Understanding the Difference Between Stupidity and Apathy

There. Are. THIRTEEN stripes!

This weekend, I decided that we’d play a game called “Are you more American than a Vilifer” with our audience.  I figured I’d ask two audience volunteers questions about Minnesota and American politics to see which one of them knew more.

Several of the questions I asked are standard questions on the naturalization test.  They are things people who want to become citizens of our country are expected to know.

Now understand, I expected that they would do poorly.  I had several “easy” questions prepared just to ensure that they got a few answers right.

The results were worse than I expected.

Asked to name up to three of the eight members of the Minnesota delegation to the House of Representatives, the four of them were able to come up with a combined score of zero.  That’s right.  Not a one of them could name their own Representative.  Hell, not one of them could name Michele Bachmann!

Now that is bad.  It is equally bad that out of the four of them, only one was able to name the US Senator who is up for reelection this year.  I realize that Klobuchar is going to win in a cake walk but with the election just over a week away, they didn’t know who was on the ballot.

In fact, the only thing all four of them knew was the Minnesota State Bird.

Three out of four thought that the right to bear arms is one of the rights guaranteed by the first amendment.

Now all that stuff is discouraging.  It gets worse.

On Saturday, I asked how many stripes were on the American flag.  In spite of the fact that there was a flag hanging on the stage and I turned to look at it after I asked the question, neither one of them got it right.

When asked how many Senators there are in the United States Senate, neither one of them could get it right without help.  Only one person out of four knew how many Justices there are on the United States Supreme Court.

So what does it all mean?  Are these people stupid?

Maybe.  I don’t know.  The fact that they have no idea who represents them in Washington D.C. doesn’t make them stupid.  I would imagine it makes them normal.  It isn’t just that they don’t know who they are voting for – they don’t care.

Now I understand voter apathy.  For most people, there doesn’t seem to be a difference between the two parties and there is still the idea that voting for a third-party is “throwing your vote away.”

The only way you “throw your vote away” is if you refuse to use it.

As a liberal, I do see differences between the parties and that is why I personally have little difficulty voting for most Democrats and also why I will not vote Republican until they change major planks in their platform.  But that’s me.

Lots of folks view both parties as equally evil and therefore disengage.

They are the undecided voters to whom neither party speaks.

Yet that is no excuse for failing to understand the basics of our system of government.  If we can all name who Brad Pitt is dating but we can’t name our Representative, we have a problem.

And it is not the fault of the Democratic or Republican parties.  It is the fault of the voter. We live in a representative Democracy and that means we need to actually pay attention to who is representing us.

Most people who vote just check the box next to the “R” or the “D” without doing any research.  Contrary to what you might think, I don’t automatically vote for the “D.”  I simply won’t vote for the “R.”  I might vote for someone in a different party if they seem like the right person for the job.

But holy shit, I actually know who the incumbent is.  I’m aware of the ballot initiatives.  Because I give a shit.

What we all need to realize is that the people I was quizzing this weekend are not stupid.  They  just don’t give a shit.

That makes me sad.

But I can’t say it makes me surprised.

P.S: Did anyone get the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” joke at the beginning or was that one just for me?

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About Petsnakereggie

Geek, movie buff, dad, musician, comedian, atheist, liberal and writer. I also really like Taco flavored Doritos.

9 responses to “Understanding the Difference Between Stupidity and Apathy”

  1. Albatross says :

    In their defense they WERE on stage in front of a live audience, so there’s that performance anxiety factor to consider.

    • Petsnakereggie says :

      Performance anxiety can possibly be blamed for faling to name your Representative. I can’t really blame it for being unable to count the number of stripes on the flag that is onstage.

  2. barondave says :

    Too many on the right are not merely stupid, but PROUD to be stupid. No excuse for anyone, of course, but Republicans encourage a willful ignorance and a reliance on lies. Sarah Palin, among others, decries “elites”, as if being excellent were a bad thing. Sen. Rick Santorum admitted that smart people would never vote Republican, and serial liar Mitt Romney is going to get nearly half the vote.

    And these are the people writing school textbooks.

  3. celkali says :

    I can say the only one I knew out of your examples was how many stripes are on the flag. 13 stripes for the 13 colonies. When it comes to Senate, I couldn’t even tell you what it’s for, let alone who is in it. The most education I got on US politics, economy, and judicial system was a short text book and two tests. Granted, I was home schooled for the last four years and used an online high school.
    The most I remember in public schools pertaining to US history and politics is World War II and the Civil War; those were the topics in history class for 5th through 8th grade. Talking about politics in middle school is taboo, I suppose. What’s funny is that was the only time I was ever interested in politics. I had an obsession with the Daily Show right up to the 2008 election. After that, I didn’t really care anymore.

  4. mixo45 says :

    This is depressing. I didn’t live in this country until my teens and I know the answers to those questions.

  5. Dave DuJour says :

    What really surprises me about this is that it came from the VilTen audience. For some reason I expect that audience to be a) better educated, b) on average slightly more liberal than “mainstream” Americans, and c) more socially/politically aware than the typical American. Clearly my perception of the VilTen audience is way off.

    PS: Of course I got the TNG reference.

  6. Karl says :

    What you describe is called ignorance, not stupidity nor apathy. Although apathy certainly leads to ignorance. I can tell you why we have a supreme court, but not how many judges sit on it. Refraining from goggling, I think six. I got thirteen stripes. I couldn’t tell you the name of anyone at the state level, but I don’t need to know them, at least as long as I intend to continue voting party line. Although I find myself more drawn to the ‘they are all the same’ argument and that may necessitate my taking a more active notice of who’s running before election day. I can recite the preamble to the constitution, would like to get the declaration of independence down, but recitation isn’t comprehension.

    I worked on a helpdesk years ago. I would constantly train new hires how to do something then a month later hear them bitching about how stupid people were for not knowing what they just learned and now considered simple. This tirade reminded me of that. While I agree with your general concept that people are dangerously disengaged from politics and ignorant of some pretty basic principals of democracy, what you have here isn’t much more than a stage trick. It doesn’t really change anything and it misses the forest for the trees. I suck at names. I have trouble recalling names of people I’ve known for years. I’m certainly not going to recall the name of some state representative – yet I have written to them on issues I feel important, something that many never do. As they say, actions speak louder than words, and to inverse that you can’t judge someones based on such a banal litmus test.

    • Petsnakereggie says :

      Please note, Karl, that I said they are not stupid. Yes, they were ignorant but they were ignorant because they were apathetic. They didn’t care. Reading this, I would argue that you don’t either. Yes, it was a stage show but my thoughts don’t have anything to do with the stage show. I would imagine most people are equally ignorant and equally uninterested in becoming less so. I’m not judging the specific people who were on stage. I believe their lack of knowledge is indicative of most of us. And I think it is a problem.

      • Karl says :

        I think the 2000 election was insulting, not because of the result – not because of the process failures – but because so many Americans were NOT offended by the process breakdown. They took sides, and nobody was on the side “let’s get the honest result”.

        We gerrymander, we suppress votes, we lie without being challenged, we have police accused of stopping voters in poor neighborhoods from getting to the polls, we mess with other voters registration, we have compromised the electronic voting system that was supposed to be our salvation, we have voter ID laws authored by persons that publicly admit it was to disenfranchise certain voters and yet there is no righteous indignation, all anyone cares about is does the above benefit my team or the other guys.

        If my neighbor with the “other team” lawn signs knocked on the door ten minutes before the poll closes saying his car won’t start I’d drive him without hesitation, because I believe int he process. I find people that want to win by “any means” possible revolting.

        I vote democrat because the republicans fucking scare me. I know what amendments are on the ballot, but I couldn’t care less if I am voting democrat A or democrat B. Especially since they’ve become the republican party in everything but name.

        I’m not apathetic, I’m disgusted. There is no integrity left in this country. There is no liberal vote that doesn’t strengthen the bat-shit-crazy republicans.

        You want to get me more involved, give me a platform that ends the electoral college, first past the post voting and the two party systems that results from those.

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