My friend EMPIRICUS writes:
Most people don’t vote. Those who did vote elected an entertainer. These two facts are connected, and to see the connection, we need to strip away some automatic moralizing.
On the voting: the moralizing view states that people are lazy and apathetic who don’t vote, or the society we live in has beaten people down and is evil for making them not vote. On the entertainer-president: politics should not be for entertainers, politics should be for serious, reliable people who know what they’re doing.
But if you think about it you realize that these moralistic positions are false. The odds are statistically minuscule that anybody’s vote will count. So it is a rational decision not to vote. This is the so-called voter’s paradox, no paradox when you realize that people don’t vote to accomplish anything We vote, if we do, because we enjoy it. It is a form of entertainment. It lets us express who we are and participate in a show, like watching reality t.v. And since voting is a form of entertainment it makes sense that people would vote for someone they find entertaining.
What about the idea that voting is an act of deep civic responsibility whereby we as adults shape the fate of our world? It is a species of cant.
Almost everybody reading this and I writing this will have practically no effect on the great political issues of our time. If others wreck the economy that impoverishes us or have a war that kills us, there is nothing we will be able to do about it. However what we can do is choose what sort of entertainment to consume and to produce.
We might like religious entertainment which explains how our lives and deaths are part of a beautiful picture. We might like purely relaxing entertainment which helps divert us from the hard task of living. We might like entertainment that provides us with an identity so we can show who we are to other people and not just show, but show-off; signaling to potential mates or friends that we are a little more fun and interesting than the run-of-the-mill (or indeed reassuring our current mates and friends that they have made a good choice.
Is the effect of this desire for entertainment on national life and planetary life a bad thing? In many instances: of course. People who view life as a revenge-driven action movie will embrace racism and populism. People who like their entertainment easy will avoid depressing, complicated issues like global warming. We may in Neil Postman’s phrase be “amusing ourselves to death”.
Bad or good, it is not optional.
If masses of people are going to participate in the political process at all, each individual person’s decision will not have an immediate impact, as his decision of who to marry or where to live or what to eat has an immediate impact. Therefore our political lives will remain an aspect of our entertainment lives.
We are free however to seek and make entertainment that makes us broader and deeper and more sensitive and loving and beautiful rather than the reverse.
I’m not sure if I agree with his views, but I find his commitment to avoid hypocrisy and follow logic where it leads him admirable — if disconcerting.