Leah HyslopIf the twentieth century can be described as an age which saw the flourishing of political extremism, the twenty-first is one which suffers under a far more subtle and insidious vice. Political apathy, far worse than foot or mouth disease or bird flu, is the virus infecting Europe today, and its hold – particularly on the younger generations – seems increasingly strong. In 2005, it was rumoured that more people had voted in the finale of Big Brother than in the general election, and the type of political activism which characterised student life a few generations ago seems today a thing of the past. The reasons that lie behind the waves of indifference currently assaulting our generation are hard to discern. Existing as we do in a wealthy and long-established democracy where the divide between Labour and Conservative is increasingly small, the temptation to adopt a ‘sit back and watch’ attitude can certainly seem enticing. In a country that has only had universal suffrage since 1921, however, the idea of rejecting a political involvement which countries such as Burma are still fighting to achieve is a sign of a worrying lack of social responsibility. Democracy, simply defined, means ‘rule by the people’; to ignore one’s right to vote is to waste our only real chance to contribute to the way in which our country is run. Not so much sitting on the fence as openly avoiding the fields it divides, political apathy is a far more dangerous vice than it may at first seem. It acts essentially as the prop which opens the door for political extremists to sidle their way into power.The development of an interest in political affairs is a necessary part of the transition from childhood to adulthood. Deciding where one’s political sympathies lie is a formative process which shapes the person one grows up to be, and encourages an interest in the bigger issues which affect not only you, but the people around you. To remain politically apathetic is to remain in a state of perpetual childhood, enjoying the lack of responsibility such an attitude provides, yet never able to fully contribute to the wider world. Easy it might be and fashionable it might be – but the next time an opportunity to vote comes up, bear it in mind that it could be more rewarding to contribute your ballot to the Commons, and not to the Big Brother house. Jack Marley-Payne Promoting political apathy is likely to kick up a pretty impressive storm of indignation, so I better begin with a few concessions: politics is certainly very important and greatly affects everyone. Without politically active people, the country would be in chaos. They are, of course, providing an essential service. But, as with waste disposal, it is one to which I do not wish to contribute.The whole thing seems horribly pragmatic – politicians basically have to pick the best from a bad bunch of options, relying on inconclusive evidence and rushed reasoning and then arguing their case using rhetoric and carefully selected statistics. Now I do not resent or wish to change this procedure; I accept that this is the way things have to be done as actions have to be made and endless research and contemplation is not an option. However, it is a discipline I have neither the stomach nor the aptitude for, and many share my disposition.As if that wasn’t enough, one also has to take into account the company. As a rule, politicians seem to me to be boring and annoying. Consider for a minute the cool kids who run the political parties here at Oxford. If the sickening necessity for networking and everything else that goes along with the union elections isn’t the perfect advertisement for political apathy, I don’t know what is.Politicians also seem to be standing for the same things so it’s very difficult to decide whom to vote for. While David Cameron is emphasising his more liberal side, Gordon Brown is having tea with Margaret Thatcher! If everyone’s policies are similar, what’s the point in voting for one candidate over another? Obviously I will have the occasional rant when a particular policy strikes me as truly wrong and I probably will turn out for the odd election to vote for whoever seems the least bad option. I don’t think, though, I would be capable of improving the state of the world greatly if I did apply my energies to making a political impact. And, to be honest, life would be quite stressful if too many people were forcing their opinions upon you. Being politically opinionated for the sake of it is the duty of dinner party guests and friends’ parents when they used to give you lifts. It seems only reasonable to allow those of us who so desire to opt out of caring.