June 10, 2014

Democracy Depends on a Consensus. Often, non-Optimal Choices May Be Acceptable and Even Very Prudent

I had an interesting conversation with colleagues during lunch today and at least one said that they won't vote for Hillary Clinton should she run for president. Some of the reasons cited was that she's openly for big business, that she didn't do anything while at the State Department, and that it's not appropriate to have an oligarchy of the Bushes and Clinton.

Well, I get all that, but in a democracy--as many times in life--we, personally, don't have the ideal choice. We may not have great choices either. We often take the "lesser of the two evils" and it makes sense, especially when one is truly evil, as I believe any serious Republican contender has been in my lifetime and will be in 2016.

Plus, elections have consequences as they can steer the country in a certain direction, elevate certain priorities, and articulate ideas. Successful policies, despite their flaws, convince people about their merits. Let's not forget, many people are conservative--can't imagine in the abstract or analyze ideology. There are many narratives out there. Sure, leadership matters, and that's why we have so many people choosing the ridiculous and want a society more fit for the Dark Ages. However, once they see that, say, Obamacare is generally good, that same-sex marriage doesn't destroy a state, etc, they accept it.

In the same light, I don't think most people readily accepted the ideas of the Enlightenment, of liberalism, or of civil rights for everyone. But, once those took hold (often imposed by elites like Jefferson, Madison, et al), people accepted them. We can see this today in our own country, from state to state--different sub-cultures with very opposing views on, say, gun control, religion, sex, political parties choice, etc. This also shows that most issues aren't decided on their merits, on evaluating the facts, because otherwise we wouldn't still be debating whether humans are responsible for global warming, evolution (and science in general), and the age of the Earth!

In yesterday's NYT, C. Blow's oped titled, "Religious Constriction," makes a similar point about the religiosity of our citizens--highest among affluent countries. You have to look to Greece, Italy, and the oil-rich Gulf countries to find higher religiosity. I maintain that--for most domains, issues, ideas, morality--if religion informs opinion then, most certainly, it's wrong, and imprudent. It is precisely because such opinions are held by so many of our citizens that we don't see the progress we could get nor do we solve many of our own problems.

I have to give another shout to a favorite, Paul Krugman, who he recently wrote [link] along the same lines of my argument:

"The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right. It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.

So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed."

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