I was reminded of this by Tom Harris’ post on increasing voter apathy. Aside from a passing reference to distrust of politicians, he seems oblivious to the possibility that apathy is increasing because of the inadequacy of the product on offer. For example, he says:
The “instant gratification society” is partly to blame: the internet has instilled in us an expectation that if you want something, you should get it instantly...A growing number of people can’t quite get their heads around the idea of a political party promising to fix the economy, the health service, the schools system, in a timescale of years.But the problem isn’t merely that voters want more instant solutions. Many of us doubt whether the economy, health service and schools system can be “fixed” at all - especially by unqualified people with policies formed with more attention on the trash media than the empirical evidence.
And let’s be clear here. Apathy is rational. Like most voters, I live in a safe seat. It’ll make no difference to the result whether I vote Tory, Labour or not at all. The only reason to vote lies in what Nozick called symbolic utility: to get a warm glow from identifying with particular people or values.
Now, there was a time when, for many, this justified voting - because they were working (or middle) class and Labour (Tories) were the party of the working (middle) class.
But this is no longer true.
Which poses the question: what are the values or personal qualities that politicians are asking us to identify with?
Many of us just can’t see an acceptable answer to this; it seems our choice is between a party that regards us as dogs and one run by the children of the rich for the children of the rich. Which is why we don’t vote. But it‘s not “apathy” we feel, but contempt.
Mr Harris, of course, doesn’t see this. But then, as Upton Sinclair said, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”