30 June, 2014

Taking an Interest

Sweet hat, Pericles.
Image from Wikimedia Commons,
uploaded by Jastrow.
My post today was inspired by an image macro my mentor posted on social media. I'm not sure of the provenance of the macro itself, and I hesitate to share it here without source citation, but the quote is attributed to Pericles (possibly erroneously), and his intellectual property happily now belongs to all of us:
Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.
I have been saying this, or something very like it, to my students for some time now. When I do, it's almost always in response to an apathetic response to an article they didn't want to read, or a discussion they don't want to have, because they "don't like politics."

Here's my confession: I don't like politics either.

I get it, politics sucks. It does. It's often confusing, it's frequently infuriating, and once you've got a handle on it, it changes. I'm not unsympathetic to a lack of interest in politics. But I'm not all that interested in math, myself, and I had to learn that too.

I came to a realization a while ago when one of my students excused not knowing who her representatives were by saying she "wasn't interested in politics," that neither am I, really. I don't enjoy reading political blogs, I'm not a fan of politicians in the way I'm a fan of footballers or rock stars. In a perfect world, I would never think about government budgets or fiscal policy or war or oppression or any of those things. None of this is a hobby for me. It's about survival.

When we don't "do politics" because it's boring, we can end up worse than bored. We can end up paying taxes for things we are fundamentally opposed to, and not paying taxes for things our communities need. We can end up giving up our rights to protect our safety, even when our safety isn't really in question. We can end up supporting the increased wealth of a very few, while the masses starve.

In short, we end up oppressed.

I'm not trying to tell anyone where their best interests lie, and I get that we might not agree on that. I understand that in asking people to get more involved with the political system, I am potentially asking people to work against my own best interests. But I feel like that's better than apathy. I feel like spirited debate between informed people of good will with differing worldviews is so much better than letting a few powerful people run roughshod over all of us.

I'm also not asking anyone to be interested in politics. I realize that we naturally take an interest in some things, and not in others. I'm just asking that we stop pretending that we have the luxury of not taking an interest in certain things even if we don't necessarily find them interesting.


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