Saturday, February 17, 2007

Apathy, America's Greatest Danger

I want to share a speech I inadvertently found while cleaning out an attic in the home the family and I are purchasing. The speech is from Douglas Dillon, who was appointed by President John Kennedy to the position of our 57th Secretary of the Treasury back in 1961. Dillon's tenure as Secretary of the Treasury was unique as he was a republican who was appointed by a democratic president. And Lyndon Johnson kept Dillon in his position after Kennedy's assasination. Dillon was also an important member of the ExComm during the Cuban Missle Crisis.

I was unable to find this particular speech on-line but that may be due more to my inability rather than availability. The speech is entitled, "Apathy, America's Greatest Danger", and the importance of the speech doesn't seem to have diminished through the years. Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Independents all talk about apathy as being a danger to democracy.

The vast changes taking place in our civilization have had one thing in common. They have often seemed to reduce the efforts of the individual citizen to insignificance. For this is certainly the age of the mass market, the mass media, the mass civilization. Out of this age, two great dangers have arisen - mass ignorance and mass apathy.

As the industrial era has accelerated, it has been the specialist - the market analyst, the computer systems designer, the neurosurgeon, the nuclear scientist - in short, the expert - who has become important. Experts are indeed necessary. But with their increasing importance, we too often are tempted to say, when considering matters of public policy, "What do I know about it? I'm no expert."

I say to you that the individual, despite indications to the contrary, is more important than ever, and that the ability of our citizens to influence public policy is also more important than ever.

In our system, it is how much the ordinary citizen knows - and even more important, how much he cares - that will determine the outcome of large issues. Experts of course are necessary, and their advice should be heard, but in the end, it is often the non-expert who must make the decisions.

An active Citizen in our democracy must hold forthright opinions. But if his opinion is to be of significant value to his country, three thinngs are required:

  • He must have derived that opinion from a reasonable understanding of the facts, and not from mere prejudice.

  • Second, he must care about the issue, whatever it may be.

  • And third, he must do something about it.

Even if all he does is talk to his neighbor, a purpose will have been served, but in a nation like ours - where only a small fraction of the population takes an active part in election campaigns beyond the act of voting - the latitude for effective political action, if one cares to take the trouble, is extremely broad.

A Citizen of the United States has a greater duty than merely to register an uninformed personal preference at the polls, and the college graduate, in particular, has a responsibility to commit himself to some larger cause than the mere pursuit of an ever-higher standard of living for himself and his family.

The facts are available. They are given to us every day by newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. But to many of us, the public business often appears to be too complicated to make interesting reading. Because we cannot foresee the outcome of the disarmament talks, or because we cannot fully comprehend the complexity of tax problems - or, most often, because we feel no personal involvement - we skip to the sports page or to the fashion column.

This public apathy, in my opinion, may well be the greatest single danger we face today. It gives rise to an automatic process in which blind prejudice is substituted for reason - and thus all problems become over-simplified. Out of such reactions have grown both the hysterical right and the hysterical left. One contends that the real danger in the world today is subversion within our country and within our government. The other maintains that our whole society is manipulated by a small clique of businessmen, military leaders, and power-hungry politicians.

Both views are, of course, nonsense. Power in this country rests today more than ever with the people. The problem is that they use their power too seldom...

With the Internet, we now have the best communication tools the world has ever witnessed, and yet apathy is still a problem that faces democracy. But I have seen a change, an awakening of the people. They are becoming empowered and are beginning to really believe and understand they can make a difference. STAY TUNED...the best is yet to come!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my gawd, everything for a reason. Did you call the house or did it call you?

What's amazing - and frightening at the same time - is that the speech was written so many years ago but could have easily been written today. Does that mean we're still there? Don't answer that.

IS siGGy

Sunday, 18 February, 2007  

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