Apathy and Agitation

Bias in our justice system is empirically proven. Despite this, courts and legislators have been historically reluctant to change their procedures to mitigate the court’s bias. Social scientists and law officials are aware of racial disparities at various judiciary levels: at police stoppings, court procedures, sentencings, at many level of the judicial system not entirely explainable except by race. Bias should be considered a flaw in the system. The courts contended in a certain Supreme Court case that seems to escape my memory (McGautha vs. California, I believe) that resource constraints prohibited their capacity to pursue bias: If they were to pursue every hint of bias, they would be overwhelmed and would never accomplish anything. However, most typically, incidences of bias are against marginalized groups. Would they have been inactive, grounded themselves judgment over justice, if the bias was reported against the majority group? It correlates with some informational items which circulates claiming whites are less likely to mobilize against systematic bias in the judicial system if they know its targeting blacks, and the amount of financial aid one is willing to give in disaster circumstances depends of the victims. It seriously questions whether individuals in the majority group are unwilling to change their procedures because they aren’t being (negatively) affected by them. The logic of this can be explained through the concept of political apathy.

Apathy toward individuals of different races is political in nature for the opposite reaction, action, would change the current power structure, a power structure the majority group (generally) benefits from. In modern times, covert racism is more important to the perpetuation of racial inequality than overt racism. Action would portray the oppressing class as less worthy of the privileges they enjoy, or be faced with the idea that the individual has prejudiced beliefs, both of which they might find uncomfortable. Ignoring the “social reality of race in a racialized social system” allows its perpetuation in formal governmental institutions.

It seems to narrow it down to apathy by the masses isn’t enough. Individuals are generally reluctant to believe facts against their beliefs, such as that a systematic bias exists in a system glorified as fair and impartial. Bias against facts incongruent with their beliefs, as articulated in a news article by Scientific American written by the research conductor, solidly sums up what seems like one of the biggest problems and conundrum of Americans and our politics, particularly with systematically discriminatory institutions:

“We presented 174 American participants who supported or opposed same-sex marriage with (supposed) scientific facts that supported or disputed their position. When the facts opposed their views, our participants—on both sides of the issue—were more likely to state that same-sex marriage isn’t actually about facts, it’s more a question of moral opinion. But, when the facts were on their side, they more often stated that their opinions were fact-based and much less about morals. In other words, we observed something beyond the denial of particular facts: We observed a denial of the relevance of facts.”

The connection to institutional is almost too clear: When evidence of institutional discrepancies in an individual’s treatment is in favor of the individual’s argument, the individual bolster’s the evidence’s importance; and vice versa. The particular relevance of justifying action or inaction in each situation (the study claims) would be supported using very different reasoning. I would be willing to bet (all of my laundry quarters) this is broadly applicable to a variety of inter (and perhaps less relevantly intra) social group relations.

So (pick and choose as you feel compelled): Do you believe political apathy is a thing, and is/how is it racialized? Are there discernable patterns of fact bias and apathy, or an example you can think of? Do you see a symbiotic relationship in bias against contradictions to one’s beliefs and political apathy? And, more generally, how do you persuade a public unwilling to be persuaded?


2 thoughts on “Apathy and Agitation

  1. In The Racial Contract, Charles Mills argues that we need a truly equal justice that isn’t for “just us” (in this context, meaning those on the top of the heap). I often suspect that political apathy arises not because people don’t actually care, but because the magnitude of things that they feel need to change just seems so overwhelming. Plus, most Americans barely have time to live, much less educate themselves about important political topics and then go out and act on their knowledge. Not to mention, we Americans are in debt up to our eyeballs; from houses that are far bigger than we need, to student debt that is truly epic, to cars that are safe but really expensive. We literally NEED these things to survive, but to obtain them is difficult. So we work longer and harder without vacation time or paid child leave or paid sick time in order to afford the things we need to live our life. It’s easy to see how political apathy is another way of saying we don’t have time to engage in politics, because the thing that actually determines our success in life is not political freedom but economic freedom.

    That said, I am skeptical of these studies that assume being shown data that challenges your beliefs always and automatically causes one to dig in. I think it might disregard the human aspects – reading about how gay marriage is awesome when you are opposed to it is one thing. But meeting someone who wants to marry their partner of however-many-years is another thing. I think we often give ourselves too much credit as rational beings, when perhaps we are more affected by conversations. But having those conversations across lines of political, racial, social, economic differences is becoming, it seems, ever more difficult.


  2. Economics (time, effort, ability) must play a factor. They are large problems with many components. One only has so much time, and these institutions do need expertise and effort to be fixed. It must seem part of the factor; it still feels like bullshit. It seems there are so many actors implicit in the act, and one must see implicit and explicit racial cues. Or, maybe they’re not so easily realized by the majority, and each individual recognizes only a certain set of problems within the system, not all of them, decreasing the consensus. Erg. Heuristics, economics, politics, cognitive limitations.

    I think you’ve raised a good, impassable point for me at this time: It hurts to think about.


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