My musings on different political topics relevant to America today.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In The Grand Scheme of Things...

I have begun to realize that in the grand scheme of things, ideology, politics, and other things like that are on the periphery of most people's lives.  Most people have enough to worry about without thinking about such high minded topics as the proper role of government or what their moral code should be.  As a result, most people let others think for them on these topics.  Most simply absorb the general consensus opinion of those around them, or adopt the opinions they inherited from their parents and/or elders.  I have come to realize that the most important things to people are what they have to deal with day in and day out.  However, while that might be the case, everyone suffers when we collectively ignore political issues, while everyone benefits when we work to better educate ourselves on them.

In college it was easy to feel that you were talking about the most important things of society.  That the problems you discussed were not only the biggest, but also the most urgent.  Yet I have slowly begun to realize that for most people, the most urgent things have nothing to do with the things us high minded college students have to talk about.  Most people's concerns are much more down to earth and much more grounded in reality, while the problems I have tended to focus on are simply not their main concern.  It has been easy for me to judge others as not caring as much as they should.  Yet when I think about it, why should they?  Most people have little capacity to fix most of the high minded problems I bring up or other idealistic college students.  Their reaction to ignore or simplify political discourse is actually a very pragmatic response.  They deal with things that actually are in their capacity to fix, and do not bother wasting time and resources trying to solve problems outside of their grasp.

It is easy for the college student to look down on his older peers for such a narrow way of thinking, but that is because the college student has all the time in the world to think about such things.  Why? a college student, especially a liberal arts college student, is given the task of educating himself on these issues.  He needs to, or perish, for success in the college atmosphere requires that he think long and hard about such issues and commit them to memory, and hopefully get an A in the process.  

This attitude makes practical sense
on an individual level.
Meanwhile, most who have jobs in the real world are not assigned this task.  Studying such highminded  topics most  likely would not help them in their job, raising their family, or being a better person.  Self help books are much more popular amongst this group exactly because these books attempt to help them with these things.  This sort of education these books provide arm them with knowledge that will actually help them live out a better life.

That is not to say that all the high minded political and ideological issues are not important, they are, but the response of most working people to these issues makes sense given the context.  On an individual level, they can do little to improve these things.  On an individual level, they are pretty much powerless to change any of those issues.  In addition, they do not have the incentive a college student would have to care, for a college student's financial future depends on his grades, which in turn depend on his knowledge of such issues.  

If we are not well informed politically, how are
we to be entrusted to vote
However, while their reaction makes sense, it is ultimately destructive for our nation.  People must be aware of these issues and work to become better informed citizens, for a better informed citizenry can make better informed decisions over what problems our nation must face and on who we should elect or fund to face them.  See, on an individual level it indeed does not make sense to care, but on a collective level it does.  The collective nation benefits from being better educated about political and ideological issues.  If my neighbor votes smarter, it would ultimately benefit me and everyone else.  The problem I describe is called in economics "the free rider" problem.  If everyone was well educated on these things, there is always an individual incentive not to care.  Why? I can do other things with my time that would benefit me more.  However, if everyone follows this attitude, then everyone is worse off, for then our politics will be as stupid as our citizenry.  

Keep this in mind today and in the future.  Work to educate yourself on these "highminded" issues.  It will take time, but it would be worth it.  Any time anyone works to educate himself, everyone benefits. Any time someone decides to leave himself uneducated, everyone suffers.  The opinion elite exists precisely because normal people are not willing to take the time to educate themselves.  Until we all work together to become more informed collectively, a small section of the population will continue to dominate political discourse, and ultimately will rule for us.  If we wish to keep America "by the people for the people," then we better fulfill both parts of that clause.  As long as our government continues to not be "by the people," it will never be "for the people."

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