Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The futility of political junkiedom

We used to hear a lot about the digital divide. Yet as more and more people develop the computer skills they need and gain access to them (in the public library, if necessary) that controversy has faded.

The divide that now troubles me is the one between political junkies, our chattering class, and the rest. These days we have access to news—actually “news analysis”—on cable TV 24/7. And that is not the only source of saturation coverage. The most frequently visited blogs seem to be the ones those spouting partisan political commentary. But many, especially young people, have pretty much tuned out—except for attending to Jay Leno, John Stuart, and the satirical paper The Onion.

Bruce Ackerman and others think that what needs to be done is to shift more people from column B to column A—get them interested in political debate, by financial incentives if necessary. Of course this is a perennial issue for the googoo (“good government”) folks, heightened by growing indifference among the mass of the people.

I say just the opposite. I think that we need to pay less, rather than more attention to the minutiae of political junkiedom.

Never before have ordinary citizens had less power to influence the actual course of government. The major positions of Bush and Kerry are virtually indistinguishable. They are both hawks and spendthrifts. For most of us there is not even the possibility of similating a choice. The outcome of the vote in most states—the blue bloc and the red bloc—is known in advance. Some say that as few as 40,000 undecideds in the swing states will determine who will occupy the White House. All but a few congressional seats are now “safe,” meaning that it doesn’t matter who we vote for, as the incumbent is sure to be returned to office.

Contrast this exclusion from almost any role in what will determine our fate, with the staggering amount of actual information—-much of it minutiae--we can now acquire.

Of course it is not all trivial. Early last year, sitting in my pajamas in my NYC apartment I made up a list of 20 spurious reasons advanced by our government and the neo-cons for invading Iraq, and sent it to friends. Subsequent events have proved exactly that—they were spurious. Yet respected pundits are now complaining: “I was deceived.” They should ask themselves how they could have been so dumb as to back the Iraq war in the first place. Chalk up another failure for the “best and the brightest.” But do they even deserve that accolade? Could it be that the politician/pundit class in this country is by and large incompetent?

Of course I could create a political blog and gain some tiny bit of influence. But why turn one’s life over to this stuff? I prefer to follow the example of Machiavelli and converse in the courts of the ancients. Nowadays, of course the ancients include anyone who died before the end of the 20th century. That broad field suits me just fine.