Elections and the Promise of Democracy

Each year at election time we’re reminded several things about the nature of life in a Democracy. For some, a wide range of emotions accompanies elections. These emotions run the gamut from sheer elation if their political side wins, to dismay at the imperfect nature of politics if one’s on the losing side of the political equation. However, no matter the variety of emotions that hit us at election time, it’s clear that for all its faults, Democracy is the best political system. A quick glance at life in a totalitarian regime can give proof to that.

Democracy’s strength lay in how it allows for a filtering of ideas from several levels of society. And yes, although Democracy is often diluted by special interests, it needs to be noted that some special interests actually represent issues important to us all.

Since America’s form of government is technically known as a Constitutional Republic, there’s debate as to whether one should refer to it as a Democracy. As a compromise, some call it a Representative Democracy. After all, as voters we elect representatives to do a majority of legislative decision-making. In a true Democracy, voter referendums may be more common and simple majorities could determine many more aspects of modern life.

In modern America, the political process has changed much the past twenty years. Due to proliferation of new media and a consolidation of existing media outlets, a much different mindset exists now. On many issues media and political elites now aggressively use their skill and savvy to rally the masses to perceived victories. Although this aspect of populism has been with America from the days of William Jennings Bryan in the late 1800’s, the skill, power, and sheer repetition of today’s media arena has heightened political intensity.

Obviously, the advent of the quick-hitting verbosity of social media can give modern politics a more intense feel than in the past. When the bullet point mindset of social media is applied to today’s complex political issues, emotional reactions can erupt due to the fact issues are often shorn of their complexity. Also, by using closed-ended bullet point language that talks sometimes of absolute defeat of political foes, modern day political operatives and politicians may be giving rise to an all or nothing dogma that used to be mostly the province of monarchies and totalitarian regimes.

In line with this, it’s been recently noted by many that the ability to civilly “agree to disagree” is being lost in America. Since many individuals and political operatives now perceive political stakes to be so high, there’s a strong sense of activism on many levels that encourages intense loyalty and at times retribution for things that used to be allowed to slide in the past. Some feel this type of activism is leading us away from reasoned debate and more into a react first, and think later, mindset. As result, a new kind of political segregation is arising in America. This newer trend seems to be resulting in fewer marriages and friendships between opposite political ideologies.

As most of us know, countless issues of modern life are now incredibly complex and defy categorization as a bullet point. In a world that runs the gamut from complex economics, to high level scientific-technological issues, to the ever-growing legalisms evident today, it’s clear that using bullet point explanations with some issues may be taking the easy way out.

Seemingly lost in today’s political-media frenzy is the sense that government sometimes functions best when a compromise is struck between opposite interests. Although political deals are often struck these days, most political operatives and politicians are afraid to explain the reasoning behind their deal making to the public at large. Therefore, since many voters perceive a lack of sincerity, the tag of RINO-Republican in name only, or DINO-Democrat in name only, is attached to a politician who refuses to explain their motives to the electorate.

Unfortunately, diluting political issues to bullet points and embracing a more emotional approach to governing can potentially contradict the checks and balances our Founding Fathers had in mind. This is the situation America faces today.

To counteract the emotionalism of today’s politics, one can look at what it was like to live in pre-Democracy times before the 1700’s. Although Democracy had been tried for a while in ancient Greece and Rome, it didn’t become a standard for governments until the 1800’s. If one goes back to reading what life was like then, and if one looks at the issues Enlightenment political theorist John Locke faced, it’s easy to see that Democracy is not a gift to take lightly.

If we sincerely look at the struggles mankind faced to reach the Democracy threshold, one comes away with a renewed awareness that Democracy is not just a vehicle to use for vanquishing a political foe, it’s more importantly a tool used to free all mankind from some of the more brutish aspects of life. This is because it is in the balance of opposites that true Democracy exists. Reconciling and living with opposite tendencies, as opposed to merely controlling or vanquishing them, is the essence of the checks and balances that Enlightenment thinkers used to create our amazing Constitution.

In line with that, if we realize how economics is tied at the hips with politics, it’d behoove us to become more aware of the seemingly boring, yet very important, study of economics. Too often, politicians reduce economic ideas to the simple concept often repeated that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Ironically, many of the people who advance such a simple economic dogma are often rich themselves. In addition, another simple economic myth politicians sometimes promote is that those who struggle economically simply don’t work hard enough.

If we embrace the fact our complex world demands the ability to think and debate more rationally, there’s a chance politics can return more to the concept of Representative Democracy our Founding Fathers had when they framed America’s constitutional government. As they envisioned it, such a system, by creating checks and balances through a separation of powers, would be superior to the dogmatism of a monarchy or dictatorship. This sense of governmental balance, which seeks to somewhat reconcile opposites, as opposed to controlling or vanquishing them, has been key to America’s strength. If we can work towards this concept of government more, the promise that elections hold for Democracy may become bright yet again.

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4 thoughts on “Elections and the Promise of Democracy

  1. The nail on the head! With a bullet! Great stuff Perry. I think we all remember Stephen Colberts roast of G.W.Bush chiding him about thinking with his guts. Mocking Fox News for their trademarking the name of their program “News” and then listing it as entertainment. Hence, Colberts trademarked “Truthieness”. We all got a laugh out of it except as you point out the serious side of radicalization.
    Exploiting those who don’t know the difference between a visceral response and an intuitive one.
    Too often, you can even google it, people as former president Bush infamously did, will incorrectly refer to a truly gifted and insightful impromptu decision as a gut response. In fact it couldn’t be further in anatomical terms as it is literally, from the truth. And that, as you so eloquently point out, is part of the polarization we see being promulgated. Because it prompts a visceral reaction in most people and thus gets ratings.
    A visceral (aka gut or smooth muscle) reaction is one regulated and stimulated by endogenous hormones and bio-feedback. It is a relatively slow but very powerful humoral response. Motion sickness, olfactory memory stimulation, taste responses and reactions to tactile stimuli are all examples of a visceral response. Many factors go into these seemingly automatic responses. Genetic predisposition, environmental conditioning and learned behaviors and all of this is literally under the microscope by the name of Neuroscience Marketing. Functional MRI’s, EEG’s, SST’s and galvanic skin responses are all being quantified for the purpose of advancing the paid for agenda, be it product or politics.
    Contrast this to an intuitive response which is no less complex but infinitely faster and better informed. Recognition Primed Decision making is as the name suggests, a function of the cerebral cortex that follows pe-patterned or learned pathways. They say that discoveries are three parts perspiration and one part inspiration and that is to say that the genius had done his homework. Intuitive thinkers do this without pause. Musicians, doctors, emergency response personnel, even gifted orators all share this ability to study up and put things together on the fly. The famous Captain Sullenburger who’s intuitive responses saved lives is no less miraculous than NASCAR drivers that avoid heinous wrecks, or athletes who never cease to amaze us. This is years of study and practice, millennia of evolution away from the visceral triggers that are the basis for the bigotry driven genocide we still see today.
    We can only hope that as a species we will understand this critical difference. More than 40years ago a T.V. program popularized the need balance these human responses with intellect and understanding. The only half human, thus still flawed, master of brains over brawn, Mr. Spock and his impetuous yet clever captain roamed the galaxy in search of understanding. To boldly go where no man has gone before. My guts say caution, My brain says it’s a good idea. Can we at least talk about it?

  2. The nail on the head! With a bullet! Great stuff Perry. I think we all remember Stephen Colberts roast of G.W.Bush chiding him about thinking with his guts. Mocking Fox News for their trademarking the name of their program “News” and then listing it as entertainment. Hence, Colberts trademarked “Truthieness”. We all got a laugh out of it except as you point out the serious side of radicalization. Exploiting those who don’t know the difference between a visceral response and an intuitive one. Too often, you can even google it, people as former president Bush infamously did, will incorrectly refer to a truly gifted and insightful impromptu decision as a gut response. In fact it couldn’t be further in anatomical terms as it is literally, from the truth. And that, as you so eloquently point out, is part of the polarization we see being promulgated. Because it prompts a visceral reaction in most people and thus gets ratings. A visceral (aka gut or smooth muscle) reaction is one regulated and stimulated by endogenous hormones and bio-feedback. It is a relatively slow but very powerful humoral response. Motion sickness, olfactory memory stimulation, taste responses and reactions to tactile stimuli are all examples of a visceral response. Many factors go into these seemingly automatic responses. Genetic predisposition, environmental conditioning and learned behaviors and all of this is literally under the microscope by the name of Neuroscience Marketing. Functional MRI’s, EEG’s, SST’s and galvanic skin responses are all being quantified for the purpose of advancing the paid for agenda, be it product or politics. Contrast this to an intuitive response which is no less complex but infinitely faster and better informed. Recognition Primed Decision making is as the name suggests, a function of the cerebral cortex that follows pe-patterned or learned pathways. They say that discoveries are three parts perspiration and one part inspiration and that is to say that the genius had done his homework. Intuitive thinkers do this without pause. Musicians, doctors, emergency response personnel, even gifted orators all share this ability to study up and put things together on the fly. The famous Captain Sullenburger who’s intuitive responses saved lives is no less miraculous than NASCAR drivers that avoid heinous wrecks, or athletes who never cease to amaze us. This is years of study and practice, millennia of evolution away from the visceral triggers that are the basis for the bigotry driven genocide we still see today. We can only hope that as a species we will understand this critical difference. More than 40years ago a T.V. program popularized the need balance these human responses with intellect and understanding. The only half human, thus still flawed, master of brains over brawn, Mr. Spock and his impetuous yet clever captain roamed the galaxy in search of understanding. To boldly go where no man has gone before. My guts say caution, My brain says it’s a good idea. Can we at least talk about it?

    ~

    1. Hey Tom…thx for the insightful comment!

      Yeah…like you say, there’s recently evolved such a strong push to pattern us to high emotional levels that we’re getting kind of locked in. As opposed to the flawed musings of the Enlightenment-influenced Mr. Spock, we’re often now given highly emotional examples to follow in so many areas of life. We see this in the endless Binary-type response ratings we’re encouraged to give to so many things.

      One can ask just why is it that so many things need to be rated nowadays? After all…as we all know, not only are some ratings subjective, they can create much confusion + anxiety.

      As a result of all this, a bullet-point mindset of simplicity is further reinforced on many issues which in reality have many levels at their core. Therefore, since we’re encouraged to go to the simplest level on complex topics, the concept of “truthiness” does indeed strike us as humorous. 🙂

      And yes, as you mention with Neuroscience Marketing, there are now many avenues employed to both study the effects of high emotionality, + to promote certain responses. Sadly…many seemingly cool + logical individuals are using these types of studies to not only predict, but to sometimes control behaviors.

      Even though the famous Spock recognized that much thought has at it’s basis an emotional component, he also tried to reason thru a purely “gut level” response to many things. This is what gave Spock his appeal. It wasn’t his absence of emotion so much as his ability to control the more negative aspects of pure emotionality. In essence, this is the Enlightenment ideal too.

      Unfortunately nowadays, being logical or rational is too often thought of as trying to divorce oneself from emotions. This is far from the truth.

      Also, thx for accurately pointing out how much intuition, since it’s based on an almost algorithmic pattern that’s practiced, can actually be more helpful to us than just exalting “gut” decisions that come from out of the blue.

      And yes…you’re right to point out how we need to talk about things. If we talk with more respect instead of manipulation, “win-win” can become more common +”Us vs Them’ can be toned down a bit. 🙂

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