The Politics of Being Apolitical : Youth and Political Distrust.

Mutqeen Khan

Scrolling down your Facebook feed, skimming through people’s profile, playing God from behind your touchscreen keypads ( smartphones do allow us the privilege to look down on people ) like the master at work – judging, deleting and demeaning people for what they should or should not do or be. The next time you’re at your routine exercise of ‘socializing’ on ‘social-media’ and can afford to do a little survey of sorts, try and analyse how people, especially the youth (being more avid users of social media), choose to describe their individual identity or social stances in their bio.

Facebook bios apart from being an embellishment of mystic abstractions borrowed from the vocabulary of seers, allows one (among other things) an insight also to the social and political stances of individuals. It is a category amid this bio-brief that must stir in us, besides an odd twisting of eyebrows,  an inquiry if not fear. “Political Views” reads the category and the rubric of “apolitical” is the recurring answer across the majority of profiles.

If humans are social and political animals as Aristotle has long told us that they are, and if eliminating either of the two categories renders a human ‘a beast’, by extension of this rhetoric, considering the premise to be true, the syllogism that follows is that apolitical organisms (the youth in this case) are disorganised as beasts! The scenario, which seems to implicate the youth to be guilty of its own exclusion from the political arena, isn’t as plain is it appears on the surface. Beneath this seemingly innocent disinterest is an undercurrent of alienation that needs to be interrogated in a serious vein.

Is the youth ignorant of socio-political situations? The influx of news backed with visual clips that are  ‘pushed’ to us via Push notifications and injected into our news-feed quite literally to be ‛fed’ into our brains would suggest no. In the information age, it is nearly impossible for the technologically empowered youth to be ignorant of the socio-political milieu unless they are living under a rock or maybe in North Korea.

Is the youth indifferent? The rise of cyber vigilantism, asserting demands for justice through initiatives like Change.org, support for causes like the LGBTQ+ movement and the #Metoo movement among others which were backed by youths in large numbers would suggest otherwise. Brought up with the awareness of being a global-village, and with visual access to the conditions of the underprivileged, millennials are prone to be more sensitive toward political apathy and are often branded as ‘snowflakes’. If indifference or ignorance is not the cause of this gap in political participation and the youth is certainly not shy of responsibility, why is there such a sharp divide in social activism and political activism? What births the dichotomy and tells them apart? Or marks the social from the political?

The apolitical is not the product of ignorance, indifference or apathy on part of the youth. Being apolitical marks a distrust in the ability and credibility of the political apparatus of the state. It marks the dearth of organization if not of avenues. Organization was a distinct character of the baby-boomer generation and Gen X which had fought for Civil liberties, Sexual revolution, and nearer home it was this generation that heralded the anti-colonial and nationalist struggles.

Let us say for now all the wars have been fought, all the freedom has been claimed. The Millennial is now free to engage and create the future but what vision will govern the discourse ? “You are free and therefore you are lost,” said Franz Kafka and it is this freedom with no anchor for mooring support which renders the youth distraught and with a myopic vision. Distraught because it is this generation that has witnessed the corrugation of high democratic ideals into populist banters, and myopic because the optics of post-truth render political vision incongruous if not impossible.

Amid this sea of changes let us now return to our youth who innocently believe that they are “apolitical” as a matter of choice. As justified as they are in their hate for politics and state-structures, the assumption that it is them who have exercised the “choice” of non-participation is false and misleading. This manifest decision comes from a latent discourse – disinterest the youth, divert them toward everything and away from their own relation to the state machinery, debar them from entering into politics and let the inert status-quo prevail. A situation best captured by Bertolt Bretch when he says, “ The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”

Every apolitical person especially the youth has to come to terms with the reality that the damage they do by non-participation inches us closer to a dead society (we are at present a spectator society). Our distaste towards categorical branding of ‛Left’ and ‛Right’ ‘ Nationalist’ and ‛Anti-nationalist’ and the fear of appearing in such kinds of binary oppositions comes at the cost of a greater disaster. The “Apolitical” is therefore not an accidental invention but a by-product of a larger discourse of alienation and disempowerment. An argument reflected by David Foster Wallace when he says, “If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”  When the elections come around next time be more than just aware, be sceptical, be participative, be detrimental if you must but break the inertia.