The people who put together the political system that the United States is based on did a pretty dern good job of it. Sure, it would have been swell if they had inserted some details on how to modify certain aspects of the system once computers, the internet, and Big Data came along, but I wouldn’t sentence them to purgatory for missing that.
However, there’s an important bit that many of us seem to have forgotten … or never quite understood … or thought wasn’t worth incorporating into our lives. That’s the point that we have to be engaged, and underlying that engagement is the critical foundation of being well informed. (After all, what’s the help in engaging if you’re engaging based on information from liars or very incomplete sources?)
There’s a limit to how much we can each do to stay informed and engaged in politics (without sacrificing basic necessities of life, family time, relaxation, Pokémon Go, etc.), but I think it’s safe to say that we (the population at large) don’t try hard enough, don’t learn enough, don’t help others learn enough, and simply end up under-equipped to advance a healthy society.
So, what happens? The steering wheel of society is left in the hands of those who do engage, and who influence broader political opinions and decisions. Some of those people may be in politics (or societal persuasion) because they genuinely want to help society as a whole as much as possible. However, I think it would surprise no one to find out that many of these people are in it out of some form of greed and addiction to power.
This year’s presidential election is turning out to be a wakeup call for many of us — well, one can hope. In actuality, for those of us who have been paying much attention, shit got crazy years ago, or even decades ago if you had great foresight. Tea Party extremists have been elected on the premise that government is horrible, and they have proceeded to prove their point by using their power at the top of the government to shut the government down, to block solutions to a wrecked and then slowly recovering economy, to fight regulations that protect the population from corporate abuse and early death, and to waste months and months (and who knows how much taxpayer money) on pointless witch hunts and smear campaigns.
Cooperation across aisles in politics is an ideal critical to our society, and the extreme wing of the GOP has become so powerful that it has been able to kick that ideal into a garbage can and occasionally dump it into an even bigger garbage truck to take to the landfill. Cooperation and compromise are portrayed as treason, backstabbing, weakness, betrayal, etc. And the result is that it has become very hard for the rest of Congress (Democrats and moderate Republicans) to make progress on just about any issue, and then pick the country up from a recession that slammed the United States of America at the end of the Bush administration.
We have allowed this, and this extremist wing has remained powerful or even grown more powerful in the process. The result at this point is that a narrowly focused billionaire has swept in and made absurd claim after absurd claim, yet grabbed the nomination of the “Grand Old Party.” Does he have some valid points? Of course! But he has stretched or shattered the truth in surprisingly absurd ways, has stimulated a dangerously hateful and aggressive “style” of debate, has proposed ridiculous policy moves (among other ridiculous things), and much of the country (and world) is on edge about the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency.
It’s easy to blame this only on extremists, narrow-mindedness, racism, etc., but the fact is — we’ve enabled it. We don’t often enough, convincingly enough, or broadly enough share critical facts regarding…
- global warming
- the economy
- clean energy
- clean transport
- social safety nets
- foreign policy
On other sides of the political Rubik’s Cube, of course, there are people who feel convinced that certain (or all) conventional politicians are the worst people in society, that Hillary Clinton would be the worst president in US history, that Bernie Sanders and far-left politicians and activists are a threat to society, that libertarianism is the answer, etc. If you fall on one of those sides of the Rubik’s Cube, of course, the prescription is the same — engage with others, debate logic and assumptions, and convince more people that your viewpoint is correct. If you cannot convince people through logic and persuasion, something must be lacking. If you resort to attacks and fall victim to anger, some degree of understanding is certainly lacking. Yelling at someone seldom convinces them of something they didn’t believe before.
If the oceans’ tides come in and out, in part, because of the moon, there must be a way to explain that and convince others. If you give up at the first or second attempt, because someone doesn’t have your depth of knowledge or certain skills in abstract thought, try another time, and another, and another…. Again, if your point isn’t getting across, something is lacking (naturally, in many cases, the results cannot come from one discussion, but valid points can build up over time to help bring about positive change).
Explaining the tides may not be critical to society, but a functional political system “for the people” has a pretty big influence on us. Working to obtain useful information, sharing it, and explaining the more difficult and important bits to colleagues who have spent less time, effort, or thought on the matters are all important components of progress in a democratic society….
I know it’s self-serving to ask you to share good stories more (directly or indirectly), but the fact is, I’m in this career because of what I think it offers society; because I think useful, correct information about important matters in the right context and framing is critical to a healthy society; and because I think the mainstream media is woefully inadequate for this. (And, to be honest, I got lucky and fell or even got pushed into this career.)
If you see important information that the broader population should read in order for our society to function well, please, share it.
If you are short on information on an important topic, please, look it up … and then share it.
If you think some important points are missing from a discussion, join in and add them.
If you are inspired to action by a piece of work, please, help inspire others — in your own way, or by sharing that piece of work.
If you are turned off by politics because of its dysfunction and corruption, perhaps that is a signal to get more involved in order to shift politics toward a stage of society that is controlled more by the people who want to help society, who want to help the world.
I haven’t tried it (so haven’t gotten the chance to get addicted to it), and I don’t want to offend anyone who is enjoying Pokémon Go as part of their recreation time, but hey, maybe there’s a chance we should be spending more of our societal free time on the progression of society and policy rather than on obsessive, superficial entertainment. Overall, I think we’ll get what we deserve based on what we put into our political system. If we put in less and less, we’re likely to get back less and less….
No one ever said, “All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”
Oh, wait, Noam Chomsky said that….
Here’s another good one, from Christian D. Larson: “To keep any great nation up to a high standard of civilization there must be enough superior characters to hold the balance of power, but the very moment the balance of power gets into the hands of second-rate men and women, a decline of that nation is inevitable.”
In the end, we vote, and we put people into office to run critical aspects of our society. But that is just the end. There is much that goes into the story before the final chapter. If we aren’t helping to write the story, who is? If we don’t have the most powerful, persuasive, and memorable lines, who does?…