Thursday, June 5, 2014

What’s Really Wrong With Politics is You…

Anyone who steps back and observes the current state of our politics knows there is something very wrong. And I think I have a sense of what it is. I’m not talking about recent rulings on campaign finance, high-powered lobbyists, or the prevalence of extremist factions; I’m talking about something deep seeded in each of us.

The real problem is our individual inability to separate our own opinions from the facts.

Don't get me wrong. Opinions are good. We should all have some. But we need to know when our opinion impacts our ability to see the facts.   

Consider this: It’s sport analogy, so my apologies in advance. But, have you ever watched a game where something questionable happens to your favorite team. It could be a possible fumble, or a charge/block call, or a handball (for those few soccer fans). Are you the type of person who watches the replay and lets the facts tell the story? Or are you like most fans who let their loyalties cloud their adherence to reality, and just look for some evidence that will make your team’s case?
No one ever admits to being that fan, but they are everywhere.  

Fumble! Or is it?
Well, it depends. Or does it?
Darn you, truth!
I’ve watched games with people I consider to be highly reasonable and intelligent who will yell at the screen that it wasn’t a fumble because the knee was down, when anyone with eyes could see the ball came out first. They made up their mind well before they took the time to see what actually happened. And no facts will change it.

In sports, at least, there are referees. Even if we think they are blind or total bums sometimes, they are there.

We don’t have any real referees in American politics. Sure, the public gets to vote every few years, but that’s hardly consistent or decisive enforcement. We used to have the media to act as a referee of sorts. But I fear one of the many side-effects of the changes that have taken place in journalisms in the past two decades is that nobody thinks of journalism as an effective referee of the truth anymore. Sure, many journalists still see that as their role. But when a few major outlets struggle with the opinion versus fact divide, and the mere definition of what constitutes a media outlet has so undoubtedly changed, that battle is lost.
Now, the closest thing we have to a referee runs on the Comedy Channel. Some people think he's a bum, too.

So, in reality it falls to each of us to wade through it all, and make our own decision about what is real and what isn’t, to separate science from fiction, and to know the difference between the truth and only partially-true talking points.  
Sure, having the people in charge is good. Call it the marketplace of facts, or the democratization of reality. Yet, if many of us can’t even tell a fumble when we see it, how are we going to do with the big questions?

Take the Benghazi attacks, as an example (and I know some people have just started yelling at their computer screen). This was certainly a horrific event that cost American lives. We should know what happened and understand it. But are any of the actions associated with it impeachable, as some of my Facebook friends have suggested? If you say yes, ask yourself if any of the actions by the previous administration associated with the attacks on the World Trade Center were impeachable too? Very few among us will say yes to both. Many more will say yes to one and not the other, driven not by facts but by our political predisposition. This is but an example.

Every day things occur in politics that cause similar reactions. Politicians do nefarious things, like telling lies or having affairs; And they do less nefarious things, like accepting campaign donations or supporting policies we might disagree with. How we react to such things often has less to do with the facts and more to do with the letter after their name. This isn’t a Republican problem, or a Democratic problem, it’s an every damn one of us problem.

In the post-referee world, or the world where everyone is their own referee, the human aptitude for bias and the ability to create our own reality is severely hampering our political process.

Sadly I don’t know that there exists one cure-all answer to the problem. We can’t resurrect a media that will act as our truth referee, not in this social media-driven, click-bait obsessed, post-modern “journalism” world. It really does come down to the individuals, which is fine when we consider ourselves as the arbiter of truth, but kind of scary when we think about all the idiots out there who don’t agree with our clearly-superior opinions.

But I also know that most people, in some shape or form, have an inherent sense of fairness. I’m not talking about economic fairness, or even equality-under-the-law fairness. Rather, I mean a general sense that there exist something formerly known as the truth, and that it’s only fair that the truth should be respected. That would be fair.

So next time we see some political story break, involving characters we all know, we should stop and observe before we form an opinion. And we should all ask ourselves, did that football come loose before the knee touched the ground? There is usually an answer.
Of course, that's just my opinion.

No comments: