Apathy rules?

Are we too dumb for democracy, or just too distracted? One member of Salon's reader community, Table Talk, weighs in this week.


Salon Staff
September 21, 2007 10:01PM (UTC)

Politics

Too Dumb for Democracy?

Ron Legro - 01:02 pm Pacific Time - Sep 16, 2007 - #8 of 28

Not too stupid, no. Too uninformed? Yeah. Too arrogant in the belief that we are well-informed? Probably. Too lazy? Yeah, but mainly only because our labor system demands so much of us at work, leaving very little mental energy left for our private and civic lives.

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I don't think America is, as yet, quite the society envisioned in C.M. Kornbluth's 1950s genetic dystopia in his short story "The Marching Morons." But I do think we have, thanks largely to television and other information shortcuts, arrived at the Spectator Democracy.

People like to think they're involved, even when they "forget" or are "too busy" to vote, and then, when they do vote, have no clue about the people on the ballot. Or at best they possess misapprehended clues based on telegenics, and the short-course journalism and sound-bite society delivered by TV news and encouraged by the political parties and by business advertisers alike.

Important: It is in the interests of the sellers of an idea to fuzz it up as much as possible in order to make it appeal to as many as possible. Simplicity beats complexity, even when so-called common sense isn't common or sensible. Thus, you vote for the dude you THINK you'd like to have a beer with. However, most of the people with whom I share a beer would, like me, make TERRIBLE public officials (maybe not as terrible as Bush, but bad all the same).

There is just no substitute for town meetings, civics courses, bowling leagues and back-fence conversations with your neighbors -- aided and abetted by actual reading of substantive public affairs writings and volunteer experience in the field. Even college-educated friends of mine who are quite intelligent will readily admit that they are so exhausted when they arrive home that they seldom surf political sites on the web, read Harper's or the Nation or some other political journal and are loath to even pay close attention to the content of short-form political ads. They rely, consequently, and like our president, more and more on their oh-so fallible instincts.

Without informed, engaged citizens, before we even get to a "stupid democracy," we arrive at (and we're close to this now) a FAUX democracy . That's one run by an educated elite who are all too happy to keep on dumbing the rest of us down, and discounting our informed opinions even when we do have them.

Best of Table Talk is an ongoing feature of Salon's vibrant community forum. Older posts of the week may be found in TT. Want to join the discussion? Sign up here.

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