Every four years, I take note of a certain phenomenon.
During this odd period, already tense social media feeds become more volatile, friends and family turn on each other, slogans are repeated to the point of nausea and people find themselves tuning in on a Walking Dead level of fanaticism to watch clowns and used car salesmen peddle empty promises while exchanging edged hyperbole with their opponents. People are suddenly transformed into patriots, standing upon their soapboxes and preaching with fervor to those who will support them while damning those wretched souls who dare disagree. The US becomes divided by color on the news, the predominantly bi-colored map looking more like a military exercise of red vs blue forces than a united republic. Individuals are factionalized into fanatical camps, a state of total war in which someone must be right and someone else must be very wrong.
Give it a year, however, and the sudden fervor for one’s country and principles seems to dissipate as quickly as it came, vanishing into the night as the nation once again watches the sun rise with apathetic eyes. People slip back into a comfortable coma, allowing come-what-may with little to no reaction. Sure, there are little uprisings here and there- the young will always be in dissent- but generally those who became fly-by-night champions of their ideals tend to fade back into the woodwork, resigning themselves to little effort beyond a few clicks of a mouse.
Never mind that the congressional elections carry far more weight than the presidential elections, or that government works from the community level upwards. Never mind that we have engineered our society into a corner, creating a hive-mind state in which for every original thought on TV or social media, you will see five times as many re-posts of the same meme or article with no original commentary to back up why someone agrees or disagrees with a stance.
The problem stems from fair-weather involvement in the ‘Great American Experiment’, the republic that was founded on the notion of the participation of the everyman. The problem stems from a society that is more likely to vote on American Idol than to elect their local government officials, yet feel compelled to complain endlessly when things don’t go their way. We’ve created a society that only participates in the ‘Great American Experiment’ when it is trending, and jeers the process between Candy Crush levels.
Take a look at your news feeds. Turn on the television. People blindly support candidates based on catch phrases, sound bytes and keywords. We allow ourselves to be categorized into factions that we may not fully agree with, but fall in line because we are conditioned to think there is no other option than Team A or Team B.
We complain about super PACs, billionaires like Michael Bloomberg and the Koch brothers rigging elections, yet we don’t do anything about it short of post some memes or repeat the same old dribble. We’ll spend hours on research for fantasy football, yet won’t even bother to do a little digging to see what our candidates actually stand for. By and large, we as Americans just sit back and repeat the same unoriginal lines, fall in with this party or the other, vote according to one color, gender, race or singular stance and displaying utter contempt for anyone who disagrees. We have kids in college who are criticized by their elders for picking the pop candidate, when their elders have just as absurd selection methods.
We’ve devolved to a state where society is only involved when they are compelled to by peer pressure. Abraham Lincoln once said the demise of American life could never come from abroad and that “if it ever reach us it must spring up among us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.” We are slowly tightening that noose, preparing to kick ourselves free from the chair in a display for all the world to see.
What happened? When did we go from fighting for a right of self-determination to absolute apathy? We fought bloody wars so that others could have rights, we marched in the streets and battled years of oppression so that we could all put our stitch into the fabric of American society, once the model of liberty for the entire world. Now, we just complain, blame each other and contribute as little as possible. Freedom, self-reliance and independent thought have become burdens, not sacred attributes of Liberty that are to be safeguarded at all costs.
Sure, we defend our beliefs to an extent. Some people are “pro-gun”, some people are all about “free speech”. However, you’ll often find that for every Constitutional right someone defends, they are often just as apt to condemn and suppress the ones they disagree with.
You can’t pick and choose. You defend them all or you watch them fall. Our freedoms are neutered a little more every day, yet nobody bats an eye because critical thinking requires too much effort beyond “like” and “share”. We will figuratively click our way into subjugation.
So where do we go from here? Is it reversible and if so, how?
We need to step up, we need to be leaders. We need to swallow our pride and admit to our apathy. We need to remember what our principles are, why we stand behind them so fervently and how to think on our own. We need to re-learn how to articulate our beliefs and thoughts in such a way that we more resemble scholars instead of an angry mob. We need to treat those who think differently with civility, rather than resorting to childish mudslinging. We need to become involved beyond once every four years or a single-issue. We need to learn to ask questions and seek those answers. Skepticism is medicine to a society, apathy is a poison.
Our ancestors, grandparents, parents and even some of us stepped up to the plate to defend these rights that we take for granted. We lost a lot of good people in doing so, some might say the greatest of our respective generations. We defile their memories with our apathy, our sectarian infighting and our complete disregard for the pursuit of true Liberty.
It isn’t too late to turn the tide, but we will have to fight in order to do so.
Liberty, much like a muscle, is prone to atrophy if you do not exercise it. It is time to collectively get off our fourth point of contact (for civilians, this is your rear end) as a people and work out.
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