Sunday, May 2, 2010

Political Participation and Shyness

I am not shy. A shock I'm sure. It is often hard for me as an avid political commentator, blogger, and political science major to realize that there are people, my fellow citizens, who choose not to pontificate their opinions and ideologies on others. I make a hobby out of it frankly. A bad habit perhaps, yet I understand that it is essential to democratic governance that everyone participate on one level or another. I don't have to be as loud or zealous as I am, yet it's a part of who I am. I am not inclined to hide it. For those that do, there are compelling psychological factors at play. Many people feel inclined not to participate thus take part in a process of self censorship. This censorship, like other forms, prohibit voices to be heard. In the article, "Nonparticipation as Self-Censorship: Publicly Observable Political Activity in a Polarized Opinion Climate" by Andrew Hays & Michael E. Hugo of Ohio State University with Dietram A. Scheufele from the University of Wisconsin published September 2006 in Political Behavior this phenomenon of self-censorship is examined. It is found in the article that social fears have an detrimental impact on the body politic. Self-censorship is too vast and must be discouraged. Civility and tolerance need to make a comeback.

In this polarized climate, many of my fellow Americans feel that public forms of political participation are susceptible to public scrutiny or social ostracism. Such activities, including a campaign sign in their yard, engaging in political discourse, and volunteering for a campaign, require some form of 'publicness' since they are observable by one's peers. Even a financial contribution to a campaign can be searched on the FEC website. Meaning that seemingly private political activities can be observed. Politics have become more divisive and the fear that political activity will be scrutinized by one's peers and neighbors has forced many people to censor themselves through nonparticipation.

I can understand the fear to express one's views having many uncomfortable conversations on politics myself. As a politically active student at St. Olaf campus, I know there have been numerous complaints of how I have handled such conversations (a fault I have attempted to correct) and that the progressive atmosphere of Northfield discourage many students from coming out as conservatives.

Now it must be considered that there are those who are just naturally predisposed to be shy and are not inclined to participate in politics publicly. Moreover, there are citizens who feel that they are not informed enough to participate effectively or are under the incorrect assumption that their opinion or input cannot change politics or policy. Regardless of the exact reason and predisposition, too much self-censorship or embarrassment in regards to one's political opinion leaves our civil society to zealous partisans or even extremists. Policy and elections will be controlled by those at the ends of the political spectrums. This leaves too many legitimate concerns and voices lost in the shuffle. This is the tragedy of too much silence in our democratic life. The incivility that leads to self-censorship helps no one. Speak up. Do not be ashamed of what you believe.

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