Apathy in America, The Answer is Philosophy
The degree of political ignorance among the American populace is difficult to surmise. On one hand, college enrollment has steadily increased over the past four decades, indicating a much larger educated segment of the population. In addition, the advantages of the internet in information dissemination is so great, it literally furnishes the potential for a truly informed democratic republic. On the other hand, the apathy of the American people in the face of our government’s oppression of individual rights in the name of the public welfare is equally astounding. Our lack of opposition, or of any useful degree of organized opposition, is symptomatic of apathy.
Yet in lieu of the information revolution, room for a more hopeful interpretation exist. Perhaps the lack of response stems not from apathy fueled by a largely distracted populace, but rather from a different kind of apathy, one that too often results from information overload. Too much information too quickly thrown into the homes of America, perhaps turns people away from the important issues of the day, i.e. the economy, government spending, privacy versus national security. Over the last decade, legislation such as the Patriot Act, Obamacare, and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have passed into law often unread by the very legislators voting yay or nay. Less likely is that the average American is familiar with these laws or how they affect individual rights. Nor is the bureaucratic language that often weaves these unintelligible bills together typically accessible to anyone without a law degree.
So the riddle is this. What does a person require in order to filter massive amounts of information often representing opposing viewpoints? What is required of people to be informed short of a genuine desire to maintain one’s general awareness of current events? While people will disagree on the specifics, the simple answer is philosophy. For philosophy is a framework by which information can be analyzed, compartmentalized, and analyzed again for future use. It allows one to establish a system of beliefs that coincide with one’s life choices. More importantly, philosophy furnishes a backdrop by which one can analyze choices and cause and effect, so that if the perceived outcome of a choice is not what was expected, one still has a means of looking back to see what caused the outcome. Given America’s ongoing economic turmoil, I believe the following words from philosopher Ayn Rand are particularly relevant.
The power that determines the establishment, the changes, the evolution, and the destruction f social systems is philosophy. The role of chance, accident, or tradition, in this context, is the same as their role in the life of an individual; their power stands in inverse ratio to the power of a culture’s (or an individual’s) philosophical equipment, and grows as philosophy collapses. It is, therefore, by reference to philosophy that the character of a social system has to be defined and evaluated.
Passage from The Ayn Rand Lexicon, s.v. “Philosophy.”
In short, a good philosophy sheds ambivalence. It allows its user to see essentials without the gray that often accompanies political and social debate. And it also acts as a how-to guide amidst information overload.
When thinking of philosophy, we typically associate it with a time long passed, yet never before has the need for a solidly based system of thinking been so prescient. As technology advances, the amount of information available will increase as well as its rate of circulation throughout society. In this sense, philosophy acts as a how-to guide to living with and evaluating massive amounts of information. Consequently, the times ahead will require that we all embrace philosophy more than ever before.
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