Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Why Politics Matters

Written by johnleemk on 1:47:11 pm Apr 13, 2007.

A lot of people are apathetic about politics. This holds true in any country, be it the United States or the United Kingdom or Spain or India or Malaysia. People just don't see the point of politics.

At best, they look upon it as something for intellectuals to pursue. And at worst, they think of politics as utterly meaningless and pointless to their lives.

Nothing could be further from the truth. At an abstract, macro level, politics matters, because the future of the country depends on it — and by extension, so does the future of the individual.

Moreover, how the individual leads his daily life is very much dependent on the political scene. Very often, people have this conception of politics as being related to "macro" things — and thus, they see no point in caring about who is the Prime Minister, or what policies he carries out.

As the saying goes, all politics is local. You may not think who the Education Minister is matters much — but if he is the man who sets the policies that determine what you, or your siblings, or your children study. Since education makes us who we are, by extension, the Education Minister determines who we grow up to be.

When you look at things, politics is really all connected to how we lead our lives. Ignore things like the GDP, and forget about internal party politicking — this really is stuff you can leave to navel-gazers like yours truly.

In a developed society, politics does matter because the individual has the power to change things. People can see and tangibly relate to politics at the grassroots level.

In countries like Malaysia, where local government is basically a puppet of the state government (which is in turn a puppet of the federal government), we of course don't see any reason at all to care about politics.

But in a developed society, simple things like how often your garbage is picked up, or how clean your streets are, are determined by — you guessed it — politics. Who you cast your vote for in the election for mayor or councilman will have a direct impact on your quality of life.

As for national-level politics, well, let's go back to the saying that all politics is local. By extension, if we have a dead political scene at the local level, what good is politics at the state or national level? The individual is alienated altogether from politics.

In any society, there will be some amount of political apathy. But certain countries have more political apathy than others. It's no surprise that people in the US are more politicised than those in the UK, who are in turn more politicised than people in Malaysia.

How much one cares about politics is simply a function of how much one can be involved in politics. And because politics is about how we, as a community, manage our lives, if we cannot get involved at the community-level, we will not care about politics at all.

In a terrible catch-22, Malaysians (and the people of any country with a political system biased against grassroots politics) must go against the grain and start to care about politics. We cannot afford to let the agenda of our country and our lives to be determined by jackass politicians and pigheaded "leaders".

It is of course difficult to do this because the political system actively inculcates apathy. But you don't have to get directly involved in politics. All you have to do is to take the trouble to find an issue — any issue — that galvanises you, that makes you want to stand up and do something.

Once you find this issue, because you feel you need to do something, start looking into which politician, which party, stakes out a stand closest to yours. And in the next election, vote for this politician or party. That's all you need to do.

It may not feel like much. And mathematically, economists have proven that it isn't worth much at all. But the power of the vote comes from the addition of individually negligible amounts. Get your friends, get your neighbours, get everyone you know, to find something they care about, and to cast their vote for whoever can serve their interests the best.

You may disagree with me on some issues. You might care passionately about defending a segregated education system, or you might care passionately about the establishment of a theocracy. But that's not the point. The point of democracy is that everyone has a voice, and that everyone has the opportunity to take a stand on an issue they care about. Take your stand. At the end of the day, politics is about your life.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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