Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What if we, the people, are just not rational?

Decision-making within the 35-home neighborhood where I live became a tad contentious.  The rhetoric got heated.  I followed Harry Truman's "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" and quit the governing board.

If a 35-home neighborhood can generate enough political heat for me to throw in that metaphorical towel, do you think I will be able to stand even one tweet from Adolf Trump?

What shocks me more than Drumpf  as the major party candidate is this: There are tens of millions of people who support him, despite all the horrible tweets of his, and despite all the horrible things he has said about a whole bunch of people not only this country but even outside the US.

We cannot dismiss this as a freakish outlier.  To me, this is all the more evidence that there is a wide gulf between the democracy that we idealize and the reality of it all.  This gulf has existed all the time; it is not anything new.  But, never before has it become this glaringly in our face, which means we can't really be in denial anymore.

When it comes to democracy in America:
[Maybe] the problem is that we were expecting too much out of it in the first place ... It's time to stop pretending that there's such a thing as a rational voter.
I agree.  Maybe it is time we lowered the expectations. And lowered it a great deal.  It is the unrealistic expectations that also then end up with the complications like the ballot measures that we regular people simply cannot even understand and, yet, are asked to vote on.  The same unrealistic expectations of rational voters thinking through issues is also how the Brexit screw-up happened.  It is the same story in any democracy, not only here in the US.
"Can ordinary people, busy with their lives and with no firsthand experience of policy making or public administration, do what the theory expects them to do?" Of course not. "Mostly," Achen and Bartels write, "they identify with ethnic, racial, occupation, religious or other sorts of groups, and often — whether through group ties or hereditary loyalties — with a political party."
Exactly.  Back in the old country, I was always shocked at how ethnic, religious, and other affiliations seemed to lead plenty--perhaps an overwhelming majority even--to vote.  I tell ya, my adopted country is no different from my old country!

The author writes, "it’s finally time to make peace with a simple fact of political life: Informed, individualistic rationality is a chimera."   I am ready.  I made my own peace with it a long time ago, which is also why until a month ago, I never ruled out Hitler winning on November 8th.  It is also why I was not that surprised that Bush won a second term.

The friend always asks me for some kind of a constructive takeaway.  Here, it is simple: Stop imagining about the utopia and work with the reality.  Do not deny the reality that you observe.  And, more than anything else, do not ever think that more education means a better democracy.  Nope!
For the good-government reform community, this suggests something equally radical: giving up on the deeply held belief that American democracy can be solved by giving citizens more opportunities to participate by emailing Congress or voting, and an end to thinking all would be better if more people would just "get informed on the issues. ...
It also means coming to terms with the fact that we don’t think for ourselves; we think together. And maybe that’s fine. Partisanship and group loyalties are inevitable, and they can even be good things if they can help us realize shared interests.
Have a nice day! ;)

2 comments:

Ramesh said...

The sun has risen in the west. That the super active defender of democracy, the soldier who is prepared to go to war for unlimited free speech, the diehard believer in voter supremacy, writes a post like this .... :)

Whatever next !

Sriram Khé said...

Nope, the sun rose yet again only in the east. If you think about the pieces that I have written over the years, there has always been a cynical bottom-line on we, the people. This post is consistent with that.

That cynicism is all the more that I am so protective of my--and our--right to free expression. If not for that freedom, then the situation will be way worse than it already is. Free speech is pretty much the only small little wall that continues to protect us from tyrants.

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