In recent weeks, we have seen much hand wringing over the role that Social Media, Special Interests, Fake news, and Foreign Governments have played, in determining the outcomes of our political processes. To be sure, there is great merit in all of these accusations. Lobbyists should not be able to veto bills that serve the public interest. Fake news smears on Facebook should not derail the campaigns of innocent politicians. Russian propaganda should not steer the course of American elections.
But the solutions being discussed – more regulations on Facebook, censoring-by-fiat of fake news sources, more oversight into Russian clandestine activities – these solutions are all missing the point. No matter how much we regulate Social Media, it will continue to have a negative impact on political discussions. No matter how much we censor Fake News, ugly rumors will continue to spread. No matter how much effort we pour into cold-war-style covert activities to combat foreign propaganda or special interests, the other side will always find more creative ways to keep going.
The solutions being discussed are mere band-aids. Patches. Workarounds. An effort to duct-tape the holes in our political system in order to keep it chugging along.
The real problem worth examining and solving is the following: Why does social media play such a big role in our elections? Why is our political system so gullible and vulnerable to fake news? Why does our political system allow lobbyists and foreign actors to wield such outsized influence? Are we really so stupid that the slightest bit of misinformation and propaganda can make us vote for incompetent or malicious candidates?
No. We are many things but we are not stupid. We are busy – our own daily lives are an endless struggle that we wade through in order to provide for our families and put a roof over our heads. We are savants in our own domains – whether it be manufacturing, marketing, design or hospitality, we are each in the top percentile within our fields of expertise. We are eclectic in our interests – our passions span the gamut from arts to sciences. To put it simply, we don’t all have the time, expertise or interest to debate trade protectionism and single payer healthcare.
And yet, our current political system expects us to. Either explicitly or implicitly, we are each expected to form opinions about nearly every political issue, ranging from civil rights to tax policy to international trade to foreign policy. We are then expected to triage all of these in order of priority, and then vote for candidates who best champion our prioritized policies. That’s a lot to ask of someone who has neither the time, expertise nor interest in doing all of the above! Nobody expects a politician to know how to milk a cow, and yet, we expect farmers to help select public policies that are best for the entire nation.
Left to make such monumental decisions with such little resources, it’s little wonder that people fall victim to all manner of subterfuge. In order to fix our political system, we need to change it at its core, in order to address the above fundamental problem.
Democracy is indeed the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried – and that’s certainly encouragement enough to keep trying. We have earlier discussed some ideas for fundamentally overhauling the way we conduct elections. One that’s sophisticated, mathematical and the stuff of science fiction. And another’s straight out of the 19th century’s playbook. And these are only the start.
We cannot simply accept the lazy patches currently being debated in Washington. We have to continue thinking and experimenting with more fundamental changes in our political system. We cannot afford to let the past paralyze our future. The democratic experiment was a wonderful one that led to tremendous strides for our human civilization. But it’s only the first step – not the final one.