Saturday, January 14, 2006

I'm not cut out for politics

After Alito's Testimony, Democrats Still Dislike Him but Can't Stop Him - New York Times

I don't understand why Democrats, are fighting the Alito nomination or more generally why, as a contributor and supporter, I get a dozen emails a day urging me to fight in every trivial skirmish and support every lost cause against Republicans. I do not understand why the Democratic party insiders who set this policy or the midlevel functionaries who send me email haven't figured out how to choose their battles. Alito will get through. Everyone, including the Democrats who are grandstanding at his hearing, knows this guy will get in. What is the point? I'm sure Republicans are doing the same thing--I just don't get Republican email.

All this constant skirmishing over trivial issues, dead issues, lost causes and proposals that aren't really objectionable except insofar as they're supported by Republicans just gives people--especially young people like my kids (biological and pedagogical)--the idea that partisanship is no more than tribalism, that there is no real difference between Republicans and Democrats and that politicians are all just after power. It destroys faith in the political process and alienates the best people so that the whole business of politics becomes increasingly a game for power brokers and politicians on the take, with expensive variety shows to "energize" the base.

My (biological) kids are Greens--throwing energy into a heat sink. My students for the most part haven't got a clue and don't care. A few, the smartest, are libertarian-style conservatives because they're convinced that liberals are well-meaning but naive mush-heads. Years ago, teaching "social ethics" we got into a discussion of the controversy over Nestles' program to push baby formula in third world countries. A student patiently explained to me that Nestles couldn't just give away baby formula to poor women though maybe there should be charities to help them pay for it--and was amazed when I explained what breasts were for and how they worked.

Arrrrgh--I could scream! I wish there were a viable third party too. But because of the way the American system operates their can't be. Maybe the best thing would be to throw my energy into working for voting reform to break the two major parties lock on power--which, of course, insures that voting reform has no more chance than a third party. Maybe I should collaborate with my son the mathematician to evangelize for Condorcet voting--the geeks love it.

Every four years, with minor festivals in between, we're treated to this circus--debates, conventions, giant potlaches, speechifying, grandstanding, smear campaigns, focus groups, politicians groomed and trained--the utterly vacuous Bush parroting his tag lines and the utterly insincere Kerry in his hunting outfit dragging a dead goose out of the woods to show the rednecks he was ok with guns. They treat us like idiots. Behind the scenes there are issues and ideologies on the table but they assume we're too dumb to understand so this is the crap we get.

It isn't just politics either--it seems like every damned institution and organization--businesses, schools, churches, what have you--operates on the assumption that people can't grasp even the most elementary abstractions, can't follow the simplest arguments, don't care about facts, have no principles, are incapable of critical reflection and only respond to sound bytes, manipulation, cheerleading and noise. And they imagine that "using psychology"--formerly Rhetoric, now Communications--is tremendously clever and sophisticated. I am swamped, drowning in this bs. Well, at least I can teach Logic!

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