The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Youth Democratic Engagement

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 12, 2010 @ 10:00

That's more like it

The news that Dermot O’Leary is to host a “First Time Voters’ Question Time” for BBC3 is hardly likely to shatter barriers and make the youth motivated to vote…

But, nevertheless, it is something. It is important to remember that politics is not supposed to be for the old duffers. True, there are plenty of young fogies like myself who like politics, but at the same time I’m vastly outnumbered by my peers, who are apathetic not because they’re not interested in politics, but because party politics just doesn’t do it for them.

The problem is that this situation creates a chicken and egg problem. Who blinks first? Should political parties go out of their way to appeal strongly to the youth vote in order to get them to vote? One might argue that the Lib Dems have tried this in recent elections to varying degrees of success. But that success requires inordinate amounts of hard work to get students registered and then out to the polling booths on the day. Far more effort than the average voter, for a voter who is very probably still not going to bother.

Or do political parties sit and wait? Wait for the apathetic youth to turn into slightly more responsible middle-aged bores who suddenly realise they sort of have a responsibility to keep the notions of democracy and citizenship alive to the next generation. Who probably won’t give a stuff, just like they did when they were young.

It’s hard for me to sit in judgement on this generation, mainly because the youth is generally always apathetic, but also because I have no real insight into what previous generations behaved like. That will always be the case. But you do get the sense that democracy is – if not in peril – then under question.

We’re used to peace. We’re used to liberty. We are fully versed in the free market, via which we exercise our “choice” on a daily basis. To us, freedom is the ability to choose between Facebook and Twitter. Or between Google Mail and Hotmail. These are the more relevant choices to us, because they are clear, they are obvious, and they are reinforced by being made constantly.

Politics, on the other hand, is very different. It is too infrequent, for a start. It is irrelevant to our daily lives. It is easy to make the arrogant conclusion that everything we have now would be exactly the same without it. We don’t feel its impact. We don’t understand that politics is both a means and an end. To us, politics is a sport engaged in by our elders, with whom we share no affinities and wish to distance ourselves from at every opportunity.

That’s the superficial explanation. Of course, these assumptions can all be challenged. It doesn’t mean the youth will listen, but it does help to understand why youth engagement is extraordinarily difficult.

The argument above is exactly what exists in the minds of those who, when pressed, have rationalised the basis for their non-participation in democracy.

If that can be broken through, a genuine political discussion can take hold.

But still, I’m sure Dermot O’Leary knows what he’s doing…

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