August 21, 2006


Category: Politics :: Permalink

Robert Putnam talks about how, in the last third of the 20th century, interest in politics has been waning among the rising generation (Bowling Alone, pp. 35-36).  Those who grew up in the first two-thirds of the century are, generally, more interested in politics than those who grew up in the last third.

I have to admit that that’s certainly true of me.  While certain issues interest me, I find most things having to do with government — municipal or federal — pretty dull.

Perhaps part of that is the sense that there’s little I can do to change things.  Growing up in Alberta I was aware that once Quebec and Ontario voted, the whole thing was over and how I voted in Alberta wasn’t likely to affect the final outcome.  Add to that a sense that in voting I would simply be choosing (to borrow a phrase from someone) “the least objectionable among a field of undesirables.”

I suppose you could also take into consideration my general dislike of meetings.  I recall an episode of the Canadian comedy series Wayne and Schuster, in which they played Hollywood consultants called in to help the TV show “This Week in Parliament” improve its ratings (which, they pointed out, were lower than those of the little dot that stays on your TV after you turn it off).  Certainly I’d rather watch that little dot than subject myself to watching a debate in parliament!

But to top everything off, I simply find other areas of life far more interesting.  Given the choice, I’d rather read a novel than a newspaper.  If I do read a newspaper (or World magazine, for that matter), I’m more interested in the comics and the entertainment news (movie reviews, book reviews, music reviews) than in the news of the world or anything having to do with the government of the country.

All of this makes me wonder a bit about Putnam’s positive program (if you’ll pardon the alliteration).  I’m interested in the growth of what he calls “social capital,” but I can’t say that I feel much desire to get involved in politics or to read about current events in the newspaper.  Is this a flaw in my character?  Or am I correct to sense that there are more important things — and certainly more enjoyable things — than politics and the operations of the government and its debates?  How important is it really that I keep up with world news when there’s a Raymond Chandler novel calling to me?

Posted by John Barach @ 11:13 pm | Discuss (4)

4 Responses to “Dullsville?”

  1. Elliot Says:

    Maybe if this was ancient Athens and the politics was closer to home, it’d be more interesting. But modern politics can seem so distant.

  2. John Says:

    Perhaps the distance is a factor. But I have to admit that I have virtually no interest in local politics either and no desire to read a report on, say, whatever happened at City Hall here in Medford in the past week. Ho hum.

    I’m not sure entirely why I lack interest in these matters. It seems to me that it’s because they’re inherently uninteresting, but I also know that that isn’t necessarily the case.

    In fact, as Putnam points out, we need people who are generally indifferent to a lot of stuff to be involved in government so that it isn’t dominated by extremists with agendas.

    But if it’s a choice between a newspaper and a novel or between Medford City Hall and the Tinseltown theatre, I wouldn’t have to think twice.

  3. Elliot Says:

    I suppose by ‘distant’ I also mean that the decisions that really matter are made at high levels. Medford City Hall may be close, but nothing very exciting is going to happen there.

    I think the Greeks were more strict about making sure everyone (well, the men) served some time in politics, just like jury duty.

  4. Elliot Says:

    At certain periods of Athenian history, I should say.

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