In Defense of Apathy

Column by new Root Striker R.K. Blacksher.
Exclusive to STR
Apathy is one of the most commonly derided dispositions that an individual can possess. We are constantly inundated with pleas to “get involved” by friends, colleagues, teachers, politicians, and pundits. These pleas come from people of all political persuasions: liberals, conservatives, moderates, greens, socialists, and libertarians. Are there any compelling reasons to engage in political activism? Does political activism ever produce desirable results? Are the people who are entirely apathetic about politics more rational than the people who spend large portions of their lives attending rallies, watching cable news, and writing letters to their representatives?
Now, it might make sense for a conservative or a liberal or a socialist to engage in political activism. People who subscribe to these ideologies do not object to state violence. They only want the violence to be directed at people other than themselves. From the point of view of conservatives and liberals, therefore, it might seem sensible to encourage agents of the state to point their guns at other people. I cannot, however, think of a single persuasive reason for a libertarian or an anarchist to engage in political activism. Political activism rarely produces libertarian victories, and the victories are always short-lived on the rare occasions when they do occur.
When I disparage political activism, I am not, of course, disparaging civil disobedience. There is indeed a compelling case to be made for civil disobedience. What I am criticizing is the naïve belief that it is possible to reform the state by “getting involved” in the political process and electing “better people.” The protestors in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have succeeded precisely because they have rejected the standard advice of political activists. If the Egyptians had followed the prescriptions of political activists, they would have written letters to Hosni Mubarak kindly requesting that he reduce the number of torture chambers.
I think it is worth questioning the motives of those individuals who incessantly prattle on about “civic duty” and the need to “get involved.” As Hans-Hermann Hoppe has argued, one advantage of a monarchy is that it provides a very clear distinction between the ruler and the oppressed. Subjects of a monarch never suffered under the delusion that they were the government. In a democracy, by contrast, state propagandists put a great deal of effort into ensuring that the distinction becomes nebulous and difficult to discern. By encouraging others to “get involved,” advocates of political activism are only further blurring the distinction between the ruling class and the oppressed. When people cease to recognize a distinction between themselves and the state, they become incapable of seeing the shackles that keep them in bondage.
So political activism, then, is not only useless, it can be positively destructive. Political activism is, at its core, a prisoner helping to build his own cage.
I find it profoundly perverse to deride the people who do not care to waste what little free time they have engaging in useless and destructive activism aimed at changing the nature of an inherently corrupt and violent institution. We should not fault people who, after working all day and having half of their income stolen by the government, decide that they would rather spend their free time drinking beer and watching football than organizing rallies and writing letters to their representatives.
I would, of course, prefer it if people would spend some of their free time reading websites like Strike The Root and engaging in civil disobedience. But the people who choose to remain rationally ignorant should not be the main targets of our scorn. We should instead direct our scorn at the people who nag us about “getting involved” and voting. They are voluntarily engaging in pro bono propaganda for the state.
So I would like to say a word in defense of the apathetic people who spend their free time watching “American Idol,” playing video games, and drinking beer. They are certainly behaving far more sensibly than the self-proclaimed advocates of liberty who believe they can free the world by participating in a violent, rapacious, and destructive system. Ignoring the state is perhaps the best way to destroy it.

Your rating: None Average: 7.3 (4 votes)
R. K. Blacksher's picture
Columns on STR: 9

R. K. Blacksher is a writer and musician. He maintains a blog at


Mark Davis's picture

Well done. Apathy is often underrated as an allie of anarchists. They surely don't hurt anybody else.

A Liberal in Lakeview's picture

The author confounds political apathy with political inactivism as becomes clear during the transition to activism in the 2nd paragraph. In fact the root of "apathy" appears only four times, counting the title. Not what'd I'd expect from an essay titled "In Defense of Apathy". But there's a world of difference between apathy and inactivism, as the author nevertheless suggested, and the contrast between the title and the advocacy for inactivism in the body of the essay isn't humorous.

"What I am criticizing", he wrote, "is the naïve belief that it is possible to reform the state by 'getting involved' in the political process and electing 'better people.'" Well, there's no ground for objection to that. Even if there weren't centuries of experience to entail the criticism, we would have theoretical objections to statism that can yield the same conclusion. (Granted, the statists would plug their ears under such circumstances.) Yet this essay purports to be against caring.

He also wrote that "I would, of course, prefer it if people would spend some of their free time reading websites like Strike The Root and engaging in civil disobedience." I, too, but why prefer that they have any emotional or cognitive interest in STR, FEE, LvMI, LRC,, etc.? Remember, the author is defending apathy, or so the title asserts.

How to fix? A few suggestions:

(1) The essay should have been titled In Defense of Inactivism. Coldhearted review and criticism by an editor might have produced just that little tweak, and the provocativeness might attract more attention from the goo-goos.

(2) Give a concise defintion of apathy. The topic belongs in the essay in spite of the fact that discouraging activism is the goal. Inactivism is good; apathy is bad, esp. when almost everyone is apathetic or statist.

(3) The apathetic person who is having a beer is exactly the person to engage, for that person has probably the intuition, or more, that there's nothing you can do to make government good. Indeed, fat, dumb, and happy ought not be scorned merely for being uninterested. However, if his rational ignorance, so called, is rooted in deliberate connivance, as when turning a blind eye to the fact that most team sports are reliant upon statism, then a pox be upon him. An outstanding example is that new stadium in which the recent Superbowl was played. Sure enough, immediately before the game there was not only an orgy of nationalism but also cheeleading for the cult of service. Now, when has it ever been true that sports fans tend to be neither quick to rationalize subsidizing their favorite team's stadium nor unsympathetic to nationalism?

(4) Delete the last sentence, "Ignoring the state is perhaps the best way to destroy it." It's utterly implausible to suppose that a person is going to disdain submission to statists without first having an interest in what the statists, esp. their leaders, are doing. Yet refusal to submit is necessary to neutralize statism, and to have the required interest is to be not apathetic. In fact, if no statists were now acting in concert with one another, would you expect that your ignorance of their plans would hamper them? Furthermore, ignoring the state is no better way to disperse statists than it is to disperse a gang of punks in a bad part of town who invariably tend to look for opportunities in other people's neighborhoods, as I have learned while living in both Detroit and Chicago. Punks are emboldened when people turns a blind eye, and the statist punk is no different in this respect.

(5) Neglect not the fact you are trying to destroy a culture and way of life that is at least a few hundred years old. Worse, it's been comingled with three, popular theocratic cults, each of which is statist and each of which is more than a thousand years old. One of these cults may be as much as 3,000 years old. And then there's Plato, not to mention naive reverence for ancient Rome, for Cicero, and so on. Need I mention relativism, subjectivism, and postmodernism, too? Like it or not, what's needed are vigorous, beneficial new plants that can both crowd out these noxious weeds and resist colonization by any similar plant. Aversion to acknowledging this fact often gets anarchists whining, but their whining won't eradicate carpets of weeds.

Other opportunities for improvements should start to leap off the page, and once fixed, we'll have ourselves a nice little introduction to antistatism fit for any beginner, even a small child just learning to read.

Mark Davis's picture

Liberal in LA, It sounds like you need to write your own article as opposed to criticizing what appears to be a purposely simple and straightforward essay. The opening paragraph clearly set up what he wanted to express and the questions he wanted to answer:

"Does political activism ever produce desirable results? Are the people who are entirely apathetic about politics more rational than the people who spend large portions of their lives attending rallies, watching cable news, and writing letters to their representatives?"

I also thought Mr. Blacksher clearly answered no and no. I too prefer the bubba at the sports bar and the airhead watching American Idol who could care less about politicians and voting to the uber-activist, in your face, get out the vote statist any day. Simple point to get. By the way, these apathetic people by definition do not want to be engaged.

As for the line "Ignoring the state is perhaps the best way to destroy it." Isn't ignoring someone the same as "refusal to submit"? It reminds me of Étienne de La Boétie when he said:

"Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces."

You obviously have well thought out positions and are a good writer. I look forward to reading one of your articles in the near future.

dogismyth's picture

Thank you for this post. I would mostly agree that doing nothing, i.e., ignoring, is one of the better solutions when dealing with this government. Of course, at some point in time, we will have to deal with the government, or certainly those hidden by the veil. This is inevitable since a world run by a fascist regime and appointed dictators will continue on without revolt from the people.

People like L in LA do not like simple approaches or simple words that all can understand. We live in an egotistical society especially in America. I am better than you, and you are better than someone else...but not me! Political activism deals with the same thing...egotism. Political activism is largely constructed around issues that really are non-issues, thus the objective of activism leads to further dividing of people against a single heroic cause. One such cause might be holding the US government and its official (past and present) accountable for the illegal and contrived war upon Iraq whereupon millions of innocent lives have been destroyed. Its all fact now. There is no debate because such a debate would be exceptionally convincing that illegalities and crimes against humanity were committed. But, nevertheless, nothing happens. Why?

Because it's not that simple! Well....that's what they want you to believe! And so the bombardment of propaganda, lies, fraud, treasonous behavior and cover-ups ensue so that enough folks can be convinced otherwise, or at the very least to confuse them. That's living in a complicated world. FYI - The world is not complicated! It's really very simple and prone to pragmatic solutions.

The moral majority is still a minority. Until that changes, nothing changes. When your life changes, then your thought processes change also. And you begin to formulate more progessive beliefs about yourself, your life and humanity. Unfortunately, we need many more to experience a change in their life. And the change will not likely be welcomed but it will be through-provoking. And that's good. Because people need to re-think a whole lot of things about what has happen to our world and why it is this way.

Civil disobediance is one outlet for letting off steam....for letting those in power know that you have changed your mind. It is a way of saying..."I stand for other things". It is a way of getting attention, and a way to instill fear into those that have done wrong on such a maniacal level. Anger is better than apathy. I know that all too well. Anger is energy. Fear is also energy. Both are better than apathy because of one simple thing....motivation.