While visiting a retirement home in Ottawa last year, during the civic election, I witnessed an exchange of views between two young workers. One announced that she would never be bothered voting. The other responded that she always voted.

I butted in to support the second woman, pointing out that if one doesn’t vote, one has hardly any right to complain about the government. Then I realized I was, well, butting in, so went back to my own duties.

But the conflict is global, not just local.

Mario Silvio reports at In Other News,

Rome, Oct.2015 – The last world survey on the strength of democracy went totally ignored, except for the New York Times, which did publish a special report. And yet the World Values Survey, a respected research association with the United Nations, conducted the survey and the data of the 2015 survey are extremely worrying.

In the United States, the number of Americans who approve the idea of “having the arm rule”, has gone from one in 15, in 1995, to one in six. And while, among those born before World War II, a strong 72% assigned living in a democracy the highest value on a scale of one to ten, for those born after 1980, less than 30% did.

The proportion of Europeans was scarcely greater at 32%, among those also born after 1980. And it was even smaller in Eastern Europe (24%.). The main concerns were the level of income, a secure job, a possible pension, all of which rated as more important than the type of regime under which to live.]

Small wonder that major media outlets largely ignored this finding. In the face of elections and upheavals around North America and Europe, it’s bad news, of course.

If we see government as a source of jobs and income security, our relationship to it must necessarily change. The conventional term for the person who provides those benefits for us is: boss

The strength of the trend among young people to devalue democracy might well relate to living on line, via new media. Recently, we noted that emotionally fragile students were turning to animals for companionship, while their peers are engrossed in social media.

Polling firms are having an increasingly hard time even finding out what a representative sample of the electorate think. People are not afraid to tell them; they’re just not answering the phone.

Looking at the matter at a deeper level, online reality is constructed rather than encountered. The young person grows up in a world of fake friends and fake news. One can construct an avatar for oneself and live among people one will never see, in other parts of the globe, who have themselves constructed an avatar. One’s whole life can be reality-optional, in a sense that would have been impossible fifty years ago.

Actual local and national political concerns come to seem irrelevant by comparison; one merely wants to be reassured that “the government” is doing something about it, then back to the online world. A far cry from the politically engaged youth of forty years ago!

That situation is good news for authoritarians who will gladly grant people the right to live in a pleasant and powerless fantasy as long as they, the authorities, control the reality. That was the prescient message of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. (1932).

I am not sure what can be done about this, but one thing comes to mind:

First, the new social media developed so quickly that there has hardly been time to reflect on, let alone address, the problems. But that’s not new. One recalls the wax and wane of smoking.

In mid-last century, it was considered quite normal for heavy smoke to hang around a room. One was expected to just put up with it, despite the obvious relationship between smoking, lung disease, and deadly fires. Today, that level of smoke would set off the detector immediately.

So people can become sensitized to a problem over time.

It could once again become discourteous, at the least, to make clear that one would prefer to be with someone else somewhere else, whether they exist or not. One might begin to hear, more often, “Put that thing away for a minute and listen to what we are trying to tell you … ”

After all, democracy is still okay in principle throughout the West. Nothing favours it like having to live under distressing conditions about which one has a right to vote. But perhaps nothing threatens it so much as the ability to just escape the conflict, via drugs or social media. Stay tuned.


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...