I’ve been really impressed and entertained by the weekly episodes of HBO’s show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, where the host, John Oliver (I guess this was obvious), talks during half an hour about seemingly random topics that intend to evoke a debate about important issues (with delightful splashes of humor). Being an American show, it focus mostly on American-related issues, but these naturally become worldwide issues for the impact the US have in the world’s state of affairs. If you’ve never seen an episode, I really recommend you to give it a look.
Now, there was a specific episode (from last year) I saw yesterday which inspired me to write this post, where the host discussed about US surveillance programs in the dawn of an upcoming renewing of the Patriot Act which happened past June 1st of 2015. During that episode, which included a worth-watching witty interview with Edward Snowden, he showed a video where he asked several people in Times Square if they knew who Snowden is and, for my astonishment, most of them had no idea who he was or gave inaccurate responses about him. It’s true that here in Europe (by the way I’m Portuguese) we kind of stereotype Americans for being unaware or uninterested of pretty much everything that concerns foreign issues and for being self-centered and consumerists, but damn (!), domestic mass surveillance is an issue that should concern every single American that values its privacy and Snowden was the CIA whistleblower that brought the discussion to mainstream debate (or so I thought).
Well, so I decided to do my own Internet research to understand why was that…
In my opinion, there are 2 main reasons why Americans aren’t mindful about the situation of mass surveillance and why they don’t know anything about a man named Edward Snowden. And from those who actually do, why does a great percentage of them feel hatred towards him:
- A huge chunk of the American population is, by conscious choice, remarkably disengaged of virtually all political matters. The apathy is stunning since 40-50% of the public allowed to vote decide not to participate on the elections and 60% don’t vote in midterm elections (percentages vary depending on the election year of course).
- The US media plays an important and dynamic role on framing American’s perspective about domestic and foreign issues, as seen, for instance, on the astonishing delusional belief of the US adult population, up to 70%, about Saddam Hussein’s direct involvement on 9/11. This clearly indicates an active propaganda engagement of mainstream media to deceive Americans into believing false facts for dubious purposes (we all know what happened in Iraq).
Relatively to the media’s information bias and censorship on the particular case of surveillance discussion, here is a pretty elucidative link presented by John Oliver which is as much disturbing as it is hilarious:
Circling back to Snowden again, a poll demonstrated that out of the 2/3 of Americans who were aware of him, only 36% supported him and a few 8% had a positive opinion of him. On the other hand, in Europe, its popularity is dramatically higher. For example in Germany, 95% of the population have heard about him and 84% supported him. These numbers can easily be correlated with the successful American media propaganda campaign against Snowden. Nonetheless, it seems like its popularity increases among the younger adult US population, where 56% of the Millennials support him, meanwhile in Europe, it goes up to 86%. This can be explained by the different and diversified sources of information that this younger generation have access to through the Internet, providing them with a more informed opinion, and their own concern about political and organizational transparency.
Nonetheless, this generation of adults with ages comprehended between 18 and 30 are the less participative in the political debate in America and this fact might be a big reason why important political changes with a positive impact in American society and around the world aren’t being made. We even risk facing the terrible consequences of such abstinence and let the uninformed and ignorant be the only voice (just look at the picture being unfolded by the ongoing 2016 US presidential elections). But maybe Millennials have their own reasons for being apathetic. They can hardly remember a time when jobs were abundant or Washington wasn’t under a political stalemate. Most of them still live at their parents’ house and many have overwhelming student debts. And the main reason why they probably won’t vote is because the politicians and their politics don’t serve their interests, but, conversely, politicians don’t address their interests because they don’t vote…
Can you imagine if this highly informed, literate and heterogeneous population with a growing global consciousness would become active at reforming their political environment? Imagine if voter turnout among Millennials were 75% instead of 25%; wouldn’t politicians be obliged to update their priority lists?
Of course that this is easier said than done. Look at the waves of hope when president Obama was elected, that were imidietely broken before hiting the shore when all the expectations weren’t met and promises left behind. Many felt burned and hopeless about politics and decided to turn their back.
But these apparently disenchanted generation is the exact same group that, for instance, doubled the rate of volunteering in the US during the last decades. Their community values and commitment to make life around them better would be of unmeasurable importance, and a new political mindset would be able to flourish if those core values would be extended to a more national-wide and impactful movement. More Snowdens would be heard and not prosecuted, more open information would be shared and not muzzled and more decisions would be made for the sake of the whole and not of the few.
Millennials, what are you waiting for?