Monday, March 03, 2008

Democracy is a Scary Thing

First I have to apologize for some of the editorial commentary in the titles of this video. It was the best Youtube video I could find of this clip and I didn't record the show myself so I couldn't put my own clip up. Last week I put up the second of a couple clips of an informed voter. The first one I titled, An Informed Voter is a Beautiful Thing. The scary, but absolutely necessary thing about Democracy is that everyone gets a vote, informed or not. It shouldn't be any other way, of course, but it's one of the tricky things about democracy.

Last week on the death of William F. Buckley, Keith Olbermann reminded us that Buckley once said that the uneducated shouldn't be allowed to vote. But a democracy that doesn't allow all to participate is not a real democracy. The challenge of our system of government is to find ways to engage voters in the process and to encourage people to be informed. Some may look at a voter like the one in the CBS clip and blame him for what's wrong with our system. Obviously he bears some responsibility for being informed as a voter, but the responsibility as a whole lies with all of us and with the system as a whole. I think if anything can be blamed it's an attitude. And I lay at least some of that blame on CNN.

Ok, I'm not blaming them alone, but something I call the CNN mentality. The kind of fast food, consumerist, couch potato attitude we have, as Americans, about being informed. That we can sit on our ample arses, and I include my own ample arse along with the rest of them, and believe that we can be informed. That is that someone can inform us, and all we have to do is consume it. Being informed is an active proposition. Like getting in shape, or eating healthy. You have to do something yourself in order to get your body in shape, no one can do it for you and it is the same with the mind. And you have to do it constantly, it's not something you accomplish and are finished.

The essential element of being informed is critical thinking. That we examine everything that is presented to us with a critical eye. That we question it. That we check sources and compare them with other sources. That we make sure the things we are being fed through the media make sense. I call it the CNN mentality because of their tagline which epitomizes the mindset. You don't hear it so much these days during this election season. It has largely been replaced with "the best political team on television" which I paraphrase as the best political team in show business. But their regular tag line is, or at least was, "the most trusted name in news."

What does that tell us? To sit back on our couch and relax as this trusted name tell us what's going on in the world. It's easy to be informed. Let CNN do it for us. Just pick up the remote. It is the equivalent of those scam diets that tell you that you can loose weight but you can eat what you want and you don't have to change your habits. BS. I know because I am spending way too much time sitting here doing this. The tendency then is not to think and not to question.

They have the avuncular Wolf Blitzer in the mold of the icon Walter Kronkite. Someone who is easy to listen to and easy to trust. But this my friends is the fast food of being informed. And we are all so busy and have to make a living and there are so many sources out there, many of them full of misinformation, that it's easy to grab that quick and easy McNews. We all do it. I am guilty as any.

But we all have to push ourselves to go a little further. Don't do it all at once. It's just like exercising. You can't run a marathon the first day. You don't want to get a brain cramp. Start small. Question something you hear. Find another source. Get your google and Wikipedia on. One further word of advice. People, if cable news is the SuperSize meal of being informed, email forwards are the twinkies. The are sweet, easy to consume, and addictive. But they will make you a mental lard ass. If you question everything you get on cable news, or anywhere else, doubly question anything that comes in an email forward. What's the source? Does it make sense? Check it against other sources.

Our democracy can only be as strong as the voters who participate in it. Uninformed voters make a weak democracy. Informed voters are mentally strong and therefore of necessity, make our democracy stronger. BTW, the entire video of the 60 Minutes video above is here. You can watch it online.

A Note on CBS Video:
I could have embedded the video it here, but there's one problem. And that's that CBS has such a convoluted scheme of protecting their video from download that it won't show up if you're using Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) as your browser. That's a problem because almost 30 percent of users have IE7 and I don't know if it will show up in IE6 or IE5. Amateurs at video like CBS should let their videos go on Youtube and forget about it. Instead they have geeks come up with a scheme that eliminates a good portion of the browsers on the market. Probably a sign of their commitment to allowing people to embed their videos on blogs and web sites in the first place. Ok I shouldn't blame it all in CBS. It's at least half Microsoft's fault. After all, it works in Firefox.

-Fight the powers.

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