I’m proud of myself—I had no part of the dog and pony show yesterday. I didn’t offer my tacit approval of the system by participating in it, and my evening consisted of writing, class material, and a movie. Productive activities, in other words, even the latter, because it is important for us to occasionally just relax and rest our minds. Of late I’ve sworn off unproductive anger and concern for matters that I have no particular logical reason to be concerned about, because these emotions do not improve my state of mind and even harm it. But unfortunately, in this Fahrenheit 451-esque information age, it’s not possible to entirely shut out the blather. Even walking into a college library, I am assaulted with a panel of TV screens tuned to cable news, as one example. So, here are the thoughts of a pretty hard-boiled cynic about the great American spectacle.
Somebody Else to Blame
I’ve suspected for a while that what happened last night was exactly what the White House wanted, at least on some level. As the situation stands now, any economic legislation that is passed will be weak-tea, won’t do the slightest thing to improve the economic situation, may even make it worse, and definitely would hurt the deficit. When it inevitably fails, there is someone else that the White House can blame for their fecklessness in giving away half of what they claimed to want as soon as they came to the bargaining table. The same will be true if they can’t get anything passed at all. It’s now going to be John Boehner’s fault. And this is going to be in effect in reverse as well; expect to see the GOP explaining pleadingly how they just couldn’t enact the tea party agenda because of the Senate and the White House standing in the way. A win-win for political manipulation.
The idea that neither of the parties’ leadership actually wants to enact anything of real substance is not supposed to occur to you. If things get done, that removes one rationale for existence, one talking point to perennially run for office on, one bogeyman to use to whip up the base.
Ringing the Bell Curves
Representative democracy may be the best system we have to offer, but that isn’t saying much. Anyone who really believes that listening to the voice of the majority leads to the best option needs a head check. Recognize this?
This is a normal distribution. Take a look at the thick vertical lines in particular. They represent the sigma levels, or standard deviations. They are located in different places depending on the particular data set in question. This graph represents the distribution of human IQ. Look what percentage is above the first standard deviation past the midpoint and what percentage is below it. This would be a landslide of amazing proportions if it represented a vote split, and the first standard deviation isn’t even anything special. Most gifted education programs in schools have admission cut-offs closer to the second standard deviation, a mere 2.5 percent of the population.
Don’t like IQ? Think that other characteristics are at least as important for political office? Well, how about this graph?
That is the gamma distribution. It is not possible to quantitatively measure such characteristics as effective leadership/governing ability, despite what some large companies may want to believe. (Take note that charisma is not the same thing as leadership capability.) But I would make a tentative guess that traits like this are not normally distributed and are in fact much more skewed to the side of not having much of the trait.
People may think they want strong leadership, but more often than not, they don’t like the “follower” implication that a strong leader implies for them. They like charismatic politicians, and they like bullies, but these traits are different from the ability to lead and govern. They are “beta” versions of the true alpha trait, and being sub-alpha traits, they are closer to what the majority of people have. This wish for “strong leaders” is not about being led and governed responsibly; it is about feeling part of a winning side. It is like a sports fan. There is a certain psychological aspect of vicarious-yet-equal participation in the sports fan phenomenon, whether by Monday-morning quarterbacking or post-title exultation. Either way, the sports fan is “one of the team” even if only in his own mind. So it is with politics too.
This is why you won’t see the “best” people getting elected or even usually running for office. If they do run, the overwhelming majority of the masses will recognize them for what they are, far superior to themselves in some important trait, and will be insecure about it. It is a very uncommon person who truly defers to an alpha, and in nature, species that have alpha members do not take a majority vote on it. The pack system works in these species because the lower-ranked members are not empowered and not inclined themselves to challenge the alpha, whereas we humans have given every person a vote and a cultural mythos surrounding the importance of that vote. The democratic voting process, I believe, is directly counterproductive toward putting alphas in positions of power. People will vote for someone they see as more like them, someone less of a threat to their own ego. Anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism have ruled American politics for years, and this is why they won’t ever go away. The very math is against it.
I have maintained that the years of 2006 and 2008 were not particularly pro-Democratic years, but were anti-establishment years. 2010 is no different except for who the establishment has been. The funny thing about those graphs is that, once people have elected someone they see as a “regular guy/gal” who is “just like them,” that feeling tends to go away as soon as the person takes office. Then they become “elite.” It’s as if the people completely forget what they thought about someone two, four, or six years earlier. And that brings me to…
Attention Deficit Nation
I mentioned Fahrenheit 451 earlier. That is most definitely the dystopian novel that we turned out the most similar to, and people who think the central point is “they destroyed books” need to read it again. People want instant gratification, and if they don’t get it, well, that means someone has to be at fault! Rather than taking the time to examine the problem—in this case, an economy still in the ICU—and determine exactly who and what really is at fault, and why that is so, people go with the quick fix in the form of their “civic duty.” Throw the bums out! The Democratic left expected a great deal more improvement than could reasonably be anticipated, given the size of the Blue Dog caucus (a lot of which has been shown the door), and the Tea Party will see the same thing happen sooner or later with respect to their agenda. With a few exceptions, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the policy statements of tea party candidates and “establishment” Republicans, but the tea partiers are more vocal, throw out more red meat, and are as yet untainted by the appearance of being above that standard deviation line (“elite”). I just don’t see that they will accomplish any more than their “establishment” brethren accomplished.
Granted, there’s a possibility that now, with divided government, the blame game I mentioned at the beginning will actually work, and each side’s respective base will blame the other side to make excuses for their own people. But there is also the possibility that it won’t, and in two years, one or the other will be pretty much run out of town on a rail. Even if the sky opened up, a miracle occurred, and worthwhile, beneficial legislation that would help the economy for Main Street actually did pass, people still expect instant gratification. It took us at least 30 years to get to where we are, economically, and it wasn’t continual decline, though the periods of economic highs were based upon bubbles. It’ll take a long time to establish a new paradigm that supports real prosperity, too. Barring unforeseeable forces that are completely unconnected with government intervention, I don’t think the economy will be much better in two years than it is now. We’ll have this same national circus again, unfortunately, and somebody will get suckered by the glitz, freshness, fiery speeches, charisma, and all those counterfeit subpar versions of true leadership once again.