Posted by: Michael George Daniel | October 8, 2008

Let’s Debate!

I was able to watch the second presidential debate for a short while last night, succumbing in under an hour to a rising sense of sadness, frustration and fear. It is, indeed, so sad that many people in the country were watching this episode and taking it in as if there was any real discourse about what is happening in the world today. There wasn’t.

It was, in fact, the same rehashed story line that we have been seeing and hearing for decades. There was no service of the truth, nor was there any courage. McPalin seems to be disconnected from reality. Obiden mindlessly went through his routine of lowering his voice and speaking in an inspirational tone about his opponents record, or lack thereof, and how, after Getting The Economy Back On Track, he would solve the energy crisis through Energy Independence. This of course is a subtle way of denying the depletion of energy resources and the ongoing role of our conditioned belief that our survival and prosperity depends on relentless economic expansion – by going Patriotic. I’m not sure McPalin can help himself, he has been asleep for too long. But Obiden, perhaps, should be ashamed of himself. He is aware of his own lack of courage and how much he didn’t tell us last night. An opportunity to step into a the role of a true leader rolled right by the Democratic candidate. Getting The Economy Back On Track and Energy Independence are distractions from the real world opportunity to evolve civilization toward an egalitarian relationship with the earth.

We heard contrived questions that framed our existence inside of policies addressing energy, health care and entitlements. Or maybe there was some talk about the war and foreign policy – I went to bed and actually finished reading Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul before they got around to this topic.

Equally saddening and laughable is the media’s reactions to the drivel being spouted. Tom Brokaw, after asking a question that limits our American (human?) possibilities to the legislative records of the two candidates, nodded in mock seriousness as if he couldn’t have predicted every word that was said. Later on the networks would spend literal hours agreeing that it was a good debate.

It was an awful debate. Never before was it so clear that the candidates were parroting sound bites that don’t even come close to addressing real issues. They do this because they won’t be elected if they speak truthfully – if they even know what is going on. Neither candidate showed the least grasp of the economic melt down and its ultimate roots in resource depletion, peak oil, environmental degradation, mass species extinction, global warming/climate change and, yes, human over-population. Did I mention the flawed cornerstone of prosperity through never-ending economic growth, the perversion of Adam Smith’s principles of economic justice or, simply, the projection of our violent shadows to compensate for our spiritual disconnection and loss of soul?

Why is it that we are not even given the courtesy of acknowledging that we are not electing personalities here, but outdated and myopic party ideologies? Despite the impossibly framed questions, Obama had plenty of chances to answer the heartfelt pleading of the audience participants by letting us know that he represents an idealogy that is at least marginally open and capable of progressive policies instead of the current and promised Republican denial of the realities of the world. That at least, ideologically, there might be some hope resulting from the election of a Democrat.

But no, instead we are treated to rhetoric by both the candidates and the pundits that suggests we are electing an individual upon whom our future rests and that his job is to Get The Economy Back On Track. Before we can address any of the other problems facing us all (as humans), we need to Get The Economy Back On Track. Even though the economy is the fundamental source of these problems, the message last night was that our very survival depends on Getting The Economy Back On Track. Moreover, this is a fight in which, at least to people like McPalin, we must remain tough and through which we must prevail. Both men, and both parties, continue to frame our existence in the context of global competitiveness and economic expansion. Neither offered even a glimpse into the more evolved view of a collaborative, ecological world – the one that we are hurling toward at unprecedented speeds – whether they or anyone else likes it or not.

McPalin and Obiden – these men do not represent original thinking, they parrot party platforms and answers. They avoid the truth in order to get elected and then become sidetracked in service to the system. Yet it is the system that is the problem. There were no solutions even remotely visable during last night’s debate – or at least the little bit I was able to stomach.

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Responses

  1. After watching these debates I wonder if American’s would turn off Dancing with the Stars long enough to tune into Lincoln debating Douglas, or perhaps become enthralled with the oratory genius of Clay and Calhoun as the hammer out the Missouri Compromise. Would we be willing to watch a reality show that took place in Philadelphia over 232 years ago? There, some of the most brilliant thinking in the history of man was put to paper.

    The fact that less than half the eligible voters actually do exercise their precious right and a rather large portion of those cast votes to parties he/she inherited from their parents with little or no knowledge of the candidates or issues volumes of the American voter.
    Surveys show that 70 per cent of American adults do not know that Congress recently passed a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens, even though the new law – projected to cost US$500 billion over the next 10 years – is probably the most significant domestic legislation passed during the Bush administration. More than 60 per cent do not know that President George W. Bush’s term has seen a massive increase in domestic spending that added greatly to the budget deficit. Three-quarters admit that they know little or nothing about the Patriot Act. Fully 45 per cent believe that Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
    However sad those results may be, they are not surprising. Decades of research show that most citizens know very little about politics and public policy. Ignorance goes beyond a lack of awareness of specific issues. Even more alarming is that most people lack basic knowledge about political leaders and the structure of government.
    It is tempting to conclude that voters must be lazy or stupid. But even a smart and hardworking person can rationally decide not to pay much attention to politics. No matter how well-informed a person is, his or her vote has only a tiny chance of affecting the outcome of an election. Since that vote is almost certain not to be decisive, even a citizen who cares greatly about the outcome has almost no incentive to acquire sufficient knowledge to make an informed choice.
    Acquiring significant amounts of political knowledge to be a more informed voter is, in most situations, simply irrational. But the rational decisions of individuals create a dysfunctional collective outcome in which the majority of the electorate is dangerously ill-informed.
    If political ignorance is rational, there are limits to our ability to reduce it by reforming the education system or by improving media coverage of politics. With the rise of the internet and 24-hour news channels, political knowledge is readily available to those willing to take the time and effort to find it. The problem is not that the truth is not out there, it is that most do not bother to seek it out.
    Even if the majority of voters were willing to pay more attention to politics, that still might not be enough to cope with the complexities of modern government, at a time when government spending accounts for one-third of the gross domestic product, and regulations affect nearly all aspects of life.
    The problem of political ignorance is not going to be solved soon. But it may be possible to ensure that more people possess at least basic political knowledge. As we take leave of the “America Century” and enter the Century of the Developing World we should perhaps consider the possibility that a government with fewer functions might be easier for voters to understand and control.

  2. This is a particularly powerful idea: ‘Acquiring significant amounts of political knowledge to be a more informed voter is, in most situations, simply irrational.’ Thank you for posting it. It frames the catch-22 of the current times, a characteristic of dilemmas that we need to accept.

    I’m surprised by the figure of 1/3 the GDP being government spending. Talk about levitating ourselves by pulling on our boot straps! Your comments remind me of my own truth: remove energy from these dysfunctional systems. Trying to change them – ‘The problem of political ignorance is not going to be solved soon…’ Trying to ‘solve’ this problem just feeds it energy. The federal government is going to struggle to maintain its relevancy. Unfortunately, this will result in even more violence in service of the status quo. But the hope is in this statement, so refreshing: “The problem is not that the truth is not out there, it is that most do not bother to seek it out.” Indeed, the time has come that service of the truth will take on an unprecedented role. Moreover, we can applaud Barrack Obama for restoring our imaginations through his dedication to ideals.


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