Over the last few years I've made an effort to stay up-to-date, and dig beyond the headlines of the latest political stories. "A well-informed populace", and all that. Well, I'm done. I've learned a lot of facts, reworked no few of my personal ideologies, and had a great many fantastic conversations. But in the end, it's only made me smug and indignant by turns, and neither of those emotional states is worth the time I've invested.
My political preferences generally lean leftward, but my primary allegiance is to the opposition of pernicious idiocy. And that leaves me without a dog in pretty much any fight you can find these days. For a time it seemed that the answer was to become more involved, try to steer one party or another in whatever direction seemed important that day. As both a farmboy and a liberal, I came pre-equipped with a distaste for large corporations. My grudge against the media and its shallow, fact-free and anti-analyisis approach to political coverage grew exponentially as I educated myself. And, of course, the politicians themselves didn't even bear consideration. But eventually, I realized that none of these was the true enemy of the people.
That would be the people themselves. Jefferson proposes that we "educate and inform the whole mass of the people" to best preserve liberty. That's a fantastic concept, but the whole mass of the people has all the direction and consideration of a hamster on a little wheel, and seems quite content with this state of affairs. I don't believe they are all stupid per se, but there is an overwhelming preference for comfort and emotional reactions over rational consideration. This is nothing new, of course. But I failed to realize just how strongly the average citizen will resist having his preselected positions challenged by a little detail like reality. Neither party has a monopoly on this. Both thrive by poking randomly at the electoral body until they find a spot that triggers a twitch, and then bearing down for all they're worth. This reduces the
political process to a competition comprised of equal parts manipulation and horuscupation. This is a game that's only fun in the abstract for me. In practice, it just makes me tired and sad.
There are many fine thinkers out there writing many fine works on what is going on with our world, and I will miss their insights. I'm grateful for their efforts, and I'll check in on some of my favorites every election season to see who seems least likely to allow us to drive ourselves off of a cliff in the next few years. But even the most discerning analyses serve only to get me fired up, which makes me want to learn more, and to educate others, and... tired and sad. Long trip, short trip, same destination. And at the end of the day, I'd know a little more about the petty cruelties and short-sighted foolishness of a small group of small people who will be replaced with great fanfare by more of the same, more or less. And even though I want to know everything, that's not the sort of knowing that makes me feel good about myself. Or anything else, really.
So! Democracy, a fine thing. Erudite analyses of its particular applications, also. But not for me. If I'm going to invest my attention in unproductive enlightenment, I'm going to pick a topic that makes me happy. I'm thinking cognitive science. Who's with me?