“Deliberation can help transform interests and reveal previously unrealized areas of agreement. If can sharpen participants understandings of their conflicts.”

—Jane Mansbridge

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.

This bell curve pretty much generalizes the public, with the extreme Left and extreme Right on their respective ends while most Americans (probably most people in every country) make the middle.

“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.

“There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.”

—Walter Lippmann

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.