Six election night questions for Corvid College's apathy expert

Tonight, I watched the election results roll in with my friend Christopher Lee, an Apathy Expert from Boston's radical free school, Corvid College. (Or as he puts it, "a professor in the Department of Whatever.") As disillusioned young people surrounded most of the time largely by other disillusioned young people, one of this fall's most popular topics of conversation was "voting versus non-voting". Over the past few hours, Chris and I discussed his perspective on voting as an apathy enthusiast, whether not-voting equates to apathy, and the election in general.

Hey so, for some context, can you tell us what makes you Corvid College's Apathy Expert?

I guess you could say I care a lot about apathy, probably enough to ironically identify as an 'expert.' Last year, I taught a seminar through Corvid called "Strong Apathy or the Politics of Whatever." Basically, I'm interested in pushing at the idea that apathy is essentially derogatory, which empties it of any descriptive quality. My theory is that there may indeed be good (and highly political) reasons not to care, and to be explicit about not caring. Apathy is not just a resting state-- it actually feels like it's more stigmatizing to not care in some social contexts.

It is Election Day. How are you feeling and why?

Skeptical, anxious, a little hungry. Apart from its being Election Day, I feel this way most of the time. I'm pretty tepid on the whole affair of representational politics, though I've been following some races fairly closely. Mostly I'm disappointed that such a bulk share of political expression is contained to this singular event. Though I have to admit, the spectacle is impressive in a kind of grotesque way.

Did you vote? As an apathy enthusiast, why or why didn't you vote? How do you feel about your vote?

I did vote, though I didn't particularly care for it. I'm an ex-ex-voter. A few years ago, I believed that there were political stakes in identifying as a conscious non-voter, if only to point out that two-party politics institutionalizes reductionist ways of thinking about complex and systematic problems. What's changed is my stance on the personal significance of voting. As Howard Zinn said, "Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens." I'm able to vote as an apathy enthusiast because voting doesn't represent the totality of my political identity. It took me as long to vote as it did to eat lunch.

Have you noticed young people in your community to be feeling apathetic about voting this year? How do you respond when your friends tell you they're not voting? Does it matter?

So long as our electoral system exists as an apparatus of the State, there will (and should) be young and older people who feel apathetic about voting. Many of my friends do not vote because they don't wish to participate in a government that vilifies and inflicts violence on marginalized groups. I think both non-voting and voting matter, but elections have practical consequences for issues like contraceptive access and marijuana reform. Voting is a polarizing issue, and there's a severe way we handle it in the public sphere: for instance, shaming non-voters by accusing them of willingly voiding their political identity. How I explain my stance to my non-voting friends is to advance the possibility that my participation in electoral politics doesn't need to make me complicit in our government-- or at least, any more complicit than I already am as a citizen and resident of this country. My vote isn't an endorsement of this nation's political narrative. My vote isn't me.

Does "not voting" equate to "apathy"?

I don't think so... no more than voting equates to non-apathy. Not voting can be done very fervently, just as voting can be done apathetically. The idea of apathy I'm attempting to advance is an activated indifference, based on an informed recognition that there are certain things we are politically and economically forced to care about: family, future, freedom. Apathy can be an outlet for suspicion about these kinds of supposed shared values.

So . . . . throughout the course of this interview, Barack Obama was re-elected President. How are you feeling?

Okay. I voted third-party, so like, it's whatever.

>> READ MORE: "A study in anarchy: With no campus, accreditation, or heirarchy, Corvid College thrives underground" by Chris Faraone, 8/1/2011
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