Politics — should we care?
By Carmel Fisher, Director
11 August, 2017
Despite studying political science at university, I have for a long time been one of those people who refuses to engage in political debate.
My excuses have run the gamut — all the parties look broadly the same; the personal attacks put me off; I just don't like the candidates enough or few politicians have delivered on their campaign promises, so what's going to change?
Despite my unwillingness to argue politics (or religion for that matter), I still vote because I know how important politics is and I know my vote counts.
Politics interests me more as I get older; I care about the society my daughters will live in. I wonder though whether politics is something of a relic in which society has little interest or proper engagement?
We know young people typically have little interest in politics — their low turnout at election time is testimony. What of the rest of society?
Apart from political personalities providing interesting dinner party conversation, do we really spend much time thinking about policies and the political infrastructure that will determine our futures?
Plenty of commentators lament the public's diminishing interest in US and Australian politics because it has become so negative and personal; citizens feel powerless to change anything or be heard.
One said: "I can trace a government that resembles ours back to about 5000 BC. What else from 2000 years before the Pyramids still rules the lives of men? We no longer start fires with flint; we don't rely on animals for power.
We have learned to write, to invent, to navigate and cover immense distances. And yet this one relic of primitive past remains. And please don't tell me politics remains because it is good — people complain about government more than they do about cancer!"
Another US political critic suggested voters are uninterested because politicians achieve so little. "Even the best examples — such as Reagan on the right or Obama on the left — have failed to change much."
But to paraphrase the textbook A Primer on Politics, politics is necessary as it defines, organises and regulates society and answers the question of who gets what, when, and how.
I had to draw the line at the author's description of politics being like a good movie with "heroes and villains, romance and passion, action and adventure". But we do need an authority to call the shots, divide up the economic pie and hopefully grow it over time.
Whether or not we like the individual politicians or understand the articulation of party policies and beliefs, we must all engage — even just a little — since we're all recipients of the economic pie and should care about how it is allocated.
The government is literally everywhere, in every facet of our daily lives. Its decisions have significant consequences for each of us. They could be life or death matters — whether that pothole gets filled, or the driving age is properly calibrated or whether that dodgy egg gets properly inspected — or if your office meets the fire code.
We should want the government to be properly engaged in keeping our air breathable, keeping bad stuff out of our waterways and preventing foreign armies from invading.
Let's hope voters apply that sort of perspective when they receive their voting papers.
God help us if they trivialise politics and choose our governing authority on the basis of a candidate's grey hair, big smile or penchant for whiskey.