A slap in the face

“Don’t vote it only encourages them” has summed up my attitude to politics most of my life. I used to think it was smart. This quote from Bertold Brecht is like a slap in the face:

The worst illiterate is the political illiterate. He hears nothing, sees nothing, takes no part in political life. He doesn’t seem to know that the cost of living, the price of beans, of flour, of rent, of medicines, all depend on political decisions. He even prides himself on his political ignorance, sticks out his chest and says he hates politics. He doesn’t know, the imbecile, that from his political non- participation comes the prostitute, the abandoned child, the robber and, worst of all, corrupt officials, the lackeys of exploitative multinational corporations. — Bertolt Brecht

19 thoughts on “A slap in the face

  1. Brecht was a totalitarian and, frankly, a nasty man. Euan, in order to take his statement as true, one must agree with his premise that indeed the personal and private SHOULD be political fodder. I reject that wholeheartedly. You are correct and dynamic, he is a Marxist interventionist and utter stasist.


  2. Oh I do love the web – interesting response Jackie. Didn't know the background and it does make a difference. Part of my reaction to the quote was due to reading it while being in Turkey on Ataturk day and talking to locals about the increasing shift to fundamentalism in their country. I found myself thinking "well you did vote in a fundamentalist prime minister" and that the only way open to them to resist moves to return them to the middle ages would be to vote for alternatives. What would your reaction to that situation be?


  3. The personal and private are political (but fodder is derogatory). To call Brecht a statist is to display ignorance of his work and the context of the time in which he was writing. He was a poet and there were certainly contradictions in his life. Die Lösung condemns the actions of the East German Government in 1953 despite his support. But that support also has to be seen in the context of 1933-1945 and the alternative that preceded it. It wasn't until Hungary in 1956 that most on the left fully realised the implications of state socialism and by then he was dead.Brecht is one of the voices of the Weimar Republic, destroyed as much by the unwillingness of ordinary people to engage as it was by the actions of the Nazi Party.In the current day look at the way in which the US has become a "rotten borough", in which only money can buy power. The forces that Brecht fought politically and artistically are still with us today in similar and different forms. Interestingly Brecht was attacked by Senator McCarthy along the same lines as proposed by Jackie D which should tell you something. We are defined by our connections with others, and our many mutual obligations. We can't retreat from them without, by that action, taking a position. Historically the position of retreat has allowed dictatorship to flourish.


  4. I avoided politics for a long while on a similar proud line, and I still think that our democratic model sucks. However I have also come to reason that it is true that you have a weaker position to disagree if you don't participate. In much the same way as you can criticise an organisation for failing to reform, but if you actually work there then you are still part of the problem if you don't act.I now vote but, more importantly, I write to my MP fairly regularly. If they are going to represent me then they should know what I want. He can ignore me based on his own opinions but popularity counts for MPs and if more rational people told their MPs what to think it might actually become practice to listen to the citizens.It seems it is possible to engage with the process without becoming an activist.


  5. I think that lack of civic engagement in voting allows people with really destructive ideas reach power. It's difficult to make choices in complex political systems and more democratic countries where boundaries between doctrines might not be as obvious as they are in developing systems but I think it's our responsibility to at least keep an eye on our politicians (by 'our' I mean the country we pay taxes in, at least). I take correction on the fact that it's easier to be involved if one grows up in a regime and experiences the change of the system…


  6. Very interesting and enlightening discussion, Euan, along with the comments. While I was reading through them I was going to point to either one video clip or another. Both on the state of politics and politicians. Unfortunately, one of them is in Spanish, an interview with a social sciences professor from Berkley University, and the other one is from George Carlin… Think I'll go with George's for some additional input into the conversation … It's a rather short video, but worth a look. I have found it very descriptive, and not just for the US. Here is the link to it: George Carlin – Telling it like it is …


  7. I used to not believe the adage, "The personal is political," but I've found over the years that it is true. All that you are is influenced by the society around you & by decisions other people make that can affect you. So we need to get involved w/those decision makers (the "deciders") whose decisions can determine whether or not we ourselves will have the right to make our own decisions!Also there's the fact that certain politicians these days are trying to prevent many of us from voting. This suggests that voting does make a difference. Think of the disenfranchised black voters whose votes weren't counted or who were prevented from voting when GWB was running for president. And the restrictions now being placed on whom can vote. I believe that felons can't vote and, perhaps not so coincidentally, the US imprisons more of its own people than any other nation on earth (so there are lots of felons.) A way of preventing people from voting and participating in the democratic process altogether perhaps?All the protests against his policies notwithstanding, Scott Walker was voted into office in Wisconsin. And he won the recall election too! I think there was a time when the US was a democratic country. Sadly, this is no longer true. But if people started expressing their opinions, not just by voting but by posting on sites like this, discussing instead of fighting over issues, writing or calling Congress, talking w/their local politicians and business leaders, etc., who knows what could happen? I'm always amazed, for example, when I go out shopping and watch people give out all their personal info to a store clerk when buying a pair of shoes or something. Why? It's as though people just don't have the guts to say no, to stand up for what they believe in. They just do what they're told like obedient servants unable to think for themselves. Very disturbing.How about, I don't feel comfortable giving out my personal info, sorry? How about, I'm not shopping in your store anymore because it engages in unethical business practices? How about, I'm not going to buy your sneakers 'cause they were made by 12-year-old kids making only a few dollars a day in a 3rd-world country? How about, I'm not watching your TV show because the advertisements that sponsor it are racist, sexist, or whateverist? How about standing up for what you believe in instead of just going along to get along? How about turning off the TV set altogether–for good & talking face-to-face with your neighbors? How about it, America?


  8. The state and its money and taxation are simply a machine for war (against other states, against the natural world, to capture populations and deprive them of land, food, life, etc.). This is well established in the historical and anthropological record of the origins of the state. These continuous wars are barely muted now beneath a patina of technological advances and the cultural hegemony of what we call "civilization". Those that ardently wish to manage this infrastructure and legitimate it are participants in these various and grotesque forms of violence. Of course we are now in an ecological situation where this violence is necessary to the subsistence/survival of the current population human beings. Were it not for ecological scarcity and withholding of food from those who do not "work", who would mine platinum and subject themselves to the raw brutality and truth of "politics".Voting and politics give a feeling of action and purpose that is distracting and false. Humans should be themselves. We are a peaceful intelligent animal. We should find something to eat and enjoy the moment. At the level of our species and planetary survival we need to adopt a longer time span and patiently wait for the population to subside to say ~ 200-300 million (by whatever method) and resolve to never do this again.


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