Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Paradox of an Enlightened Society

The United States of America has some very dark times in its past. In the last century we saw Japanese Americans imprisoned in concentration camps, the runaway destructive fear of the McCarthy era, several leaders assassinated in the 1960's, and a costly, seemingly endless and pointless war in Vietnam. Not to mention the frequent murder of our black citizens by lynch mobs.

So we should take heart that today there is an absolute consensus against these evils. Politicians, leaders, and the general populace would condemn such things, regardless of party association or ideology. We have truly come a long way and have the benefit of a much more enlightened society.

So why is it that I feel our country has lost something vital, something that it used to possess, even in its more troubled youth? The root of our problem is that we no longer have a functioning democracy.

It is true that in the past the electorate was greatly manipulated, as it will always be. Real issues were ignored in favor of red-meat red herrings, as we see currently. But I believe there was much more substance there in the past, along with the usual political BS. Whatever your position on President Obama's health care bill, can you honestly say that we had any kind of useful debate over it? How come we have been in two wars since 2002 without any Congressional declaration of war? Why is it that Congress without question continues to approve funding for these (at a cost of something like 300 billion dollars a year if I remember correctly)? This is not democracy.

We face terrible economic peril but no political candidate is held accountable for half-baked plans that clearly would either accomplish nothing or would make the situation worse. Those that say we have to let it get worse and recover by itself are not required to explain how they would take care of the unemployed, nor are those who promise to cut back government expenditures.

There is bi-partisan consensus that we should not be dependent on oil from other countries, yet nothing is done about this, even by our progressive President with majorities in both branches of congress.

There is not a chance in hell that anything will be done about global warming - excuse my language but this is an epochal problem that transcends every other issue. The rest of the world is poised to take action but without U.S. leadership it can't happen. Therefore my children and their children will see this planet with a temperature 3 or 4 degrees warmer than it is now, when it will be a very dangerous place, more like something from a science fiction movie, with a large percentage of the population dying off.

A democracy has the advantage of the pooled knowledge, experience, wisdom, and judgement of all its citizens. Obviously they will disagree, but that is what debate is for. We will still arrive at something better collectively than what any one of us could have come up with individually. We have given that up. Instead we have a system that guarantees that a few large corporations will decide everything for us.

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