Dear Activist (10/8/2010)

Twice in the last few weeks I’ve come across the phrase “This is the fault of governments” while browsing otherwise interesting and thought-provoking articles on the internet. There is a risk, if I see it again, that I may poke myself in the eye with something sharp just to relieve the pain. What made it particularly painful was that, in both cases, the point being made was otherwise lucid, well-researched, references were given to source material to back up its assertions and one with which I happened to strongly agree. Hurrah! Fill the internet with intelligent, well-reasoned SOLUTIONS to the problems of the world. More please!

But “This is the fault of governments.” makes me want to rant and shout. Aside from the obvious retort (if it’s the fault of governments then quick, let’s get rid of them. Replace them with, er…some anarchy, yeah, that’ll work. Phew, the environment sure dodged a bullet there), what, exactly, makes up a government? People, that’s what. And who votes for a government? That would be people again. Who chooses to run for office? Yep, people. Who implements their decisions? Who abides by the rule they set down? Who enforces them? Er, that would be some more people again. That would be us. So when I get to “It’s the government’s fault,” or “the government is responsible,” or some such, I’m left with this powerless feeling. Y’know, that I can’t do anything, even if I want to. Which is bollocks.

The injustices, the short-sightednesses, the selfish evils, they are the fault of people[1]. But when we have a point to make, we don’t say that. We blame the government, or some other remote body (also made up of people). It’s the first rule of propaganda to reduce all data to a simple confrontation between ‘Good and Bad’, ‘Friend and Foe’, ‘Them’ and ‘Us’. Them (the government) bad, us (you and me) good and it really ticks me off whenever I see it. WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT, or at least that’s the principle that’s supposed to underlie a democracy, isn’t it? So STOP TRYING TO MAKE OUT THAT I’M NOT.

By following the first rule of propaganda, we are telling people that they aren’t in charge of their destiny. We blame distant politicians and bureaucrats, whose choices may well have little to do with what ‘we’ think or want, but they are still our responsibility. Blaming ‘the government’ over and over is convenient and easy and hardly likely to start a pub fight, but it has a hidden message: Repeat after me: It’s the government’s fault. Not your fault. Them, not us. We are not them. They are not us. No wonder everyone feels so disenfranchised. The subtext of almost every piece of political propaganda from whatever part of the spectrum you care to examine is that ‘the people’ and ‘the government’ are different things. And they’re not [2]. Blaming the government seems to me to be a license for general apathy and aimless discontent. ‘They’ are in charge, ‘we’ have no say in what happens, life’s not too bad (for most of us), so what’s the point in rocking the boat? Lo and behold and look around. Is it simply that you know that you’re only preaching to the converted? Because if it is, that’s pretty sad, and not just for you.

I guess this outcome happens to suit some people. But you, dear activists out there, I don’t think you’d count yourself as part of that happy clique. So why do you keep doing it?

End of rant.

[1] So are a lot of good things, but for some reason we don’t seem to hear nearly so much about those. Which is a shame.

[2] In any country with a reasonably honest democratic process for electing one, anyway.

[3] Although if it was down to me they would be and the Dalai Lama would become dictator-for-life with supreme and unchallenged power across the globe. However, that’s a rant for another day. For now, just make sure you never vote me any kind of worthwhile power. I don’t want it and you wouldn’t like what I did with it.

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