Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Democracy, Capitalism, the Media and Geopolitics

Is the basic premise of democracy workable? The United States has been conducting a two hundred year experiment to find that out. And the results are coming in. Let the “marketplace” function freely and let the people chose according to their own inclinations.
The freedom of the marketplace has given rise to a drive to “provide people with what they want” -- which has become an intense competition by food packagers to increase sweets and fats in the American diet until obesity is epidemic.

Similarly, freedom of the marketplace has moved the chief source of the people’s information, the media, to compete in giving the people what they want – that is sensationalistic coverage of insignificant but lurid events, and to all but abandon distributing the sort of information that a responsible electorate needs to function rationally.

But these ills, and the many other parallel problems, could not have happened if our educational system had not failed in creating and maintaining an intellectual climate in our population that was capable of perceiving what is genuinely important and for the good from what is merely entertaining and immediately gratifying.

And the results have been coming in. Since the Clinton administration duly elected presidents, from the Democratic Party, have faced an electorate dazzled by manufactured scandals manipulated by a sensationalistic press. 

Even more significantly, in the election process truth has vanished in a haze of tawdry and fantastic accusations embraced by a significant percentage of the population. In our electorate, the mental ability to test the plausibleness of what the media presents has been lost.

Even the desire for responsibility has been lost in a national mental laziness that is accustomed to being fed “what the people want.”

Even the virtuous and seemingly responsible portion of the population is reduced to knee-jerk response to manipulation.

We, whose birthright was the great experiment in democracy, have sold our greatest hopes for a daily diet of sweets and thrilling stories. We have lost those qualities of rational judgment and the persistent demand for what is truly in our best interests -- qualities that the founders of our government thought were sufficiently immutable in human nature to make democracy possible. And it is the free market, catering to our whims with focused competitive tenacity, that has done this to us.

But the competitive market of capitalism could not have done this had not our educational system failed us first.

I still believe that democracy and capitalism can work, but only where an educational system sternly maintains its responsibility to produce a wise electorate and consumer public. Our system has produced a self-indulgent populace. 

My fear is that this condition is irreversible: that the possibilities -- the hope of democracy and freedom that this nation made its foundation -- will be discredited for all time.

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Katherine Ashe is the author of the  four volume Montfort novelized series