Political neutrality

We often ponder on the idea of a perfect world.

We wonder what that would look like — glittering visions of the future, flying cars, monorails and world peace. We also wonder how to get there — who to elect, what ideals to uphold, how to shift and evolve our society to a seamless model.

But our humanity makes utopia impossible. The bleak truth is that the most seamless society is the most rigid. The most peaceful world is the most ignorant.

The perfect society is the one without mistake, and therefore, is one without freedom or choice.

One of the most important tools we have as members of communities, nations and societies is that of political action. Especially in our American democracy, we have real power to influence others and sway opinion. 

However, political action is just a tool. Each individual can wield it or let it pass by, claiming political neutrality.

We are not perfect political machines. We are prone to faults and flaws, emotions and ignorance. Though there are certainly circumstances where people shelter under the privilege of political neutrality, it’s also a valid excuse against the wear and tear of modern human life. 

If political action is a weapon to wield for change, then political neutrality is sometimes a necessary shield, especially when the political action that occurs may cause more damage than good.

A common argument about political neutrality — especially on social media platforms — is that the idea is rife with privilege. A quick Google search brings an endless string of articles detailing the same argument. According to these articles, being apolitical is indicative of privilege because people within marginalized groups are political through their very existence. Political neutrality is only available for those whose identity is not political. 

This argument holds a fair amount of validity. People in marginalized groups must withstand the incessant agony of being a talking point or a “token educator,” tasked with the impossible job of being a 24/7 expert. They aren’t placed in a position that honors their complexity and humanity.

Those who aren’t in those marginalized groups should still stay engaged politically. At the surface level of basic civil engagement, we have a duty to be informed and involved. 

However, the issue of how, when and why we decide to speak up is far more nuanced than just a matter of privilege. When we constantly push for every individual to “choose a side,” we get an extreme quantity vs. quality issue in political engagement. 

Let’s think about what truly makes quality political action. One of the purest forms of democratic political action — voting — only comes every two years. Pure political action can be something as simple as recycling or as complex as volunteering time to a campaign. What matters most is that the action’s intention is done freely and without coercion.

But where does the quality fail? Some of the lowest quality, unnecessary engagement occurs over the internet. In the fall, I wrote extensively about performative activism and its detrimental effects on important political issues. That sentiment still applies here. What is often portrayed as political activism online — posting pastel-colored guides on Instagram stories about how to solve gerrymandering in ten pictures or less — does little to add meaningful value to political issues. 

When we encourage this cheap, knockoff political action, it dilutes the opportunity for valuable progress. Instead, we should embrace the idea that until someone feels uniquely and constructively passionate about their political argument, they are allowed to abstain from the conversation. 

Furthermore, if this year has taught us anything, it’s that political burnout is very valid and very real. Life happens, especially when that life is complicated by a seemingly-endless global pandemic. It’s unrealistic for us to push through immense emotional and mental suffering for the sake of politics.

Take a break, if you need it. None of us can be an outspoken, battle cry-howling activist all the time. In a world of oversaturated content, maybe none of us should be.

However, political neutrality is indeed a slippery slope. It allows the weary and uncertain to have mercy from the political battleground, and like all acts of mercy, it can be taken advantage of.

Though political neutrality is necessary to both evolve and recharge, it can also be a limbo to hide in willful ignorance. Using political neutrality to avoid civic engagement does take advantage of inherent privileges and undercuts the entire learning process of politics. 

We are not political prodigies. No matter someone’s qualifications or life experiences, they will never be an expert in the complex web of logic, philosophy and humanity that governs our society. We all learn. We all evolve.

At the same time, we all must try. No amnesty should be given to someone cowering in political neutrality because they prefer it to the harsh reality of outside society. We will learn and evolve our whole lives, but we also must stay in motion.

We are human, and as humans, we prefer the simple. We prefer the yes or no, the for or against, the easy boxes we can throw people into. The argument against political neutrality uses this duality to force the hand of an unwilling political participant — either engage in politics or be a coward.

We have the ability to recognize much more nuance. We can thrive in that gray space, understanding the human emotion and exhaustion that halt political action while still recognizing when the mercy of neutrality is being taken advantage of. 

Our imperfections and flaws are frustrating. They breed division and hatred. But they also breed complexity, diversity and nuance. Even in the decisions we falter on, we progress on shaky, disjointed legs. 

These legs will carry us into the future if we allow them to move freely.

Emma Krab is a sophomore English and journalism major. Reach her at emmakrab@dailynebraskan.com.