Longtime readers know how much I dig the Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte. His faceless men in bowler hats personify ennui and apathy. That’s my interpretation at least. I could be wrong: I’m just an amateur art historian, after all.
Cassandra’s post this morning about the political use of cynicism inspired me to quote Anne Applebaum on how autocrats use apathy and cynicism to stay in power. She, in turn, was inspired by the reaction to the Wagner mutiny in the town they briefly occupied, Rostov:
“The response is hard to understand without reckoning with the power of apathy, a much undervalued political tool. Democratic politicians spend a lot of time thinking about how to engage people and persuade them to vote. But a certain kind of autocrat, of whom Putin is the outstanding example, seeks to convince people of the opposite: not to participate, not to care, and not to follow politics at all. The propaganda used in Putin’s Russia has been designed in part for this purpose. The constant provision of absurd, conflicting explanations and ridiculous lies—the famous “firehose of falsehoods”— encourages many people to believe that there is no truth at all. The result is widespread cynicism. If you don’t know what’s true, after all, then there isn’t anything you can do about it. Protest is pointless. Engagement is useless.
But the side effect of apathy was on display yesterday as well. For if no one cares about anything, that means they don’t care about their supreme leader, his ideology, or his war. Russians haven’t flocked to sign up to fight in Ukraine. They haven’t rallied around the troops in Ukraine or held emotive ceremonies marking either their successes or their deaths. Of course they haven’t organized to oppose the war, but they haven’t organized to support it either.”
The quote directly addresses the Pantomime Rebellion, but is universal in application. Cynicism and apathy go together like red beans and rice. If nothing matters, why bother with politics? That’s a question frequently posed by people on both the far right and left.
Cassandra focused on the sort of lazy thinking that led to Trump’s win in 2016. It seems to be happening again. The only good thing is that gives me an excuse to self-link to a 2016 post, Jill Stein: Crunchy Granola Machiavelli.
I’ve been known to be cynical myself, but I’m never apathetic. I’m the “disappointed idealist” kind of cynic; like Bogart’s character in Casablanca.
In the end, Bogie rejoined the fight because the stakes were too high to sit it out.
Too many Americans attend the “everything sucks, so why bother” school of cynicism. They’re on the highway to hell or apathy; same thing. They’re also doing what the right wants them do. If everything sucks and nothing matters, why vote? That’s the aim of Republican voter suppression efforts: to keep turnout low so a minority of the population can run the country.
The reason Steve Bannon encouraged Bobby Junior to challenge President Biden was to cause chaos, cynicism, and apathy among Democratic voters. Hell, Bannon even calls Bobby Junior a chaos agent as if that’s a good thing. It is not: autocracy is often prescribed as the cure for chaos. That cure is far worse than any disease.
The Magritte featured image is, of course, a pun on Anne Applebaum’s name. We do visual puns as well as written ones here at First Draft.
The word apathy also makes me think of my late friend Mike Homan. Apathy was the name of his Omaha, Nebraska based punk rock band. The Homan I knew was anything but apathetic but it’s a helluva good band name.
The last word goes to Apathy: