Soundtrack in my head: Green Day, “American Idiot”
We’re down to less than sixty days before the finish of the chest-beating, truth-twisting, anything-but-informative ritual know as the American presidential election and the respective political conventions.
As a both a Bahá’í and the holder of a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, I’m a firm believer in avoiding partisan politics. In addition to inhibiting world unity and making me feel queasy in general (the word “unity” sometimes makes me queasy too, but that’s another post), I feel that partisan politics has two aspects which both seem to short-circuit critical thinking–party loyalty and ideology.
Ideology–whether it be Marxism-Leninism, neoliberal capitalism, libertarianism, , religious fundamentalism, or some other -ism–is, in my view, an approach to managing human affairs that is unique and peculiar to industrial society. It’s an archaic, assembly-line form of management that starts with valid and often insightful observations about the nature of human beings, but then turns into an out-of-control machine crushing all independent thought in its path.
The problem starts when those making those acute observations feel that they have stumbled onto something that provides a fundamental explanation about how the entire world works. The Observer–or perhaps self-described disciples a few generations removed from the Observer–decide to codify their observations into an ideology to provide a somewhat simplified explanation as to how the world works. Many of these ideologies are regurgitated at political conventions.
The ideology might, in fact provide useful explanations and solutions to certain problems. Most often, the effectiveness of the ideology might be akin to hammering a nail into place with the handle of a screwdriver. On the surface, it might appear to work fine, and may appear to even run smoothly but the observant person might notice some nails not driven in properly and some screwdriver handles breaking. Believers in the ideology might respond to the observation in any number of ways 1) insist that there’s nothing wrong with the nails or screwdriver handles, 2) acknowledge that some bent nails and broken screwdriver handles might not be a desirable outcome, but insist that there is no better tool than a screwdriver for driving in nails, or 3) jail and/or murder the person pointing out the problem.
Another possible outcome might be that someone else will discover that a hammer is immensely more effective than the handle of a screwdriver when it comes to driving nails into wood. This might result in the creation of a competing hammer ideology as the hammer starts to be employed not only for driving in nails, but screws as well, and–well, you can probably figure out what happens next. Screw political conventions.
Now that I’ve explained ideology and its uses, let me next touch on political parties. Political parties are formalized factions within a government. George Washington in his farewell address warned against the dangers of such factionalism, but for centuries it has been weaved into the fabric of the American political system. The two political parties dominant for 160 years–the Republicans and Democrats–are widely viewed as the only ones capable of producing viable candidates for elective office–particularly that of the President of the United States. No politician’s name flashes on the TV screen or is printed in the daily newspaper without abbreviations indicating his party affiliation and the state they are from. The fact of the matter is that in 2012, two other presidential candidates–Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party–are on enough state ballots to theoretically win a majority of electoral votes, but given that they are not of the Democratic or Republican parties, they are widely ignored.
The Republican party has arguably become an ideologically driven party dedicated to, in general, dismantling as many government regulations and programs as possible and promoting a more aggressive foreign policy. The Democratic party is less ideologically driven and attempts to please a broader spectrum of people.
Nevertheless, the parties have turned into a political shorthand that, frankly, short-circuits independent political thinking. Depending on which side of the aisle one has chosen to align oneself with, one side has become the epitome of all that is good in the world and the other side has become the epitome of all that is evil in the world. There seems to be no room for shades of gray in the colors red and blue. This often leads rather absurd twists of logic on both sides of the aisle.
At one point I saw a graphic on Facebook that put out simplified view of Democratic and Republican worlds. The Democratic world had windmill and solar power, sustainable agriculture, walkable neighborhoods, co-op markets, bicycles, and other tokens of an idyllic, environmentally sustainable world. The Republican world showed polluting coal-powered plants and oil refineries, big-box stores, cookie-cutter sprawl development, and other tokens of a highly polluted dystopia. I pointed out that I saw a heck of a lot of Democrats on that Republican side of the picture. Meanwhile, many Republicans portray Democrats as Jesus-hating, handout-gobbling leeches on the system. Once again, political convention shorthand short-circuits independent thought.
So this political circus will end in another month and once again, a government will be elected that roughly 47 or 48% of the electorate will be unhappy with. Meanwhile serious problems needing attention such as global warming and the state of perpetual war this country has been in for the last eleven years will continue unaddressed. And the political conventions circus will continue…