps the best way to destroy it.