Blurred Lines

 

A federal judge ruled recently that the city of New Orleans violated the First Amendment rights of street artist Cashy D and property owner Neal Morris when the city censored a mural painted by Cashy D on Mr. Morris’s property for the NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) Mural Project. The mural in question quotes off camera remarks made by the current president when he was still a private citizen to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. Those were the infamous “grab ’em by the p*ssy” remarks. For the mural, Cashy D painted pictograms to stand in for some of the words, and it was supposedly one pictogram in particular that some citizens and the city objected to, taking their case to court.

In a case like this, it’s probably impossible to separate politics from concerns about public display of lewd images. People engage in political displays on their own property all the time, the most prevalent example being electioneering signs. Those signs typically do not contain lewd images or profane language, though it’s possible some homemade versions might. Art displayed on private property where it can be viewed by the public is often subject to local zoning and nuisance regulations. The NOLA Mural Project artwork is a political statement expressed on private property within public view, and any lewd images and profane language it contains are directly related to the quotation from the political figure the creators are criticizing.


2015 Gay Pride Festivus Pole, Deerfield Beach, FL
A Gay Pride Festivus Pole and Nativity Scene on public display on private property in Deerfield Beach, Florida, in 2015. Photo by DavidCharlesFLA.

Simple as the language of the First Amendment to the Constitution appears, it is amazing how many different interpretations it has engendered over the years. It would seem fairly cut and dried, but obviously it is not, according to the nation’s judiciary. First Amendment cases decided one way by a lower court are often as not overturned by a higher court, an outcome that wouldn’t appear likely if it were not for the fallibility of judges and the judicial process, and the malleability of the law itself.

The current president may have made his foul remarks in private as a private citizen, but the way the American political game is played, he and his history became fair game once he entered public life, and remarks like those quoted in the Cashy D mural are indicative of his character, or lack of it, and become part of political discourse, their very offensiveness being the whole point of the mural. Political expression on public view from a private space is subject to interpretation and possible censure by the public, and its merits are therefore best judged on a case by case basis in the courts, as they should be, and not by bureaucrats and politicians in city halls around the country.
— Ed.

 

Facebooktwitterredditmail

Asterisk Morality

 

Morality with an asterisk differs from hypocrisy in that people engaging in it apply double standards to third parties, and not necessarily to themselves. For instance, when the Reverend Franklin Graham recently called on Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg to repent for his homosexuality, which the Rev. Graham claims is a sin according to the Bible, he appears to have ignored sinning on the part of his favored politician, the current president, who numbers serial adultery among his transgressions. That is asterisk morality.

 

Overlooking sin or defective character when it comes from a political favorite is nothing new for the Rev. Graham, his late father, or white evangelical Christians generally. They do not apply the same standards of forgiveness to their political opponents. When their politician stands accused of misdeeds in the forum of public opinion, the charges are fictional, a smear; but when they have the slightest opportunity, white evangelical Christians do not hesitate smear their political opponents, usually citing the Bible. Where is that Bible when examining the character of Their Guy (almost always a man, and certainly an avowed heterosexual man)? That is asterisk morality.

Billy Graham and Richard Nixon
President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office with the Reverend Billy Graham, father of Franklin Graham, on August 10, 1971. Hobnobbing with presidents who perceive themselves as above the law appears to be a family tradition. Photo from the National Archives.

It would be interesting to see if the Rev. Graham might withhold criticism of Mr. Buttigieg’s personal life if their political views aligned. In reference to the character of the current president, the Rev. Graham appears to have no publicly stated misgivings, and is enthusiastic about him in every respect. All this politicking by the Rev. Graham and other white evangelical Christians is clearly in violation of the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the United States tax code, which was intended to restrict the ability of tax exempt organizations such as churches to engage in partisan politics. It has been laxly enforced. The current president has pledged to abolish the Johnson Amendment. Maybe if Mr. Buttigieg did the same, he too could be without sin* in the eyes of the Rev. Graham and his flock.
— Vita

* As long as he advocates political policies favored by white evangelical Christians. Amen.

 

Facebooktwitterredditmail

Consumer or Citizen

 

The Keynesian economic model which held sway in Western capitalist societies in the middle of the twentieth century has long since given way to neoliberalism, a policy and a philosophy which is a reworking of the laissez faire economies of the early industrial revolution. No wonder that we live in a new Gilded Age, the culmination of increasing economic inequality and degradation of publicly subsidized social services for everyone but the rich. Neoliberalism, a term which has meant many things in theory over the last one hundred years, has come to mean in fact laissez faire economics for the poor and middle class, and corporate welfare for the wealthy.

 

The result has been the takeover of the economy by short-sighted financial interests among the largest banks, and the takeover of politics and public policy making by those same banks and international corporations which owe allegiance to their executives and their shareholders instead of to any one national or local community. Consumers bear a great deal of the responsibility for this state of affairs, while citizens can change it.

American corporate flag
A protester at the second presidential inauguration of George W. Bush in Washington, D.C., in January 2005 holds up Adbusters’ Corporate American Flag. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh.

Consumers are passive; citizens are active. Consumers are inattentive to politics; citizens pay attention to what’s going on in government. Consumers struggle to get by and blame themselves when they cannot; citizens understand larger forces are arrayed against their interests and demand an equal place at the table. Consumers look at the wealthy and see people who helped themselves; citizens know how wealth creates wealth and privilege looks out for its own. Consumers feel helpless to change the course of society; citizens band together because they realize their power is in their numbers.

2018 Women's March in Missoula, Montana 179
A sign at the January 2018 Women’s March in Missoula, Montana. Photo by Montanasuffragettes.

 

The neoliberal philosophy of the past forty years has stripped people of their view of themselves as citizens with rights, duties, and responsibilities in society and replaced it with the lumpish, passive recognition of themselves as consumers, replaceable parts in the economic machine. Meanwhile, neoliberals have sold the consuming masses on the idea that unions and publicly funded healthcare and education are bad policies, but tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations are good because of some nebulous trickling down that’s supposed to happen. Mission accomplished!

Taking action to change neoliberal policies on the environment, on economic inequality, and on the accountability of corporations, banks, and politicians is going to have start with a change in attitude among the populace from consumers to citizens. It starts with getting the money out of politics, and that starts with overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which equated money with speech. What greater symbol for the neoliberal outlook can there be than “money talks”? The second most important step toward change would diminish the power of the big banks by reinstating the Depression era Glass-Steagall Act, separating commercial and investment banking. The third step would end government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and divest from it entirely. All easier said than done, of course, and only the first few of many steps to curtail the undue influence of the rich and powerful over society, but once consumers get up off their couches and walk down as citizens to their voting places they will be taking the steps necessary to change a system that works only for a privileged few, and not for them.
— Vita

 

Facebooktwitterredditmail

The War on Economic Disadvantage

 

12 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.
13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

— Words of Jesus Christ quoted in Luke 14:12-14, the King James Version of the New Testament.

The current presidential administration has declared an end to the War on Poverty, and a victory for someone or other, certainly not the poor. Perhaps the rich, who can now go on plundering the nation without any nagging concerns for the poor. Not that the poor were ever a great concern for the rich, a disconnect that has been made easier over the past half century with sociological euphemisms like “economically disadvantaged” and “low income”. Sociologists and others with a bureaucratic and academic inclination to their thinking supposedly applied euphemisms for the words “poor” and “poverty” out of consideration for the feelings of people mired in “low resource” neighborhoods, among other things, but really they were doing those folks no favors. Good intentions merely made it easier for everyone in the “upper income brackets” to look the other way.


Thomas Benjamin Kennington - Orphans
Orphans, an 1885 painting by Thomas Benjamin Kennington (1856-1916).

The War on Poverty is over then, and up is down and wrong is right. Two plus two equals five. “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening,” saith Supreme Leader. None of that rhetorical nonsense fills the bellies of the poor with nutritious food. It’s all sophistry. Anyone with eyes that see and who acknowledges the world as it is can attest there are poor people everywhere in need. Those poor people are more than “food insecure”, they are hungry, even starving. Academics, bureaucrats, politicians, and the wealthy can argue forever about how best to deal with the problem of the “economically disadvantaged” or “underprivileged”, and in the end they will only increase their own advantage and scrupulously preserve their own privilege. Stop the jibber jabber and get down to a soup kitchen and start dishing.
— Ed.


George Carlin talks about how euphemisms erode meaning in his 1990 concert Doin’ It Again. Warning: foul language.

 

Facebooktwitterredditmail

Talking Trash

 

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
— President Lyndon Johnson to staff member Bill Moyers, on observing racial epithets on signs during a visit to Tennessee.

The terms “white trash” and “rednecks” are probably the only remaining instances where derogatory epithets are more or less acceptable in general society. Privately, of course, people of all stripes can and do use epithets of all kinds to describe others they don’t like, and it often matters little how different are the beliefs they express in public. The reason the labels “white trash” and “rednecks” may still be acceptable has to do with how, now more than ever before, they designate a voluntary lifestyle choice rather than an inborn condition. 100 years ago there was speculation among scientists and others that the condition had a genetic dimension, but since then the argument has been discredited along with the practical applications of eugenics, such as forced sterilization.


The white working class has attracted renewed scrutiny from politicians, the media, and academics after the perception of the 2016 election results as a resounding announcement from those ignored voters that they wanted their concerns addressed. By no means are white trash or rednecks any more than a minority of the white working class, and their votes comprise an even smaller percentage than that, since most of them do not habitually vote, or even register to vote. It is also untrue that white working class voters were the primary constituency of the Republican candidate elected to the presidency. There were not enough of them to install the Republican in office, any more than ethnic and racial minority voters alone made up enough of Barack Obama’s constituency to install him in office in 2008 and 2012. Nonetheless, politicians, the media, and academics unhappy with the 2016 election results have seen fit to blame the white working class, and by extension white trash and rednecks, for inflicting the current presidential administration of Supreme Leader on the country.

Toward Los Angeles, CA 8b31801u edit
A 1937 photo by Dorothea Lange of two men walking toward Los Angeles, California. Ms. Lange took many photographs in her work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), a New Deal agency.

There is no backlash to denigrating white working class people. Across the culture at the moment, it is a safe bet for people like academics who must otherwise be extremely careful in navigating the identity politics cultural minefield, lest they destroy the career in the bureaucracy. Certainly there are some people who deserve criticism, and perhaps as suggested earlier that would include people who have made a lifestyle choice to be vulgar and offensive. Making such a lifestyle choice now, when people have greater access to information than ever before, can be considered more than ever a conscious decision rather than a cultural or genetic backwater that a person cannot escape. But the information they seem to prefer is fake news over real news, and bolsters their apparent preference for ignorance over knowledge, bigotry over acceptance, and reality television over reality.

Near the end of A Face in the Crowd, a 1957 film directed by Elia Kazan, and starring Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal, the public gets a peek behind the mask of the demagogue, “Lonesome” Rhodes. There are many similarities between this film and today’s political and cultural environment, but there is one major difference in the ability of the public to register shock and disapproval for abysmal character flaws in its leaders. Some of the baser elements in today’s society would not only not be shocked by Rhodes’s revealing of his true character, but would approve of his remarks as a middle finger thrust upward on their behalf in defiance of elites.

 

Just about everyone seems to look down on someone else, to the point that it can be considered a universal human need. Elites are certainly not free from the need to look down on some other group, but in practice they have learned it is in their own interest to be circumspect about expressing their disdain, at least in public. Sneering at the white working class generally without first splitting off the subset of white trash and rednecks is a bad idea that serves to highlight the disconnected and arrogant nature of elites, and it is behavior that will serve to push white working class voters, once the foundation of the Democratic Party along with black working class voters, farther away from Democrats and more securely into the arms of Republicans, where they are given rhetoric they want to hear, but nothing of substance. Listening to people is the first step toward working with them, while loudly condemning them all as racist, misogynist white trash might demonstrate to everyone your purity for the satisfaction of your own smug self-righteousness, but it is hardly the way to win friends and influence people, a vocation otherwise known as politics.
— Vita

 

Facebooktwitterredditmail

Benjamin Franklin Would Not Be Proud

 

With each successive year, the United States Postal Service shows more cracks in its structure, and at no time of year is that more evident than around the year end holidays as letter and package volume increases. It’s difficult to find empirical evidence of the Postal Service’s failings as a delivery service, though anecdotal evidence is plentiful. Just about everyone has tales to tell of late delivery, non-delivery, delivery to the wrong address, or failure to pick up mail. If it seems these failings are increasing, that’s more than likely an accurate assessment because the United States Postal Service is beset both from within and without.

The Postal Service as originally designated in Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the Constitution, says nothing about profitability of the Service, only that it is a necessary manifestation of interstate commerce and communication. The Founders recognized it as a public utility, in other words, not a business for private profit making as much as a service for the benefit of the public, with all the implications for public subsidy that can entail.


Along the way from 1775, when the Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General of the fledgling United States of America, some right wing factions got the idea that the Postal Service should behave as a quasi-private business still under government control. They got their way first in 1971 when the Postal Service was transformed into an independent agency under the Executive Branch, and then even more importantly in 2006 after Congress passed legislation requiring the Postal Service to fully pre-fund employee retirement health benefits, a requirement which has hamstrung the Service financially ever since.

Commercial Aviation Stamp 1926-76 Scott -1684
U.S. postage stamp issued in 1976 honoring the 50th Anniversary of U.S. Commercial Aviation (1926-1976). Illustrated are the first two airplanes used to carry Air Mail under contract: Ford-Stout AT-2 (upper) and Laird Swallow (lower). Federal Air Mail contracts provided important sources of revenue to early aviation companies, including Eastern Air Lines.

Hamstringing the Postal Service was not an unfortunate unintended consequence of fiscal responsibility measures, but a deliberate step by Republican legislators to ensure the eventual failure of the Postal Service so that its carcass could be picked over by private businesses, with the choicest bits going to the highest bidder. Less choice bits, like mail delivery to remote outposts around the nation, would most likely be ignored, with a consequent loss of mail service to those places. Sorry, not profitable. Travel half a day to the nearest small town to pick up your mail at a privately maintained postal outlet. Sending a letter to that remote outpost? Sorry, flat rate postage no longer applies for first class delivery. That will be ten dollars, please.

Besides being attacked from the outside by vultures, the Postal Service has been hampered lately from within by a toxic work environment fostered by bad, unaccountable management which has led to chronic staff shortages around the country even when the troubled economy would dictate that people would flock to Postal Service jobs that are relatively high paying, with better benefits than most other employers offer. Word gets around, however, and eventually people become reluctant to apply for those jobs regardless of the monetary rewards. Meanwhile, attrition combined with the depressing, hostile work atmosphere saw to it that valued senior employees took early retirement or simply quit to get away from the place. If Congress ever gets around to convening an investigative commission, Postal Service managers will have a lot of explaining to do.

In the 1947 film version of Miracle on 34th Street, starring John Payne as attorney Fred Gailey and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, the Post Office (as it was known then) was a respected institution.

In the meantime, try to be kind to your local mail carrier, who is only trying to make the best of a bad situation and, if possible, get home at a reasonable hour. Post Offices are short of staff, and mail sorting centers have been closed in the past ten years in a short-sighted attempt to save money, resulting in long hours for many mail carriers. Working after dark in the evenings has presented a whole new set of dangers to these people, from urban carriers walking a route being mistaken for prowlers to rural carriers in outmoded vehicles with only two weak hazard lights blinking to warn other drivers on dark country roads that they are sitting ducks as they move from box to box at low speed delivering the mail.

These are unnecessarily dangerous conditions for the carriers on their appointed rounds, and then to be confronted with bullying managers back at the Post Office when they’re finally done with their shift is too much. Something has to change at the Postal Service, starting with the top, but the first shove has to come from what corporate and political America considers the bottom, which are the customers who expect good service from their mail carriers, if only managers and legislators would either do better jobs supporting them or get out of the way and stop actively obstructing them.
― Ed.

 

Facebooktwitterredditmail

When We Were Okay

 

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
― Jesus Christ, quoted in the Gospel of Mark, 8:36, King James Version.

For many Americans in the growing lower class and shrinking middle class, the American Dream of their parents and grandparents no longer means the same things or presents the same possibilities. How can it, when they have been either treading water or slipping beneath the waves for over a generation now? In 1971, the middle class was 61 percent of the population, and the lower class was at 25 percent. In 2015, the middle class had slipped to 50 percent, while the lower class had increased to 29 percent. What group had increased it’s numbers the most at the expense of the middle class? The upper class increased from 14 percent in 1971 to 21 percent in 2015. Those numbers reflect population shifts within income groups; the shifts of actual income have been proportionally even greater.

Cass Elliot sang this version of the old standard “Dream a Little Dream of Me” when she was with The Mamas & The Papas in 1968.

We hear a lot lately about American Exceptionalism, as if it was somehow tied in with the American Dream. But that is an unfortunate misconception. American Exceptionalism, as invoked by modern politicians, isn’t much more than the Manifest Destiny of the nineteenth century or the pushy nation meddling and nation building of the twentieth century. We’ve got a lot of crust, telling everybody else what to do and how to live just because we think we’re special. Of course, all that political proselytizing is merely a cover for corporations to grab resources and exploit cheap labor abroad. They don’t “hate us for our freedoms”, they hate us for our hypocrisy and our meddling.

Back home, where we belong, the American Dream is a noble sentiment when it refers to a better life through hard work, education, and civic virtue. According to the Gospels, those are values Jesus Christ spoke of many times. The American Dream has not historically meant “grab all you can and the Devil take the hindmost”. It is truly amazing how many wealthy Americans profess Christian values, yet in their actions do little or nothing to uphold them.
Claude Vignon and Workshop - Croesus showing Solon his treasures
Croesus Showing Solon His Treasures, a painting from the 1630s by Claude Vignon (1593-1670) and his workshop assistants. Croesus was the famously wealthy King of Lydia in the sixth century, BCE, and Solon was a renowned Athenian lawgiver.
Those wealthy hypocrites, the money-changers, are the ones who need their taxes raised to 1950s levels. They are the ones whose overseas tax shelters and corporate headquarters need to be brought back home, where they belong. They are the ones whose profiteering from the military-industrial complex needs to be severely curtailed by bringing the troops back home and closing down the more than 1,000 military installations overseas. Those troops could be put to work in this country repairing infrastructure, and then given a proper GI Bill for their education. There is a long laundry list of other things that need doing to return this country not to when it was “great”, which bespeaks the hubris of the American Exceptionalism that has caused so much trouble for us and the world, but to when the middle class at least was okay, and with a prospect for the lower class of getting better. To start, stop glorifying the wealthy. They don’t need your help, unless it’s to carry their water.

A scene with Harvey Korman and Mel Brooks from Brooks’s 1981 movie History of the World, Part 1, depicts his vision of France before its revolution in the eighteenth century. Twenty first century America is not there yet, but we’re closing in on it. Warning: foul language.
― Vita
Special note: To learn more about this subject, watch the 2015 documentary Requiem for the American Dream, featuring Noam Chomsky, or read his book by the same name.

 

Facebooktwitterredditmail

Walk the Walk

 


In Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 movie Full Metal Jacket, two marines engage in an ironic “John Wayne” face-off. Wayne’s chickenhawkish stances were well-known and widely held in contempt by combat veterans from World War II to Vietnam. Warning: foul language.

 

America’s wars continue with no end in sight, from one presidential administration to the next. One proposal to curtail the corporate oligarchy’s military adventurism is to bring back the military draft or to institute Universal National Service, the idea being that if a greater percentage of the population has a personal stake in foreign policy then they will be more likely to make their preferences known to their leaders, and people with a personal stake are less likely to want more war. The oligarchy knows this, too, as it’s a lesson they learned from an aroused public during the Vietnam War and are unlikely to want repeated if the public reawakens.

 

Since the draft ended in 1973, the per capita percentage of the population serving in the military has steadily declined, while the number of American military interventions overseas has drastically increased. Linking the two trends could be coincidental, but it’s worth considering that in the 40 years from 1933 to 1973, in most of which there was a draft, the US sent the military abroad on 27 occasions, and in the 40 years from 1974 to 2014 the US sent the military on 175 different foreign interventions. Has the world really become 6.5 times more dangerous since 1973? Or is it that the US has taken on in earnest the burden and profits of empire and the role of world policeman, putting out small fires everywhere, many times at the behest of corporate interests?

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

― Marine Major General (Retired) Smedley Butler, writing in the
Socialist newspaper Common Sense in 1935.

 


The 1994 Robert Zemeckis movie Forrest Gump is an excellent portrayal of the diversity of experience awaiting Vietnam era draftees, though of course most of them did not want to be there. Warning: foul language.
The majority of Americans catch the news about these numerous foreign conflicts as they go about their daily business, and because they don’t know anyone in the military and didn’t serve themselves, the news pretty much goes in one ear and out the other. Who can get agitated or even interested about what’s happening in Kosovo or Libya or Yemen or the Horn of Africa, wherever that is? Afghanistan and Iraq, oh yeah, are those still dragging on? Are we going into Syria now, too? And so these busy Americans go on with their lives, paying their taxes and going shopping, surprised to learn that when the US deploys Predator drones to these foreign hot spots, the controllers of the deadly drones sit in air-conditioned trailers halfway around the world in Nevada or Germany. It’s the New Age, alright, a deadly video game.

 

Or so we might choose to believe. As technocratic and bloodless as the military brass and the politicians may try to make modern war seem in order to make it more palatable for the general public, it will always nevertheless be a nasty mess both physically and morally. They don’t want to show that part, though; they learned that lesson from Vietnam as well. Rah-rah Hollywood movies are not the answer to getting Americans to come to terms with their current situation in world politics. Far from it. There are far too many chickenhawks making movies in Hollywood and making policy in Washington to serve anything but the basest emotions of too many Americans, the “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots” among them, who are stirred to cheer movies glorifying war and the macho posturing of Supreme Leader. As long as they reflexively say “Thank you for your service” to a service member or veteran when they encounter one, they’re covered. Aren’t they?
― Ed.

An early scene in Full Metal Jacket depicts Marine boot camp in a less lighthearted vein than the boot camp of Forrest Gump. Some of that can be attributed to the differences between the Marines and the Army, and some to the aims of the two films. Nonetheless, some of the drill sergeant’s insults will ring bells in the dark sense of humor shared by many veterans, an emotion Kubrick effectively turns inside out at the end of the scene. Warning: foul language, of course.

 

Facebooktwitterredditmail

Don’t Call Me “Stupid”

James Madison by Gilbert Stuart 1804
James Madison, portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
― James Madison

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes in his latest book, Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White, that low information voters would do better to stay away from the polls on election day rather than cast their vote based on an inadequate understanding of the issues. This is sensible advice and in an ideal world those low information voters would heed it in order to benefit everyone. No one buys a car, after all, without at least kicking the tires and pretending some knowledge of what’s under the hood. But aside from safety considerations on the public roads, buying a car is largely a personal choice, affecting solely the owner. The effect of a person’s vote, however, amounts to a civic responsibility because it is a decision which affects everyone. This much seems obvious, yet it is amazing how much more effort some people will invest in researching a car or stereo system than in how politicians stand on the issues. In that case, Mr. Abdul-Jabbar makes a valid point.

Are low information voters stupid? Not necessarily. Some feel obligated to vote yet lack the time or desire to get up to speed on the important issues at stake. Others are deluded by questionable sources for their information, such as major media outlets which give a one-sided slant to the news and are often obsessed with sensationalism and trivia. Still others are blinded by party loyalty to information about defects in their preferred candidate. If anything, all of these attributes describe laziness rather than stupidity.

In this age of Standards of Learning testing in the public schools, it appears social studies education generally, and civics education particularly, are getting squeezed in favor of the three Rs, which are more readily documented to show results. Elementary and secondary school education in civics instills in future voters not only knowledge of the structure of government and how it works, but more importantly why that matters to them in their daily lives. That is the vital aspect of civics education which needs to remain with people throughout their lives, and which they are apt to lose sight of in the noise and confusion of earning a living and raising a family.

This is also the Age of Information, when sources of information are more widely available to the common person than they have ever been. Some sources are worthwhile and some are not. Some people view sorting through it all an engaging experience and some view it as drudgery. But it is there for people if they choose to look for it and choose to exercise a capacity for critical thinking which they ideally would have learned from their civics education. Today, for most people in a relatively affluent society, there are fewer excuses than ever for ignorance when easily the equivalent of the ancient Library at Alexandria is available to them in their computers, in their tablets and smartphones, or in the computers and book stacks at an institution usually somewhat less grand than the Alexandria Library – their local public library.

― Ed.


Ancientlibraryalex

The Great Library of Alexandria, drawing by O. Von Corven.

Facebooktwitterredditmail