Political Disengagement? It Comes Not with a Bang, but with a Wonk

By Jay Menard,

What’s the sound of political disengagement? Wonk wonk.

And, for most political wonks, that suits them just fine because for all the false indignation and professing for greater involvement, for the most part the goal isn’t better government – it’s winning. And no one cares if the country, as a whole, loses.

Wonk wonk is not a sad trombone sound, but it’s truly a sad noise. It’s the simple reality that the overabundance of self-professed and self-involved political wonks aren’t just fostering a negative political atmosphere on-line — they’re actively discouraging the casual political observer from becoming involved and learning more.

After all, when each side is shouting down the other, speaking in absolutes, and framing discussions solely based upon what colour of political Kool-Aid they’ve chosen to ingest, it makes it hard for the average Jill or Joe to know what’s real. And this occurs throughout all political discourse – in traditional media and social media.

No side has a monopoly on (lower-case r) right.

Partisan sniping, confirmational bias, and a lack of perspective are just three reasons why I ignore the majority of commentary from my politically minded colleagues online. Well, I shouldn’t say I totally ignore them, but I take absolutely everything they say with a mine’s worth of salt.

And, based on the intensity of the prism in which they’ve previously filtered their ‘news’ in the past, I proportionally adjust the level of impact their statement. I tend to believe the validity of their partisan posting in inverse proportion to their partisanship.

Still think that people, especially if they’re affiliated with a campaign, should wear that image proudly and loudly. If you’re going to talk on-line, give your readers the courtesy of knowing — in a quick and simple way — in which context this information should be framed.

It’s not enough to talk about the need for people to know your history. Jumping into conversations, hashtag use, and shared content/retweets can bring new readers to your content — and I’m not so vain as to think that everyone who reads my posts A) reads everything I’ve ever written; or B) follows me with a religious fervour.

It’s one of the reasons why I’ve pulled back from political discourse on-line. I’ve learned that, for the most part, it’s going to have little to no influence on those with whom I’m discussing issue. Very few of us (who actively speak) on social media are willing to consider all sides — the majority of the interactions are from those entrenched or personally invested in one “side” or another. Agreement equals tolerance and acceptance; disagreement starts with ad hominem attacks, subtweeting, and playground-esque behaviour.

On a day-to-day basis, you can just laugh it off. In fact, you could likely script most of the conversations that are going to happen before they start. You know who’s going to be angry right-winger; you know who on the left is going to take offense; and you know who’s going to be playing the pity card. It’s like a bad sitcom — the scenarios may change, but the characters remain the same and the behaviour patterns are predictable.

But during elections, there’s a very real danger that comes from this type of partisanship. There are those out there who absolutely want to be part of the political process, who want to learn more about the issues at hand and do so in a way that presents the facts. But that type of information is increasingly fewer and farther between.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed some of the worst wonkish behaviour — playing politics with the image of a dead boy. It’s disgusting and those who have done it — some of them affiliated and working on campaigns — should be ashamed. But basic humanity is often sacrificed at the altar of politicking. And there is no shame when the ends justify the means.

It’s disgusting; it’s hurtful; and they should be ashamed. But they won’t. It seems one of the side effects of the Kool-Aid they’re drinking, in addition to blind faith and a penchant for confirmation bias, is rampant hypocrisy and a lack of self-awareness. Behaviour they find appalling in “the other side” is not just tolerated, but actively encouraged when it’s performed for the greater good (getting their party elected). That’s not politics, that’s Zealotry. And the deity they worship is the God of Self Interest.

That’s why people are discouraged. We’re moving closer and closer to an American style political divide, but that’s not what has made this country successful. Politics should be about bridging gaps, learning from different perspectives, and working together. Instead, it’s now about monopolizing discussion and discounting anything that doesn’t come from a pre-approved voice.

There’s a big difference between an informed electorate and a selectively informed electorate. The misinformation, selective publication, and confirmation bias are all designed to make it more challenging for the average voter to know what’s the right choice. Because, let’s be honest here, to the wonks the ultimate goal is about winning. It’s not about ensuring a better government for all Canadians — and we, as a country, end up losing because of it.

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