Voting without doing the ‘homework’, and then not watching what they do in government, is like handing a stranger the key to your house, and going for a walk. It’s risky. It’s naïve. It’s irresponsible. And it’s damn lazy.
A friend of mine would now accuse me of being judgmental. I would argue that just as we should be able to critique politicians, so should we also be able to look at society critically. There’s a place for ‘critical thinking’. There’s a place for recognizing a need for change.
If even our university-educated citizens can’t be bothered with slightly complicated but very important issues, what have we come to. If we get it — that our own safety or health will be affected by policy choices, why leave the homework to ‘others more motivated’? If such so-called higher education gives us only work skills or status, is it even worth a damn. Surely at a minimum it should produce a better-run world?
If they don’t grasp issues like – for example – a need for scientific evidence (and not just about tooth-decay!) before fluoridating our water – then it becomes a political decision instead of a matter of health. If we mindlessly let our politicians eliminate ‘social programs’ on an emotional basis, without knowing the evidence suggests otherwise, we may be increasing the crime rate and other social and economic costs of short-term ‘tax dollar saving’ – another political choice.
Policy decisions like this, with tremendous impact on peoples’ lives, are being made constantly. But I know people who voted for Toronto’s mayor Ford because “he made sense” on a radio interview, or who voted for a ‘Harper government’ because the other parties would “destroy the economy”. How does that make sense? This was the rationale of one acquaintance with a degree – who has taught at a university. I have other friends with little formal education who think more responsibly and logically. I considered his an irrational and self-defeating choice because he doesn’t understand connections between economics and social issues, and he doesn’t dig deeply into any one of them.
I am increasingly inclined to feel that a significant underlying problem is that voters – including “educated” ones, are so busy “Amusing Ourselves to Death” as Neil Postman called it that most just can’t get into anything that’s not fun. Though I have to confess I think his assumptions behind that reality were off.
In his 1985 book he said, “We now know that ‘Sesame Street’ encourages children to love school only if school is like ‘Sesame Street’.” He also said “Whereas in school, one fails to attend to the teacher at the risk of punishment, no penalties exist for failing to attend to the television screen,” and so on. He basically blamed television. He blamed parents too, for passively allowing their children to sit in front of the television too much – and there I think he was a little closer to the truth.
But I remember parents and teachers at the time. I believe the education systems of the western world had become symptoms of an underlying value that had been widely adopted: “if it feels good do it” – the corollary being “if it feels bad, don’t bother”. Kids shouldn’t have to do homework. Classrooms should be about happy, stress-free stuff. A minority were concerned about this at the time, and the issue coloured many a parent-teacher night.
In my view, this dominant philosophy was the typical over-reaction to the previously rigid, structured, authoritarian world we had lived in. As they say, we had thrown out the baby with the bathwater. It was a gross mis-interpretation of the idea that we had a “right to be happy”, which had turned into ‘we should always be happy, never uncomfortable’.
Today’s result: Our intellectually lazy voters often seem to prefer comfort and happiness, over wisdom and responsibility. Am I unnecessarily gloomy or negative? You tell me.
Some of what’s happened is described here: http://junctrebellion.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/how-the-american-university-was-killed-in-five-easy-steps/