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Against the false dichotomy of Donkeys & Elephants
How do you know you’re in a boxing match? You know because there is you and the other guy. Same with a football game. You have your neutral sideline, your coaches, your trainers and you know that everyone in the audience is either for you or against you.
In America, this is the way we think of our democracy, as a contest between two parties. We call them the Left and the Right and these two actual political parties dominate every event in our country. Both parties and their critical enablers in the chatting classes claim ownership of every idea in society. They don’t own them. They seek to own and represent liberate liberal and conservative political philosophy. They don’t represent them. I’m sure Malcolm Gladwell has discovered the researcher who knows the proper term for this phenomenon, but the simple fact that I can see it means that you can see it too.
One of the nice benefits of being Stoic, and working to stay that way, is that it allows me to stand aside from this contest as an audience member who doesn’t bother to place a wager on the boxing match. How I negotiate that in one way is simple. I don’t expect either party to have a monopoly, or sometimes even a grip on the truth. In other ways, for example as regards my obligations as a citizen and as a moral actor, it’s not so simple to take advantage of my liberty without referring occasionally to the actions and positions of those two parties. Their monopoly is on attention, not truth. It’s difficult to fight for attention at a football game if you’re not wearing the proper colors holding up proper slogans for the proper cameras that occasionally pan the stands. So when my own insight compels me to ignore both playbooks, I see it as a legitimate criticism to say I don’t care about this kind of democracy.
I care about good results, fairness and transparency. Does our democracy produce good results in a fair way? Do you think we could compose a bi-partisan committee in Congress to answer that question? We clearly need one because we know that we don’t have transparency. Would this committee come up with a good answer in a fair way? I’m skeptical and always ready to be pleasantly surprised, but today seems like more of the same.
Today is the day after election day and my inbox is talking about something that happened in Virginia and what it means to the Democrats and the Republicans. I didn’t know who the contestants were last week and I’ve already forgotten the winner’s name, but I do know the matter was attributed to a question of education. I’m going to have to struggle to get through the next few days to not hear the sophisticated explanations and extrapolated predictions. But speaking of Malcolm Gladwell, I cannot look at baseball the same way when he explained that in the playoffs a seven game series does not statistically or definitively tell which is the better team. Google says Atlanta won the world series. According to MLB, the Toronto Bluejays have the best statistics in both leagues. Atlanta was rated 8th overall. How does it happen that after 162 contests in a year the 8th ranked team wins? What could that possibly mean for the one-off contests we suggest, without much transparency, represent our definitions of democracy? Clearly, it’s complicated. You may remember last year when I mocked Republican losers. Certainly, it cannot be Left vs Right and that’s all there is to it. We are all not spoken for. We need more at bats.
Everyone in our society is not deeply invested in the Culture Wars that continue to rage in the Chatting Classes. I perceive that the Twitter mobs are starting to understand that they don’t run things. Nevertheless the Chatting Class matters and its tweets are indeed transparent and it is self-evident where their stances, footing and swings are coming from as they meet their opponents in the political ring. That is the wonderful thing about social media and of literacy and human communication in general. We get it when it’s right in front of us, and most everything in Twitter is written such that we’re supposed to get it.
Here’s what I know about democracy’s future. I know we have a deep set of Americans that is very good at building the infrastructure of social media call us the ‘nerds’. I know that we have another large set of Americans who are almost oblivious to the cultural dissonance we nerds faced 30 years ago when people found it alarming that we sat in front of computer screens building our logics and communicating with each other. In the nerd set, there must be a subset who recognize there must be something better than Twitter and Meta and several dozen other TikToky toys that will facilitate fairness and transparency and will be capable of generating good results. Right now the market capitalization of BTC is 1.1 trillion USD, and nobody knows how to steal it. Imagine such technology enabling elections and policy generation with 162 contests every year. In that future we can support more than two parties. It won’t help us find more than two truths, contrary to certain post-modern hopes. It will help us solve redistricting problems and give us flexibility in the methods of our representation.
I’m optimistic. Stay tuned.