Some are alarmed at the cynicism and viciousness in today’s political climate in America; understandable, but lest not forgot the alternative to talk, violence. Taking the stand in court, an hour behind the podium fighting for policies, or moments discussing feelings about political candidates are not meant to be attractive. But so in working. It’s simply necessary. Avoiding politics, common as it is among large swaths of people in every demographic, should have the same concern as the unemployment rate; they both are a sign of health of a country. The number of political participants is just as important to a democracy as workers to the workforce, the more the better.
Let me clarify. Political participants can be anyone, be it a politician or pedestrian. As soon as you open your mouth or write to influence another person on an issue, you become is some sense a political participant. Constant arguing is inherent in democracy and participation helps define is quality. It seems what topics are at the forefront of the political agenda is the reflection of the people participating in a political arena. Political arenas are areas where politics is discussed and is both formal (political conventions, media interviews, academic policy debates, etc) and informal (blogs, discussions between family and friends, protests, etc). They are a place where influence can inhabit and exist on television and on print as well as in the living room or park bench. To varying degrees both are important, because the constituents of any society needs to figure out who gets what, when, where, and why; or in other words, politics.
Democracy is not to be taken for granted and its inherent problems should be seen as an issue of quality and control, not dysfunction. It is a well-known fact in political science people who participate in primary elections tend to be people who are from opposite sides of the political bell curve. It becomes obvious listening to and reading the rhetoric of presidential candidates in primaries, rhetoric that is extreme for many moderates. As the presidential nominations end and the mono-e-mono race for the oval office begins (aka general election), you tend to see a bit of backtracking to appeal to the broader public (Mitt Romney is a good contemporary example). But what if more moderates in America participated in primary elections? I believe that itself will profoundly change the American political system. I would argue there would be less influence of both Christian extremists on the Right and environmental extremists on the Left, among other undue influences. What people should be sick of is not politics itself, but the low quality of it.
Therefore, the reasonable course of action is for the citizenry to participate in quality and control and to not shy away from any political arena. The more participate, the more of the agenda-making process shifts from extremists views to moderate views. Instead of a few religious zealots believing there should be no Jeffersonian wall between church and state (Jefferson’s Wall of Separation Letter 1802), moderate religious devotees can focus what, among other things, has been important imperatives in most religious belief systems like helping the poor, the sick, the orphans, etc. Instead of a few environmental zealots believe preserving some obscure species of rodent takes precedence over any and all business opportunities, moderate eco-activists may actually be inclined to accommodate both goals.
But to get back to the quote above. If more people take part in politics, than more moderates will influence politicians and policy. My main argument is this: the cynicism and viciousness in today’s political climate in America are not from moderate voices. It is the moderate who tends to deliberate while the extremist is entrenched in their respective belief system as they are concerned with only what they think is right (you know who is an extremist when they view their truths are eternal). To agree is not a trait of extremists.
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”
—George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”
For some time now it has been my personal philosophy seeing personal relationships and political relationships with equal regard. I draw correlations between the two and it seems they share the same ethical questions, albeit with differences in degree and responsibilities. Many if not most ethical standards between the two just might be the same. I am skeptical seeing the two kinds of relationships mentioned as inherently distinct from each other.
Being honest is a choice to show or hide information. Sometimes that choice might be decided with impulsiveness or with deep consideration, but it is still a choice. It seems making that choice to be honest with others always involves a choice to be honest to oneself. It seems everyone, myself included, is constantly making decisions, especially ethical decisions, in a process of reflection of what we ourselves believe which will govern our decision-making. Just the other day I was confronted by a customer service experience at work involving a choice to tell the customer a flat out lie to ensure a sale or being honest with her which could have ended it. I choose the later on the grounds that I can still persuade her to buy the product. Notice I did not say “it was the right thing to do.” That egotistical decision, although was a bad motivation, had a good consequence (the customer based her decision on an honest interaction). What makes it all even more complicated is that the choice I made can actually be parsed whether it was truly ethical or not. Take notice of utilitarian philosophy (a form of normative ethics), which emphasizes consequences, and Kant’s categorical imperative (a form of deontology), which emphasizes principles over consequences. Under utilitarianism, I made the right decision, although my decision was grounded with egoism. However, under the categorical imperative I did not make the right decision. For the reason I made the choice to be honest was not for honesty sake but by my confidence in persuading her to buy what I offer; this is not something I wish to be a universal law. In other words, my decision that day is based on my confidence of persuasion and if I did not have that confidence I might had had told her a lie. The correct act, under the categorical imperative, would had been to tell her the truth because lies are harmful. Period.
Ethics can become much more complicated and the realm of politics is all about decision-making . Undoubtedly there are many unethical politicians but also keep in mind people may have ethical differences. Some will emphasize consequences and some on principles. Most probably morph from one ethical system to another depending on the topic, the circumstance, etc. But many unethical politicians, like many other people, probably tell themselves lies and believe themselves true; believing that what they do is necessary in some “rationalized” fashion. Perhaps these are why Orwell included schizophrenia in the quote above.
So it does seem clear language and sincerity can go hand-in-hand. Making an ethical decision to be candid comes from the willingness to present one’s real aims in a naked fashion, undisguised and transparent. As I listen to politics I look for that nakedness, that willingness to show details, however discomforting, and listen to not only its intellectual merits but its emotional merits as well. I believe putting your emotions on your sleeve is a great way of being sincere which unreservedly shows what is and who should be considered. I remember listening to Catholic officials years ago defending the Church’s stance against condom use and their argument tended to focus on bodily purity and religious freedom. In their arguments I rarely heard concern for those harmed by AIDS/HIV, unintended pregnancies in impoverished families, and victims of rape and incest. The officials showed concern for their own values (in their God’s values they would say) over the needs of the victims, as if they where the ones harmed, and in the cases of rape and incest, as if they where the one’s violated. So, after being thoroughly disgusted, I would change the dial because people who do not consider others will lose consideration from me.
The media has been colloquially called the Fourth Estate as long as I can remember. Back in Acien Regime of France, a political system established under the late Valois and Bourbon dynasties from the 15th-18th centuries, the Fourth Estate was a political force that contrasted from the other three estates (the clergy, nobility, and everyone else) and was instrumental in questioning the power of the First and Second Estates (clergy and nobility, respectively). Today, it is seen to offer a check to at least two dominant and typically insular political forces in modern society, political elites (no matter how non-elitist some claim to be) and moneyed-interests, a.k.a businesses and the rich. I have not heard much wrangling about the definition, nature, and responsibilities of the Fourth Estate, but considering it is a seemingly important institution, I am reminded of Lippmann’s quote above.
The Fourth Estate is the primary institution involved in distributing information by which a community can detect lies. But is seems so much of the media is dominated by corporations and consequently, the bottom line of business, and not the bottom line of journalism; these two bottoms are inherently a conflict of interest. So what if most of the institutions of media are corrupted like so many believe but what should be done about it or even take its place? One method I believe can truly compete in today’s world is the citizen journalist. With the internet, blogging, digital equipment, and a whole host of new technologies citizen journalists have a larger advantage than their counterparts decades ago. What can help them thrive are consumer choices, where more and more people rely on their alternative media like community newspapers and radio, among others, that are not owned by corporations or by the government. I truly believe that this is possible. I have met so many people who write or produce videos as a hobby. I’m sure many people would like to become involved. WordPress is proof. But, like most important things in life, it takes people to get off their ass and just do it.
Today, someone my age and rung on the ladder may think of being beaten nearly to death by police officers is more or less what happens in 3rd world authoritarian countries and not in one of America’s “World-Class Cities,” if Los Angeles can be characterized in that fashion. The resulting city-wide riot the following year, caused by the four acquitted policemen who beat Rodney King, is of equal disbelief if it were to happen today. I consistently hear that we have a long way to go in race-relations in America (and I think they’re right).
The ’92 L.A. riots is one of the worst this country has ever seen. The scale and damage it had caused along with the video footage of the acquittals of the police officers that came before it, was displayed in living rooms across this country, and had set race-relations back. Some people throughout my life viewed those riots as a horrible event, but with more anger against the rioters than against the police who beat King and the system who did not do King justice. The destruction of public property and harm to bystanders, like in the case of the horrific video of the near-death beating of Reginald Denny, is unacceptable; the constant harassment, intimidation, and harm of the African-American community in L.A. by the police is equally unacceptable. After decades of subjugation, was the black community in L.A. suppose to a happier bunch of folks after hearing the acquittal of the police officers charged with beating Rodney King? After all, it was something that community had experienced in their daily lives on a consistent basis and wasn’t through a television while sitting comfortably on a couch. I have also encountered from time to time black students in grade school talking about the riots in a positive light. Sad, did they not know that much of the businesses that were looted were black-owned businesses? This is the clearest evidence that the ’92 L.A. riots did set race-relations back, as people became entrenched along racial lines. The media did not help in depolarizing the communities. In writing this post, I just learned that the person who saved Denny the truck-driver, was another truck driver who happened to be black, and is perhaps conveniently not shown on any video I have seen of the incident since 1992. One might think that may be pertinent to the well-publicized and scrutinized drama and important to understanding it was not actually about black versus white or black versus Korean but something much more complicated than that. I’m sure there are more examples.
There have been a number of rational voices as well but who stands out the most is the original victim in that fiasco. Instead of spewing vengeance and hatred after the acquittal of the men who nearly beat him to death as they were calling him “nigger” every chance they had, Rodney King instead called out a phrase that became well ingrained in our cultural psyche: “Can we all get along?” Regardless of his reckless driving where he ended up meting corrupt police officers or that substance abuse might have contributed to his death, he proved himself a good man at the most important time.
I really have nothing to say on this matter. I just wanted to post that Lucy Lawless is one tough woman. Alalalalalalalalalalallaalalalalalallallala
Jessica Ahlquist had added an interesting twist about religious expression in public schools. Seeing that small segments of society can counter-balance the limited funding of public schools is something remarkable. It is not that public schools could be out-spent but it could be out-maneuvered. This case of atheist vs. believer litigation points to just that. How important is it for the school to support a religious banner in the face of litigation costs? Not very important in any fiscally responsible mindset. How important is it for atheists to remove a religious banner in the face of litigation costs? It depends the level of offense those atheists feel.
Can a situation like this ever escalate? Yes. I can see a similar situation balloon out of control if religious believers where to give manpower, energy, and most importantly money to keep a religious artifact on campus displayed in a religious manner. Undoubtedly, if that were ever to occur the courts would have to way in and have a further say in the on-going discussion about the separation between church and state. Hallelujah.
An iconoclast of neither Left or Right. A polemicist who can make any opponent blush. One of the greatest essayist of the English language well after his departure. Although Christopher Hitchens has earned these accolades, what is more sorrowful than his death is the deprivation of these traits in a well-published and well-watched figure from the world stage. More still, these accolades are just a fraction of traits where any single one can make a person immortal in cultural consciousness. For me, he epitomizes a form of excellence that I have not yet heard from any other. Considering he thought, spoke, and fought for causes for several decades beginning in his late teenage years, Hitchens was…no… is still, a prime example of an activist lifestyle.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with his works, Christopher Hitchens is a writer of the first order, high up there with Salmon Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, and James Fenton, to name a few of his closest friends. Some of his best books include “Letters to A Young Contrarian,” “god is not Great,” and “Thomas Jefferson: Author of America.” His polemical gifts served him very well as a secular humanist arguing against religions. He often compared all-knowing/powerful/loving deities to dictatorships where the state is aware of everything, can do anything, and always has your best interest at heart (even when severely punishing you for minor, or made-up offence). Kim Jong-il loves you.
What made Christopher Hitchens a true activist is that he stood up for numerous causes and became intimately involved in practically all of them. What made his activism a lifestyle is that his lifetime of activism was honest hard-work and not a fiesta designed just to organize people together to make them feel righteous about themselves. You know what paragon means when you study a man like Christopher Hitchens.