In simpler times, elections settled things. You voted for a candidate. If that candidate lost you gritted your teeth and waited for the next election. In between elections you wrote letters and contributed money to your party. Maybe you even went door to door or made phone calls.
Now in today’s “new media world” we have so many opportunities to participate and voice our opinions interactively and in real time that it’s easy to forget about the meaning of voting.
Say your candidate lost the last election. Now if you are loud and well organized enough you can delay and derail the winner’s policies, appointments, and legislative actions almost indefinitely. And in between elections the pundits, rabble rousers, and so-called “opinion leaders” — even lowly bloggers like me — can fill the media with information and opinions that can drive out not just the opinions of opponents but the facts as well.
Forget reasoned debate and thoughtful deliberation. If my online “friends” and I can scream loud enough maybe we’ll get your guy ignored, marginalized — even fired!
So, what is it, then, that distinguishes mob rule based gridlock from democracy?
One thing is the willingness to listen. This requires civility, politeness, and maybe even some humility; you have to be willing to say something like “Maybe I’m wrong but I’ll hear you out even though my tribe says you’re full of hot air.”
How likely is such humility to emerge in an environment where each one of us can craft our own media, our own like-minded communities, and our own social experiences that reflect only our own experiences, expectations, comfort zones, and prejudices?
It’s tough. But there are two groups where I think there might be hope.
The first consists of the young people growing up in a digital environment where from a young age they learn to selectively control their media environments. Examples are drops in popularity of voice phone calls among younger people and increased use of socialized web based video; they’re screening out and controlling how they communicate and manage information overload.
Yes, this gives them a way to “screen out” everything they’re not interested in, including voting. In my “glass half full” mentality, though, this also means they know how to navigate today’s complex media environment much more effectively than those of us who grew up with radio, television networks. and newspapers.
Yes, tyrants and demagogues can use new media just as patriots can; my money is on the patriots.
The second group that fills me with hope consists of immigrants to the U.S. from cultures where traditional family values and respect for authority and learning are prized.
Based on my own anecdotal observations such immigrants bring a traditional set of values to the U.S. that are less likely to respond to the political whims of the moment. Theirs might be a society where respect for law, authority, and legality are very real, even as they navigate the slings and arrows thrown down by our Dominant White Culture. Most encouraging to me is — again anecdotally — that many immigrants to the U.S. seriously view education and schooling as the way to get ahead.
In a society where “dumb” is still valued in some quarters, such educational initiative shouldn’t be discouraged through indiscriminant discrimination.
Copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald. Click the button to share this on Twitter: