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An Ideal Democracy

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What would the perfect democracy be like?

It seems to me that to understand more clearly what’s wrong with something, it is useful to consider what could be right. Imagine, for a few moments, a democracy in which every citizen took his or her civic obligations very seriously. I don’t mean just that they vote, of course.

It starts with staying well-informed. Everyone would read the newspaper enough to know about the issues that affect us all. We would know not just about the economy and the employment situation, but also about prison conditions, the military, domestic abuse, foreign aid, and all of the dozens of issues that affect us as a country. We certainly wouldn’t agree on all these topics, but we would know the important factors in understanding them. We wouldn’t neglect an issue just because it didn’t personally affect us.

We would vote based on this knowledge. We would, directly and through the media, demand thoughtful answers from the candidates on these questions, not just feel-good sound bites. We would know the candidates’ stands on issues not only important to us, but also important to the country. A candidate who evaded hard questions would not be seen as someone serious enough about his responsibilities to be elected. We would remember a candidate’s past promises, and vote out someone who had not made a good-faith effort to fulfill them. We would not vote for a candidate who attacked his opponent’s character, or made charges based on anything other than the opponent’s record or statements. Insinuations and misleading statements would be recognized as the equivalent of lies, and punished by the voters accordingly.

We would vote based not just on how the candidates’ proposed policies would affect us as individuals, but on how they would affect all of us. We might be ideological, but we would not be dogmatic. Liberals would respect the crucial role played by the free market in a free society, and introduce market principles in government where appropriate; conservatives would understand that sometimes governments must do what the free market isn’t equipped to do. We all would encourage our representatives to negotiate to make laws that represent the interests of all of society, not to stand firm on ideology and reject any agreement not perfectly to one side’s liking.

The media would consider themselves to have a sacred responsibility: to provide us with information designed to give us the best insight possible into the country and world around us. The more serious the issue, the more coverage there would be. Politicians and bureaucrats would be held to account, asked tough questions to which complete answers would be expected; a politician who evaded a question would be reminded that he hadn’t answered the question. If a politician said something factually incorrect, the media would note this as a matter of course. Reporters would avoid being on friendly terms with members of the government, knowing this could interfere with their objectivity as journalists.

It would be well understood that money can be a corrupting influence in politics, so steps would be taken to prevent this. Public money would be allocated to pay for every political campaign, from President to city council member. The money would be given on the condition that it not be used for television advertising; the Web is more than sufficient to spread the politician’s message to those who want to hear it. Private and corporate donations, while not being illegal, would be frowned on due to the potential for corruption, and those who took such donations would not be elected for that reason.

A politician would not be judged positively for acquiring federal money for local projects, as this would be recognized as thinly veiled support for a candidate’s re-election at the taxpayers’ expense. It would be understood that projects that benefit a particular city or region should be paid for by taxes collected as locally as possible, in the interest of not spending taxpayer money on projects that most taxpayers don’t want their taxes to pay for. Voters would recognize that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and politicians would be praised for their fiscal prudence. A constitutional amendment would be passed requiring a 3/4 supermajority to allow deficit spending. Voters would approve of surpluses to pay for future projects, or to finance extra spending in the event of a recession, so deficit spending wouldn’t be necessary.

Most importantly, we would recognize that our duty as voters was to reward politicians whose main efforts were directed at making a better country and a better world, as that would be of substantial benefit not only to us, but to our descendants. Statesmanship would be rewarded at the polls. It would be considered shameful for a politician to advocate putting off dealing with important problems for the next generation to deal with, even if that required an increase in taxes or a decrease in spending. Voters would support politicians who took a long-term view.

Will this ideal democracy ever come to pass? Almost certainly not. People are not like this. Politicians are people too, subject to the same weaknesses and frailties. We don’t pay attention to the newspapers. We want to spend less and get more, to have others pay for what we benefit from. We don’t vote, or do so based on superficial factors. We are swayed by inspiring speeches rather than records of good governance. We allow ourselves to be influenced by campaign commercials that we should know are misleading at best. We sometimes don’t punish our politicians for reprehensible behavior, for violating the public trust.

Above all, we don’t have a high regard for politicians; we regard them as hypocrites and power-grubbers at best, and crooks at worst. In most cases, this view is well justified. But who’s to blame? We are the ones who elected them, after all. They represent us, in more ways than one. They are we, writ large. There are dozens of problems with politics, but it starts here. Until a great majority of us recognize this, nothing will change.

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About Semprini

  • Jordan Richardson

    Also, every woman would look like Jessica Alba and I would pee gold but it wouldn’t hurt to pee gold because I would be Jesus – a big, giant gold-peeing Jesus.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Gee, Jordan,

    For once, you and I thought along the same lines. That should scare you!

    The author would obtain a perfect democracy by having perfect humans. And then he wouldn’t need the perfect democracy!

  • Arch Conservative

    The only thing that was left out of this article was the 72 virgins waiting for us at the end. Or is it 76? Who cares…it’s a lot of tang any way you look at it.

    Right semprini?

  • Baronius

    You don’t need perfect humans to move in the direction of this article. You need people to be more informed and ethical. I suspect we’re losing ground on both fronts.

    The scary thing is, with regards to education, the availability of information has never been greater. Voters can easily become well-informed. People need to make the effort to become well-informed, and they’re either going to do that out of good or bad motivations. So it seems to be that ethics can be a prerequisite for voter education.

    So let’s start there. Let’s either find a better starting ground, or answer the question, how can we steer people toward better ethics?

  • http://jeanniedanna.wordpress.com/ jeannie danna

    This was well written and thought out, but I’m not surprised because this article was written by an educator…

    This could never be a perfect world but it’s OK to dream.

    :] Thank you for submitting an intelligent article here.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Here is an interesting interview, aired earlier today on NPR’s Morning Edition, In Ancient Rome, The Slow Grind Of Compromise.

    Let me cite an excerpt:

    Throughout the novel, drawing parallels to contemporary politics is unavoidable. To explain the nature of politics he lays out in Conspirata, Harris recalls a quote from the British politician John Enoch Powell, “who is rather similar to the conservative ideologue Cato,” according to the author, in which Powell said “all political careers, unless they are cut off at some happy juncture, end in failure.”

    “It must,” Harris concludes. “That is the process. Politics is never a victory, it’s just the remorseless grinding forward of events. And so yes, it’s very easy, I think, to attack politicians for their hypocrisy. And it’s right in a democracy that we do that. But I did quite like the idea of trying to write a novel from the point of view of the hypocrite.”

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    A well-written, thought-provoking article which deserves a lengthy and vigorous debate in the comments.

    Two thoughts, to kick off with. Firstly, in your ideal democracy liberals would accept the role of the free market in government and conservatives would accept that sometimes it has no role. I actually don’t think any but the most extreme ideologues on both ends of the political spectrum deny this basic truth. The contention arises from where you draw the line. And it all goes downhill from there…

    Secondly, here’s the thing with elected politicians stumping for projects which benefit their constituents: why, in a way, shouldn’t they? They are, after all, elected to serve them. I can understand someone from Florida not wanting their tax dollars going toward some senator from Alaska’s pet project, but the senator from Alaska’s job is to look after the interests of his state and only federal money is available to him to work with. It’s quite the paradox.

    And Baronius’s comment #4 is excellent.

  • jamminsue

    Roger, #6, listened to the same article. What I found interesting was the comment that a requirement of a politician was to change position with changing times. This is something to discuss here.

    It is wrong to change one’s position? Politicians are accused of this all the time

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I do it all the time, Jamminsue, and changing times definitely call for change in thinking.

  • http://www.sempriniblog.blogspot.com/ Semprini

    The first three commenters seem to have missed the point here. Their reaction can be summarized as “duh”, but the point was not to say that this was the way things could be. I’m new to Blogcritics, so maybe these are just people who would rather snipe and mock than engage in thoughtful discussion. Such people are certainly everywhere, especially in politics.

    Fortunately, the commenters since then have made thoughtful comments, which I appreciate. Baronius: Yes, I think ethics are very much a part of the problem here, and maybe even more difficult to change than getting people to be better informed. Better ethics require a lot of things, such as excellent understanding of psychology, as well as self-awareness. We all do unethical things, but persuade ourselves that they’re okay, because we don’t want to see ourselves as bad people. Self-justification is the No. 1 enemy of ethical behavior. I’d like to see schools, as early as age 10 or 11, begin to teach the basic principles of self-awareness and empathy.

    Jeannie Danna: Thanks very much!

    Roger: Thanks for the link, it’s very interesting; it’s one of those things that we’d all be better off by reading. In relation to that, part of my notion is that people could be more aware of the whole process, including what’s necessary for compromise and progress. The part about Cicero and the five condemned men is an especially important one: he/they sacrificed the rule of law for what he/they thought were good reasons. Maybe this is similar to Bush 43 and Obama allowing torture committed by those working for the government to go unpunished. It seems to me to be the first step on a very slippery slope, and I wish more people were aware of it.

    Dr. Dreadful: Your first point is very well-taken; maybe I should have said it differently, along the lines of ‘each side needs to not ignore the legitimate points of the other side’. Of course, that could be applied to any issue, not only in politics. In this case, it definitely is a case or where you draw the line.

    As for the regional spending thing, you said, “the senator from Alaska’s job is to look after the interests of his state.” That is something I wish I’d included in the article. This is the way a representative’s job is generally seen, but I think we’d all be better off if it wasn’t. I’d rather it was, “the senator from Alaska’s job is to reflect the wishes of his constituents.” (It’s the same thing, unfortunately, in a way.) I would then hope that those wishes reflected a desire for government to do what’s best for all, not just what’s best for me, my city, or my state.

    Jamminsue: Absolutely, and this is another thing most people don’t realize or think about. Attacks on politicians who’ve changed their views call them ‘flip-floppers’, as if one must never change one’s mind. The problem is that most politicians do in fact change their minds not because of genuine reconsideration, but rather political opportunism. (In NY alone, Kristin Gillibrand on gun control and Harold Ford on gay marriage are two good examples.) So, it’s easy to be cynical when a politician changes his mind.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “I would then hope that those wishes reflected a desire for government to do what’s best for all, not just what’s best for me, my city, or my state.”

    Excellent point, Semprini. You’ve hit on the perennial weakness of the representative form of government. We elect our officials to represent our interests, usually locally-defined. Does that mean, however, that those we elect must remain but a mouthpiece and ignore the greater public good?

    Hence the paradox of representative democracies, and its unfortunate that most politicians have not the will, or the integrity, to try to balance these concerns.

  • Zedd

    Doc,

    “Firstly, in your ideal democracy liberals would accept the role of the free market in government”

    Its been my experience that most do. I think that it is only purported that they don’t in order to sensationalize or demonize their position. I have come to the conclusion that the Reps have gained a following and sustained a role in the political game by distorting the entire political landscape, twisting reality in order to make grabs at power. I don’t know too many people who want big government, yet listening to Reps you’d think that was #1 on the Dem agenda. I don’t know too many people who don’t see the merit of a free market, but you’d thing otherwise listening to the rhetoric on the right. off course I don’t know too many who don’t believe in family values, but….

    So I think we go back to the answer being an informed populous. But an informed population isn’t pliable and they don’t buy stuff that they don’t need and allow the wealthy to manipulate them into wars, and health plans that don’t serve them best.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Consequently, what’s good for the country and what’s good for those who hold the strings of power is at odds.

  • Zedd

    #8 The accusation of flip flopping is one of those manufactured sins that are used as a political tool to manipulate the fickle public. A wrong is created and the simple minded glob on to it, much like a rumor in high school (what’s cool and what is lame for the week, who’s ugly or cute, regardless of the very real physical evidence).

    Again, the solution comes from a more educated population.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Certainly, it’s a sure way of discrediting your opponent for being fickle-minded.

  • Zedd

    I truly believe that the best system would come from a solutions focused public and leadership. If the leadership actually knew that they would be booted out for not coming up with solutions.

    Also the media would consist of smart people who know what questions matter. They need to nudge the leadership into good decision making.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Zedd @ #12:

    Agreed, and as I said in my earlier comment, all but the most dogmatic of left- and right-wingers would agree that there is at least a small amount of middle ground. I think Semprini was just reacting to what he perceives to be a central ailment of America’s democracy.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    The accusation of flip flopping is one of those manufactured sins that are used as a political tool to manipulate the fickle public.

    It absolutely is one of the most absurd things about modern political ‘debate’.

    First of all, Governor Bloggs charges that her political opponent, Senator Schmoe, is a fool because he supports Position A instead of Position B. Then, when the Senator switches to supporting Position B (which is supposedly what the Governor wanted him to do), she calls him a fool because he changed his mind.

    Oy vey.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I can’t help being more radical than either of you, though Zedd is right in that even the most radical elements of the Democratic party believe in “free markets.”

    I don’t think this belief is justifiable any more.

  • Baronius

    Forgetting for a moment the ugly history of literacy tests, do you guys think they’d help to increase the average voter’s knowledge?

  • http://www.sempriniblog.blogspot.com/ Semprini

    #20 Baronius: Well, maybe at the margins. But for the most part, I think people just wouldn’t vote if they thought the test would be too hard. It’s difficult to imagine more than, say, 1% of the population making a special effort just to be able to vote. I think the kind of people for whom voting is important are the kind who would pass the test anyway.

  • Baronius

    Well, you want a society in which the voter is informed. You can get that (or closer to that) by informing more voters or banning uninformed people from voting. That last sentence of yours seems like a worthy goal, that the people who are allowed to vote would be the ones for whom voting is important.

  • Zedd

    roger,

    I think what we know about economics and just social systems is being tested right now. We wont admit for quite some time (if ever) that we don’t have all of the answers.

    I think that we had a tendency to be dogmatic in the past century. We would discover a “new” concept and declare it to be THE solution. What would cement the “rightness” of that concept is the demonizing of the opposing view. Most times the other side would be labeled anti-Christian. Once that label was firmly planted, the new idea would be accepted as a universal principle and other solutions would cease to be explored (else they possibly be evil and unchristian).

    We’ve currently settled on the notion that the idea of free market is as relevant as the theory of relativity. If one suggests a different way of engaging, one always has to “I believe in the free market” but…. As if it is a holy ideal that cant be desecrated.

  • Zedd

    Baronius,

    I don’t think the issue is literacy. What is critical is comprehension. Having a public that values their own mental processes as aposed to joining a club and going along with whatever that club says is right to believe.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    It’s very interesting you’re addressing these matters. And yes, I think the new concept(s) will emerge as a result of practice.

    What’s just as interesting is the dynamics you’re addressing which appears to be at work in forging what eventually gets to be regarded as “normal.”

    You might want to check parts of the discussion I had yesterday with Alan Kurtz, Cindy and Mark (Eden) on the Jesse Ventura Conspiracy thread, in Politics section.

    I would be interested to hear your take on it.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Look for the article titled “Conspiracy Theory . . .”

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    The points Baronius cites in #4 is precisely why we are in the mess we are in.

    You need people to be more informed and ethical. I suspect we’re losing ground on both fronts.
    To be more informed means to gather news from more than one source. When one relies on a singular news source one’s point of view is skewed from the starting gate.

    The scary thing is, with regards to education, the availability of information has never been greater.
    And the propensity toward laziness is just as great.

    Voters can easily become well-informed. People need to make the effort to become well-informed, and they’re either going to do that out of good or bad motivations. So it seems to be that ethics can be a prerequisite for voter education.
    If we made personal accountability and civics hallmarks of our public education system, imagine the possibilities. The problem is that those who administer today’s education system are so crooked and self-serving that they fear educating our young. Meghan McCain said it best this week: “Revolutions start with young people, not with 65 year-old people talking about literacy tests and people who can’t say the word ‘vote’ in English.” Since she said these words, Glenn Beck and all things right of the right have mercilessly attacked her. Mr Beck stated, “Kids are pretty stupid: I think a lot of our twenty-somethings are becoming useful idiots. One of those useful idiots seems to be Meghan McCain.” If there is ever another terrorist attack I hope it is aimed straight at Glenn Beck’s studio. Then he’ll have something to cry about.

    Let’s either find a better starting ground, or answer the question, how can we steer people toward better ethics?
    The best way to do so is by throwing out 75% of the incumbents. That’s a scare tactic I can live with.

  • Baronius

    But Zedd, how practical is it to have a comprehension test or a not-going-along-with-the-pack test for voting? Literacy is measurable. A literacy test would block some of those who have limited access to information.

  • STM

    Australia: all of the above is good, but still agitating for free beer, compulsory eight-burner barbecues and a three-day weekend.

    Democracy lives in the backyards of Oz.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Their reaction can be summarized as “duh”, but the point was not to say that this was the way things could be.

    No, Semprini, that is not true at all. You have sought to lay down the conditions for an ideal democracy. In order to obtain the conditions for that democracy, you need to make changes in society, and each change, step by step, leads you in the direction of a humanity that does not exploit its brothers.

    That is a perfected human nature, Semprini.

    And once you have a perfected human nature, you know longer need democracy. Whatever form of government that emerges when human nature is perfected will not exploit the governed – which is the whole point of democracy – to protect the governed from being exploited.

    You see, all the commenters who compliment you on this article do not go that far in their reasoning. I do. That is why I made the comment (#2) I did.

    That is why I find this article as dull as dishwater – not because I disagree with you – but because you do not carry forth your points to their obvious conclusions. Had you, you would have trashed this article altogether and dealt with a different subject.

    Have a pleasant Sunday.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    If you really wish to comprehend what I am telling you, read Niccolò Machiavelli – not De Principatus, which is all about exploitation – read Discourses on Livy, which talks about how the ideal republic should be structured.

    Have a pleasant Sunday.

  • Zedd

    roger,

    I am more appreciative of the fact that you were able to muddle through the last post. I apologize for the mess. I was on the jumpy cursured laptop again last night. I have to download the software to fix it. I thought I checked the mishaps but I obviously didn’t . I suppose it would have helped if i’d worn my glasses (as I am not currently… I loose them all over the house). I’m glad that you were able to make some sense out of the confusing mess.

    I will look at your dialouge. I’m sure it will be interesting.

  • Zedd

    Baronious,

    The problem is neither literacy nor IQ. Its gullability and apathy.

  • Zedd

    Ruvy,

    I’ve been doing a study of the ideal system. I’ve come to the conclusion that what is ideal is what works best for the people at that time in their development. Right now however, in this nation, I would say, we are living beneath our capability in many ways and have made enormous strides in other ways.

    We are not as prejudice (which is the issue that has impacted societies since the begining of time) but we are not as curious any longer, which could (perhaps) lead to our downfall.

  • Baronius

    Zedd, my two points of emphasis were voter education and ethics. Ethics was a higher priority because it can inspire civic interest. Your two points (on the negative side) are gullibility and apathy. They correspond to mine – IF you accept the idea that voter education can diminish gullibility. That’s a whole topic of its own.

    An ethical electorate, one that sees the importance of civic virtue, would be an involved electorate. Do we agree on that? How would you go about improving voter ethics?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Don’t be talking, now, Baronius about changing human nature? That’s totally unlike you.

    On another note, Ruvy’s argument to the effect that you don’t need “an ideal system” if people are ethical is nothing new. Still, it’s fallacious.

    One could argue, by the same token, that Ruvy doesn’t need religion or his Torah, because if he were “ethical,” the Torah would be imprinted in his heart and mind.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    #32,

    I didn’t have to muddle through it at all. You’re forgetting we’re pretty much on the same wavelength.

  • Zedd

    Baronious,

    Who are you and what have you done with Baronious?

    I don’t think the problem has to do with ethics so much. Well yes, in the sense that our values are watered down and we are easily distracted, so our focus is easily shifted by the folks with the “silverest” tongue. I agree with Roger that what you are proposing would be a change of human nature to some degree; a massive undertaking.

    My workaround would involve better educated newsmen; stringent qualifications for those who would be responsible for questioning our leadership. We need smart people to ask the questions. What we have currently are cute, witty people who have very little comprehension (or possibly concern) for the big picture in the msm. They could join a pageant OR be an anchorperson, whichever…. You also have the talking heads; the pundits and talk radio folks, many of whom are people who simply need a lot of affirmation. Their aim is to make a point, any point (much like teens), get a cheer and hefty salary. They purport to stand for something simply because they’ve been cheered on for that stance before and its worked to their benefit so they continue to mouth the same type of garbage. No real thought our analysis of issues; just personal praise, dittoing and off course money.

  • Baronius

    Zedd, don’t let Roger fool you. He’s muddying the issue on purpose. Anyone who’s read philosophy (and we know that Roger has) would not misinterpret my statement by accident. I’m not talking about changing human nature; that’s utopianism, and I have no stomach for it. I’m talking about practical, real-world ethics. So is this article, although it interestingly sets up an ideal in order to expose our practical failures.

    What you’re talking about would be a massive undertaking, with the licensing of a caste of journalists. I’m looking for practical steps that individuals can take. For instance, the original purpose of public education was the creation of citizens. Jefferson wrote quite a bit about it, but I like this quote from Lincoln:

    “That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance.”

    We used to teach people civic responsibility. How and why are we failing to do so today?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Baronius, all I did was to ask a pointed question. And it worked, because there comes the clarification.

    No harm done that I can see.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “Anyone who’s read philosophy (and we know that Roger has) would not misinterpret my statement by accident.”

    By the way, I do thank you, Baronius, for the compliment. I really mean it.

  • Zedd

    Baronius,

    We haven’t conversed too much. Not sure why you would think that you and roger’s exchange would be complex or confusing in any way. I haven’t been following it so much. I was just responding to your proposal of a litmus test or qualifier of sorts. Sounded a bit farfetched, undemocratic and impossible to administer. What you would have to gauge is if people had good critical thinking skills not if they understood civics. You’d have to teach critical thinking (that aint gonna happen). Reps would say that it was liberal clap-trap (cause its all intellectual).

    As for my comment on “who are you…”, this is my first time reading you attempting to make a sound argument without over simplifying and taking political sides. It’s nice.

    Now for the nap….

  • Baronius

    Wow, Zedd, in the same breath you said that you like it when we don’t take political sides, and that Republicans don’t like critical thinking because it uses the brain. What am I supposed to do with that?

  • Baronius

    And Roger, you didn’t ask a pointed question so much as deliberately mischaracterize my position. Does anyone want to talk about this article?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Whatever.

  • zedd

    Baronious,

    Not taking a side just an illumination of our landscape. You are a Rep. You know… Would that not be seen as a Liberal endeavor? A waist and departure from the fundamentals. I made that point to highlight the improbably of my assertion (or yours) ever being implemented. I wasn’t making a judgement or attack on any party.

  • http://www.sempriniblog.blogspot.com/ Semprini

    Ruvy: Thanks for the longer comment; I felt before that you were being casually dismissive mainly because you agreed with someone else who was.

    I don’t agree that what I’m proposing is ‘perfected human nature’, but even if it is, I don’t think that makes what I’m saying any less relevant. I couldn’t have said it much better than Baronius (#39) who says, “it interestingly sets up an ideal in order to expose our practical failures.” I was trying to say that these are the main areas in which we need to advance. And I don’t doubt that Machiavelli, or any number of illustrious others, has said it better. It’s hard to say anything truly new. But I do think this bears saying any number of times, and what I said is something that you tend not to see in mainstream media publications, I suppose because people don’t want to hear about how they could do better. But it should still be said, and not dismissed because it could be said better. Not that you don’t have a right to your opinion, obviously.

    I very much agree with Zedd that we are living beneath our capacity in many ways, and I wish we at least had a fair amount of public discussion about the ways we could improve our democracy and civic participation. The mainstream media, unfortunately, will have no part in any such discussion because it might alienate their viewers.

    Does anyone remember Jeff Greenfield’s CNN show, from about 10 years ago? It was a half hour, focused on one topic, and had guests that didn’t come at the topic from an ideological perspective, but one that sought to edify and enlighten. Sadly but predictably, it only lasted a few months before being canceled.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I’m afraid, however, Semprini, that we have reached our limits even as a federation. Political forms can thrive and remain viable only to a point. Such was the case with the Athenian (direct) democracy, with the Roman Republic; and it’s so for representative democracies and/or federations of such.

    Consequently, I don’t see the present malaise as essentially people’s failure, but as failure of the political/economic system to go beyond. It has reached its natural limits, and only some other political/economic configuration will have to replace it so as to be able to deal with the present realities.

    Meanwhile, the malaise you’re talking about is but a symptom of a systemic failure rather than its cause.

    In any case, that how I understand the present.

  • Zedd

    Ruvy: Thanks for the longer comment

    O.M.G Please don’t encourge him. Thou knowest not what thou sayest! For the love of all things beautiful in all of creation, take it back!!!!

    Help us all. Here comes the history of the Jews from Adam and Eve to Lieberman.

    Yikes. I’m out

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    I very much agree with Zedd that we are living beneath our capacity in many ways…

    Are we REALLY living beneath our capacity? I have to be honest, I’m about to pop a blood vessel on that one. It seems to me that the piss poor public education system has resulted in creating a generation of people who aren’t capable of much more than flipping burgers. They have no sense of civic pride; no sense of personal responsibility; and, no passion for the political process.

    Those who have had privileged lives are taking the mantle of government. Since they’re so damned “smart” they dominate over the rest of us — making us actually believe that they will deliver us our dreams. A handful of schools and fraternities have manufactured a handful of individuals who have dominion over our lives in every aspect.

    There’s a perverse, incestuous relationship between corporate America and our government. Included in the mix are Union leaders who have hoodwinked their memberships into believing that the current leadership is necessary. It’s all a big giant crock of bullshit. Ironically, our government is a mirror image of ourselves – self-absorbed, divided, disconnected and disinterested unless there’s an emergency.

    Had the public education of our young had been a priority we would have a new generation of individuals ready to accept the torch we pass on. At the rate we’re going, the “haves” will be fewer and the remainder shall be at their mercy. I really shouldn’t care — I’ll be dead before it all comes to pass. But I do. It sickens me that we’ve allowed the degradation of the American “standard of life”.

    Democrats and Republicans are funded by the same people, folks. The proof is all there at the Federal Elections Commission for you to see. Now that the SCOTUS 5 have made their ruling, corporations will have even more freedom to stuff the wallets of the politicians we send to Washington. The current two party system is a complete failure while the smaller parties are being squeezed out by the MSM who depends on ad revenues from the same bastards who are funding our politicians.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Silas, there have always been folks who were dumb and uneducated and there always will be.
    Our young aren’t dumb – they’re just not interested, many of them, because they have sense enough to know it doesn’t matter. Our political/economic system has outgrown it’s capacity to deliver on the scale that is required. The system is broken, and we’re going through birth and death pains until something new will emerge from the ashes.

    As I argue in #51, it’s not people failure that we’re experiencing by a systemic failure; and the crisis we’re experiencing is a symptom, not a cause.

    So don’t pop your blood vessel just yet. Change is in the air but first we must go through the pain.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    So it is written, so it shall be done.

  • STM

    You need three things to restore democracy to America (modern deemocracy, that is, as we all understand it, not the ancfient Greek thing).

    These are:

    1) Compulsory attendance at the polling booth to ensure that ALL – or the vast majority of – Americans are engaged in the political process. Once they have their names ticked off the electoral roll on the day, they can do what they like – voting needn’t be compulsory. Our experience of the compulsory voting system in operation since the 1930s in Australia is that once people have turned out to vote, most do. Only a small percentage waste their vote through informal or donkey voting … but that’s their right if that’s how they want to record their decision. Failure to attend a polling place is punishable by a $75 fine in Australia, mostly it’s not paid if people have a reasonable excuse, and is not a criminal offence. I know Americans like to bang on about rights and freedom, but remember, it’s compulsory to go to school, compulsory to hold a driver’s licence and compulsory to pay taxes. What’s the difference?? Compulsory voting has one distinct advantage for the electorate: it makes politicians more accountable. The issues tend to be less polarised, because politicians are aware of the swinging vote, and there are less red herrings … ie, made-up issues that shouldn’t be replacing things like the economy, taxes, fuel prices, grocery prices, mortgage interest rates, responsible domestic and foreign policy, prudential regulation (particularly important in this climate) etc, etc. I wouldn’t be asking for hope and change. I’d be asking for my government to look after ordinary Americans, not only those with power, money and influence who can get the nod and the wink in the corridors of power in Washington. Having every American turning out at the polls would certainly make the politicians think.

    2) Proportional representation in the Senate (through the single transferrable vote system). In conjunction with prefential voting, this enables smaller parties to win seats in the senate. This is vital to prevent political filibustering or gridlock. The smaller parties will often vote on conscience, or do deals on certain legislation to vote a certain way, which means they keep the major parties honest. This is key if voters’ interests are to be upheld.

    3) Preferential voting for the lower house. As opposed to a first past the post system, your vote isn’t wasted if the candidate you most like isn’t elected on a party-preferred basis. You mark the ballot with your prefences, from, say, one to 10. Prefences generally go to the major parties but it also aids in having independents and smaller parties elected to the lower house. It’s almost a way of voting where ultimately, you vote the person you least dislike but ensure the person you most dislike doesn’t get the nod.

    Americans need to do something. It’s not being a democracy that’s the issue in the US … it’s the way the political process is controlled by people other than those who should be able to make the decision -“the people”.

    Americans won’t have true modern democracy until they devise a way of breaking the complete strangehold of the two major parties.

    The above is one way of doing that. I can tell you from experience that it actually works.

    The senate having smaller parties and independents is key here. They do a lot less good in a lower house but in the senate they punch way above their weight.

    And finally, just because it wasn’t invented in America doesn’t mean: a) It’s no good, b) it won’t work, or c) that it won’t work better than what you have now, which is a system that appears to have so polarised and divided America, it’s unlikely there will be any coming back from that until the system is changed.

    Of course, I won’t be holding my breath expecting that Americans might even contemplate this kind of thing.

    Remember, too, that the constitution of the US was a piece of paper drawn up by a bunch of old farts in the late 1700s, not the Holy Grail or some document sent down by God.

    Those old farts had great foresight (in most areas), though; they intended it to be changed and made better by subsequent generations of Americans and some of the founding fathers are on record as saying so. Their view: they couldn’t possible have got it all right.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Do you think there is time, STM, to put these reforms through – even if there be the will and the way?

    And what of the present, I’d say unprecedented, deadlock in both houses? Is it just the case of politicians being stubborn to a fault, or are they reflecting perhaps the fundamental rift on the part of the populace?

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    One could argue, by the same token, that Ruvy doesn’t need religion or his Torah, because if he were “ethical,” the Torah would be imprinted in his heart and mind.

    That is why I study Torah and other holy books, Roger. To attain that status.

    Semprini,

    I don’t agree that what I’m proposing is ‘perfected human nature’…..

    That’s precisely my point. You weren’t proposing a ‘perfected human nature’ at all. I think you are intelligent enough to realize that if you were, this would be an entirely different kind of article. What I’m saying is the reason you didn’t get to that point was because you didn’t carry your analysis far enough to its logical conclusions.

    Thus we are left with Zedd and others saying the obvious, that we are living far beneath our potential as human beings. The main points of disagreement are not that we are living beneath our potential – all you need to see that is to look at a homeless man begging for money – the main points of disagreement are how we are living beneath our potential, what we need to do to get closer to that potential – and what that potential actually is….

  • STM

    No, I can’t see such reforms ever taking place in the US unless a government with a significant majority in the senate has enough balls to do it.

    But then they might think, “are we ruining it for ourselves?”

    However, unless some changes are made, America will be stuck at every turn.

    It’s no longer government by the people, for the people … they might get to have their say at the ballot box, but then it resorts to becoming an oligarchy where the American people have no say beyond a free press and some honest politicians who will take up their cause.

    I see America as a faux-democracy, where people think they have all these rights but in fact don’t.

    The one fundamental right they don’t have is a government that does their bidding, rather than its own.

    I understand how contentious my POV will be in America, but it needs to be said.

    However, one poor gibberer from Australia writing on a blog commentary thread isn’t going to move the Earth, is it?

    Other people better placed than me need to be letting Americans know the true nature of the American political process and what it’s become, and what options they have to fix it.

    I could see Americans getting perferential voting and proportional representation, but compulsory voting?

    Never. And yet, the reality is, voting is responsibility as much as a right. It is part of the contract and one (essential) pillar of rule of law, which guarantees all our freedoms, both in the US and other stable western democracies like Oz.

    Unless ALL the people are involved, government cannot truly express the will of the people.

    I realise there are many Americans who like to hair-split on this, saying that America isn’t a democracy but a republic under a constitution. Yet we’re talking about modern democracy, not the ancient Greek style.

    They say democracy is two wolves and a sheep arguing over what’s for dinner.

    There’s an opposite view: In my view, the American system is more like three sheep and a wolf, with the wolf arguing that he’s got just as much right to decide what’s for dinner as the other three, and because he has sharper teeth, bullying the others into his point of view is also totally acceptable.

    Majority rule does not equate to mob rule. Rule of law ensures that rule of law doesn’t allow us to decsend into anarchy and mob rule.

    Perhaps some Americans forget that rule of law underpins their system. That’s why I feel like vomiting when some Americans try to compare various governments of the day in the US to the twisted cults Hitler, Stalin, and all the other hateful ideologies that have been consigned to the garbage bin of history where they belong.

    Our democratic ideology, here and in the US, hasn’t. It’s worth remembering that.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Ruvy: Thanks for the longer comment

    O.M.G Please don’t encourge him. Thou knowest not what thou sayest! For the love of all things beautiful in all of creation, take it back!!!! Help us all. Here comes the history of the Jews from Adam and Eve to Lieberman.

    No, Zedd. I will not waste intelligent discourse on those who do not want to know. I have better things to do.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Well, it looks, STM, as though the kind of political system you’re describing for Oz and what we’re stuck with here are two different worlds.

    So please understand, therefore, that when I speak of the system’s breakdown – or allude to it, or simply speak out of frustration – I don’t mean Australia but the good old USA.

  • STM

    Here’s how it works in our neck of the woods. Similar but different to the US, and similar but different to the Upper Houses of Canada and Britain (which are similar to each other). It’s known as the “Washminster System” because it draws on the lessons of both. The fathers of federation in this country thought the US system had something to offer, but thought they could improve it.

    Ultimately, that has happened to a degree, possibly in ways they couldn’t have envisioned at the turn of the 20th century. The election of smaller parties and independents means that the party with the majority numbers in both the lower house and upper house can’t just rubber stamp along party lines, or that a senate with the numbers in the upper house but not the lower can’t just block legislation along party lines.

    It doesn’t always help here of course … but mostly, there’s a genuine feeling in this country that it doesn’t want a Senate controlled only by the two major parties.

    Voters are very engaged and aware of how it works.

    Senate committees are meant to be non-partisan too – a situation that shouldn’t only be upheld by lip service.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Let me cut to the chase without getting into the nitty gritty. So you do have a coalition government.

    Is thus the feature, in your opinion, which prevents the kind of gridlock and impasse we’re experiencing right now?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Talk to you later, Stan. It’s getting late here.

  • STM

    Roger, we don’t have a coalition government at the moment. It’s currently the Australian Labor Party in government.

    Anyway, the Coalition is an amalgamation of the two main conservative parties, one ostensibly representing the interests of country people (the National Party), the other the conservative voters in the cities (the Liberal Party). They are known at the moment as the Opposition.

    (You understand how parliamentary democracy works, right??)

    These two parties are so similar, however, that in one state, Queensland, they have amalgamated into the one entity: the Liberal-National Party, or LNP.

    But, no, when I say independents and small parties, these don’t form a coalition with either of the two major parties (Labor and the conservative Coalition). However, they do vote each way in the senate depending on how they perceive the legislation that is being reviewed and whether voting for it or rejecting it would be in the public interest according to their views. But they will offer to form voting blocs.

    So they currently hold the balance of power in which neither Labor (the Government) or the Coalition (the Opposition) has a genuine majority, which is a good thing, as they don’t vote on party lines.

    As for the conservative Coalition, when they’re in Government, they rarely disagree on anything amongst themselves so it’s a solid voting bloc there and might as well be one party. It’s almost regarded that way. Rural issues might cause a bit of drama sometimes, but will they sort it out among themselves in the party room, not wait until they’re in the House or the Senate to begin arguing. Their position will have already been decided by that stage.

  • STM

    So, in effect, not like the coalitions you might see in Europe or elsewhere.

  • Baronius

    STM, it’s interesting that you’re calling for everyone to go to the polls, and I raised the issue of banning people from them. My reasoning was that we need to keep the uninformed voter away. So, my question to you is, how well-informed is the average Australian citizen?

  • Baronius

    STM, we’ve had quite a few third-party attempts in our history. There are two independents serving in the Senate today. We pretty quickly find our way back to a two-party system though, after the crisis or particular race. I don’t see a way for a strong third party to emerge without it being subsumed by the Democrats or Republicans. And I don’t think that proportional representation would be enough of a catalyst to create them.

    Have you ever read about game theory? There’s one game I remember, with gas stations on a road. Imagine a 10-mile stretch of road, with no gas stations, and housing evenly distributed along it. If you want to open a gas station, you’d put it at the 5 mile marker, so everyone has relatively easy access to it. If you open two gas stations, you should put them at 2.5m and 7.5m, to minimize driving distances. If two separate individuals open gas stations along the stretch of road, it’s in each one’s best interest to open a station right at the 5m marker, one a little north, one a little south, to each be the closest station for 50% of the people. Are you with me so far?

    A third person comes along and sees two gas stations at 5m. Where’s he going to put one up? At 2.5m or 7.5m? No. Then he’d only be the closest station for 37% of the people. If he puts one at 5.0001m, he’s now the closest for just about half the population. The station located between the two other stations will go out of business.

    You can see how this applies to politics. It demonstrates why a two-party system is next to impossible to break up. It also shows why both parties try to be almost exactly in the center, but include everyone to the right/left of them.

    There are ways around this, like new roads (new political issues on which the two major parties don’t have a strong stand) or better service (a party that represents the same beliefs as one of the majors, but has better candidates). But it’s tough.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    Evan Bayh has decided not to run for reelection to the Senate. In typical Democrat fashion, he’s cutting and running. That’s what Democrats do when they know that the money pipeline is drying up. Wall Street has given notice that it will fund GOP candidates, the Democrats will exit in droves and guess what? Today’s members of Congress are tomorrow’s lobbyists. That’s how it works in our “democracy”.

    It is high time that we forge a government rich in conservative values — however, that does NOT mean turning this country into a Christian Republic. The Republicans are about to come back into power in Washington. The days of division and smear politics will continue. Until we elect alternative candidates, i.e. Communists, Socialists, Greens, Constitutionalists things will continue in the downward spiral. And of the four groups I have mentioned as alternatives the nasty TRUTH is that all four groups are closer to core Conservative values than anyone who is a Blue Dog or ranking member of the GOP.

  • STM

    Baron: “So, my question to you is, how well-informed is the average Australian citizen?”

    Mate, it’s no surprise that when it comes to educating kids, having decent health care, paying taxes, getting infrastructure built, paying a mortgage, making sure everyone’s employed, putting food on the table, running a car, etc, everyone’s well-informed.

  • STM

    Baron: “I don’t see a way for a strong third party to emerge without it being subsumed by the Democrats or Republicans. And I don’t think that proportional representation would be enough of a catalyst to create them.”

    That’s the thing Baron; they don’t have to be strong third parties. They can be two or three mslal parties with a few senate seats.

    But they hold the balance of power. This means one main party can’t block for no good reason, or another main party can’t simply rubber-stamp.

    Have a look at the link I posted to the senate in Oz.

    Mind you, I have to say that the system of government in this country, while slightly better than that of the US in terms of not grinding to a halt every time there’s an impasse, still is a long way from being perfect.

    I don’t think we’re ever going to get that, here or across the big pond in your neck of the woods. Perhaps in a democracy the imperfect is the perfect. I don’t know.

    I can’t think of a better system, though.

    Perhaps instead of moaning at every turn and spending inordinate amounts of time navel gazing, we should all be rejoicing that we live under such a system.

    I always wonder when I hear people complaining in Australia why it is that they don’t stop and think for a moment what it’s like elsewhere and why people from all over the world are banging down the door trying to get in. It’s not just for the sun, surf, beer and barbecues.

    I’m sure Americans could benefit from the same thinking on that score. We are all very lucky.

    Our system of modern democracy has been going over 300 years in the system we inherited from the British, yours for 200, although my view is that the US also inherited the same thing (with its form changed slightly, if not its function) so you could argue that you get the 300 years too, especially since everything in the constitution and or in law actually existed at law or by convention in the American colonies prior to independence. The founding fathers didn’t just pluck the stuff out of thin air. Anyone who doubts that should come down to this country and see how similar it is to America, and yet we evolved along different paths to end up at what is basically the same location. Even our criminal law functions identically, and we didn’t get it from the US but from the Poms.

    I sometimes think Australia is an example of what America would have been like without the revolution. The same, but a bit more laid back and with less navel gazing :)

    But whichever way you look at it, 200, 300, or even going back to things like the magna carta, from the US point of view, even 200 years with one hiccup that resolved itself in the end is a pretty damn good innings.

    We really all should count our blessings.

  • STM

    Or, put another way, I believe in rule of law that has lasted all that time and is the guarantor of all our freedoms.

    I never wake up in the morning worrying that the government won’t keep doing the right thing by its citizens, or that the citizens of this country won’t keep doing the right thing for themselves.

    That is, even if I don’t like what the government of the day is doing. I am confident in the law that says I can be a part of the move to vote them out of office at the next election.

    However, I’m also a believer in letting elected governments govern.

    If the people in Australia have expressed their desire through their right to vote, who they vote in – unless the government they have elected is GENUINELY acting unconstitutionally – then the people’s will should be expressed through legislation, whether I agree with it or not.

    Acceptance – even if you’re opposed – is a key part of this. All these things run their course according to the law.

    I think Americans are currently so polarised in their views, however, that this aspect of democracy is forgotten for the moment in the US.

  • Baronius

    Well, only 36% of Americans age 18-24 can find Britain on a map. And you want to require the other 64% to vote?

    I have mixed feelings on this subject. I’m not an elitist. I have plenty of faith in the wisdom of the average person. The average person who’s been through public school, not so much. Someone (maybe Reagan) said that we’re always one generation away from losing our freedom. The baby-boomer generation is selfish, and the following generation (mine) is stupid. That’s a powerful one-two punch. That’s why I’m not so much worried about structural questions as ethical ones. We know that the US can function with the institutions that are in place.

  • zingzing

    “Well, only 36% of Americans age 18-24 can find Britain on a map.”

    while i’ve known some pretty dumb people, i can’t think of a single one that this would apply to. statistically, that shouldn’t be true. so how is this?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    We’re surely experiencing the effects of this functioning, Baronius. God help us all, because the help surely isn’t forthcoming from anywhere else.

    I disagree however about your rather low opinion of our young, regardless of public or private education. They’re much smarter than you give them credit for. It’s in the nature of young mind to be sharp -regardless of conservative or liberal influences they’re exposed to.

    Sure, most don’t give a fuck about politics anymore because they find it irrelevant. And I don’t blame them.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    It looks like we’re on the same page of late, zing. We keep on posting serendipitously.

    Apparently, Baronius hasn’t much experience with the young, and I certainly hope he’s not a daddy.

    What a pity!

  • STM

    “Well, only 36% of Americans age 18-24 can find Britain on a map.”

    I don’t doubt that for one moment. I suspect a lot would have trouble pointing to Canada and Mexico, including a certain former vice-presidential candidate who apparently didn’t know that Africa was a continent and that South Africa was one of the countries in it, rather than a geographical location within the country of Africa.

    A TV show here also did some voxpop type stuff in the US stereotyping dumb Americans, and in one they had a map of Australia with North Korea written on the mainland and South Korea on Tasmania. One guy said: “I’ve just realised North Korea is a lot bigger than South Koreoa”. There were other doozies too, but I’ll spare you.

    Nevertheless, perhaps getting people to engage in the political pro0cess might be one way out of that malaise.

    A lot of Aussies aren’t educated through to university either but most have a decent grasp of the issues and can certainly point to most places on a map.

    What they’d like to do with some of those places on ther map is another issue ;)

    But I suspect the reason they do know, and they do have a decent grasp of what is going on in the world, is because they have had to become engaged in the political process.

    There is no “who cares” option.

  • zingzing

    90% of non-americans believe that 36% of americans can’t find the pacific ocean on a map. also, 90% of non-americans will believe 90% of what is told to them about america 90% of the time.

  • STM

    Yeah, because sadly, when it comes to the bulk of Americans having any understanding of what happens outside the US – or in many cases, outside the county line – the generalisation happens to be true.

    I’ve lived it zing, you haven’t.

    Some of the stuff that’s been said to me was cringeworthy … “Gee, where d’ya learn to speak such good English?”

    “How are things in Europe these days?”

    “Hey, aint you still run by the Queen”.

    “Does everyone have a car in Australia?”

    “What do think of our shopping malls and supermarkets … you don’t have that stuff, right?”

    “Do you have freedom in Australia”.

    “How did you afford the airfare to come to the US. I bet you’ll be wanting to stay, right?”

    And so on and so forth. That’s only some of it, too.

    Most Americans of that ilk are gobsmacked when they learn that you’d rather live in your own country because you think it’s better and you’re only in the US for a vacation or a visit. There’s no comprehension that anywhere could be better than America.

    If you’d ever been on the receiving end, you’d understand.

    I was also asked once if I was Canadian because I sounded a bit French. When I mentioned that Canadians also spoke English, I was told vehemently by an (educated) American that that was not the case. They “spoke French but some people learned English”. And that’s the near-identical country just to your north.

    The US education system leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to geography and accurate portrayals of world history.

  • zingzing

    “If you’d ever been on the receiving end, you’d understand.”

    sigh. if you were on the receiving end of what you just said up there, you’d understand what i have to say as well. i don’t want to sound like an asshole, but you’ve been duped somewhere along the line. or you’ve taken your anecdotal evidence and run wild with it in your head.

    look, i understand that there are a lot of dumb americans. we call them hicks, or, alternately, republicans. but i know a lot of americans, and i can’t think of ONE SINGLE PERSON that i know that would be that cartoonishly stupid, not even a republican.

    “when it comes to the bulk of Americans having any understanding of what happens outside the US – or in many cases, outside the county line – the generalisation happens to be true.”

    i can’t reconcile that with the reality i know. how is that? you know i’m not the biggest america-rah-rah kind of guy. but what you happen to think of american ignorance is just wildly contrary to how things actually seem to be around here.

    i’ve lived in many places around this country (and outside of this country), and i’ve NEVER, EVER run into such a person as you describe. maybe i don’t talk to too many bubbas, but i’m not hanging out with rocket scientists either.

    “The US education system leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to geography and accurate portrayals of world history.”

    i don’t know where you’re getting your education on our education, but somehow i made it out through public school and public university with a fairly accurate idea of world geography and history. i’m sure it has its biases, but then again, obviously, so does yours.

    whatever you’ve done, you somehow put yourself in a position to be surrounded by the dumbest americans i’ve ever heard of. it’s as if i were to say i went to england and found a bunch of passed-out drunks with horrifying teeth. it’s a ridiculously cliched stereotype that somehow you’ve latched onto.

  • zingzing

    hrm. didn’t mean to go on such a rant.

  • zingzing

    heh. but i’ll go on. if you’ve ever had to put up with “oh, you’ve heard of our country?” type nonsense as much as i have in my travels, you’d be pretty fed up with it. then again, it does make it exceedingly easy to impress foreign women… so, whatever. it’s a trade-off.

  • STM

    Zing, I will admit that I have met a lot of Americans who did have a good understanding, but I’ve met a lot of others who didn’t. A real lot. The ledger is certainly on the side of those who didn’t.

    I’ll admit I was on the road a lot, outside the big cities, and of course I only had to open my mouth in NYC, SF and LA to be recognised.

    But down south was a different story (except Miami).

    I’m not that arrogant either that I thought every American I met should know about me and my country. Mostly I didn’t mention it unless asked. I didn’t even expect every American I met to know I was an Aussie, and didn’t care much, but I also didn’t expect to be told I was speaking good English either (and that’s probably debatable :)

    I maintain that Americans in general have a serious problem and that is: looking at the world through their own cultural experience and believing the myth of their own exceptionalism.

    I point to Abu Ghraib as a classic example.

    I lived in Iraq as a kid and I know that most Iraqis greeted the US led coalition as liberators at the time of the invasion.

    Then we had Abu Ghraib and it all went really pear-shaped.

    The US military tasks a bunch of small-town America Army reservist MPs with one of the most sensitive jobs in history.

    It seems like their only qualification was that they were mostly serving correctional officers in the mid-west jail situated in their town. I’d bet London to a brick most of them hadn’t even heard of Iraq prior to the invasion, thought it was all part of the war on terror and had something to do with 9/11, and possibly none, even the officers, would have unjderstood that the shia/sunni divide was crucial to any understanding of Iraqi politics and might have helped tell the good guys from the bad.

    And then America wonders what went wrong …

    Sorry zing, but in some cases generalisations are true.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    The US education system leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to geography and accurate portrayals of world history.

    Sorry, zing, I’m with STM. You are one of the fortunate ones who made it through the public school system, advanced and turned out intelligent WITH a sense of humor. STM’s “Does everyone have a car in Australia?” isn’t far from the truth at all. I have Australian friends who come to the States every year. We go out and I cringe at some of the things my fellow citizens come out with. In my day-to-day life, I come across comments all the time when out with my friends. I’ve heard comments made to my Israeli, Arab or Russian friends that make my blood boil at the shear stupidity of the same.

    I do believe that quality of public education is dependent upon which part of the States one lives. I’ll even go so far as to say it really depends on the community with the respective State.

    I’ve never understood the logic behind the bureaucracies we have in public education. To me, the most intelligent way to administer it would be to have statewide Boards of Regents who promulgate curricula based upon statewide standards developed in conjunction with the Federal Department of Education. These Regents would handle pre-K straight through Graduate School. One stop management and shopping. Testing of teachers as well as students must be ongoing, proactive and standardized.

    Purchasing of school equipment and supplies could be performed through 50 standard statewide agencies as opposed to the thousands of purchasing agents we have scattered across the land. We can provide a far more superior education to pour children at a lower price if we just started treating education and its expenses like we do our purchases at Costco. Buy in bulk! Jesus, am I the only one in this country that thinks this way?

  • zingzing

    “The ledger is certainly on the side of those who didn’t.”

    well, as i wondered earlier, why do you meet so many dumb people? where in the hell did you go?

    “But down south was a different story (except Miami).”

    i’m from the south, and, as a person who has seen crocodile dundee, i can tell you that australian is amongst the easiest of accents to identify. let that one rot your mind for a minute.

    “I’d bet London to a brick most of them hadn’t even heard of Iraq prior to the invasion,”

    being that we had a war with them about a decade earlier, i wouldn’t place that bet. seriously, it’s fucking iraq. that place has been at the forefront of our foreign affairs since the cold war ended. if there’s one place that an american has heard of, it’s iraq.

    “thought it was all part of the war on terror and had something to do with 9/11,”

    yeah well… the majority of the real gung-ho types were probably republicans, and that’s what their republican president told them. and military people have a proclivity for believing what they are told, to some degree. so i’ll grant you that one.

    “and possibly none, even the officers, would have unjderstood that the shia/sunni divide was crucial to any understanding of Iraqi politics and might have helped tell the good guys from the bad.”

    after 100+ years of western attempts to tame baghdad, i’m surprised by this one as well, although it does seem like a lot of different people made the same damn mistake. (although i must say that no one has been able to solve it… except hussain, but that’s another story… and knowing you’re about to get fucked doesn’t make it hurt any less.)

    “And then America wonders what went wrong …”

    well, except those who claimed from the start that it was a very, very bad idea. forgetting about them, are we?

    “I maintain that Americans in general have a serious problem and that is: looking at the world through their own cultural experience and believing the myth of their own exceptionalism.”

    i’d have to say that everyone looks at the world through their own cultural experience, whether they’d like to admit it or not. as for the second part, you’re again running into the vast divide that is in the middle of the american perspective. you seem to look at half of us and proclaim that you see the whole.

    “Sorry zing, but in some cases generalisations are true.”

    maybe it is deserved to a degree, but this generalization is simply not true. now go back to bushwhacking, walkabouting and using your bowie knife as a fork. yar.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    But Silas,

    You can’t judge the level of the person’s education by virtue of graduating from high school. The days when high school diploma was considered sufficient are long gone. One’s got to go beyond.

    But then again, you have conservative voices, even by such as Nalle here, who would argue against higher education because they regard it as breeding grounds for Marxism.

    America has always had an anti-intellectual streak, and the conservative movement certainly hasn’t helped to alleviate this bias.

  • zingzing

    “You are one of the fortunate ones who made it through the public school system, advanced and turned out intelligent WITH a sense of humor.”

    but the fact is that nearly everyone i know is just as “fortunate.” and you are as well, eh? how about your friends? your co-workers? you’re going up against a lot of empirical evidence.

    “STM’s “Does everyone have a car in Australia?” isn’t far from the truth at all.””

    i have no idea why someone would ask that question. it doesn’t seem to offer any useful information.

    “I do believe that quality of public education is dependent upon which part of the States one lives.”

    as i said above, i’m from the south. our public school system certainly wasn’t the worst, but it wasn’t the best.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    zing – barely a high-school graduate?
    Silas, too, strictly a self-made man.

    Okay!

  • STM

    Zing: “i’d have to say that everyone looks at the world through their own cultural experience”.

    They don’t zing. I travel extensively and I don’t do that. I don’t make comparisons, rather drink in what’s on offer because I know and expect that it will be different.

    OK, perhaps a lot of Americans had heard of Iraq, but give them a blank map of the world and mate, seriously, you are mistaken if you think they’d even be able to point out the general area.

    Down south for me zing: Virginia, Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, parts of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and those bits of the mid west that might be loosely described as south.

    Seriously, I found the lack of knowledge about anywhere – forget about Australia, that wasn’t the issue – outside the US quite frightening given America’s place in a new world now largely of its own making.

    “Europe isn’t a country?” Another classic.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    as a person who has seen crocodile dundee, i can tell you that australian is amongst the easiest of accents to identify. let that one rot your mind for a minute.

    I dunno, zing. I’m English and I’m constantly being asked if I’m from Australia. And I don’t think it’s because of the habit I’ve developed of saying ‘no worries’. :-)

  • STM

    Thanks for sticking up for me Silas.

    If it’s criticism from me, I’d hope it’d be constructive criticism.

    I think it’s very important that most Americans are better informed about the world outside America.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Shoot. You’re dealing with Fresno folks, Dreadful.

    What’s surprising they recognize it as English.

    (Here’s another mere high-school graduate to add to our list.)

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    look, i understand that there are a lot of dumb americans. we call them hicks, or, alternately, republicans. but i know a lot of americans, and i can’t think of ONE SINGLE PERSON that i know that would be that cartoonishly stupid, not even a republican.

    And here you demonstrate all the ignorance and bigotry that one could expect from the ugliest American in one clear statement.

    Dave

  • zingzing

    stm: “They don’t zing. I travel extensively and I don’t do that. I don’t make comparisons, rather drink in what’s on offer because I know and expect that it will be different.”

    stm, you’re looking at it through your own experience. you can do nothing less. if it’s “different,” what’s it different from? and even if you like “different,” that’s because it’s new and exciting because of your cultural experience. reveling in the differences is a direct reflection of your cultural identity. and if you ever say “american football is rugby for sissies” again, i’ll bring this up. “i don’t make comparisons,” my white ass.

    “OK, perhaps a lot of Americans had heard of Iraq, but give them a blank map of the world and mate, seriously, you are mistaken if you think they’d even be able to point out the general area.”

    the general area of THE MIDDLE EAST?! seriously? it’s right there in the damn name. every day on the news, in the newspapers, it’s the middle east that, the middle east this. i am flabbergasted that you would believe this. i could imagine an american, say, having trouble identifying finland, or not knowing that it’s NOT part of scandinavia, but the middle east… most people over the age of 15 can identify the general area, i assure you. not that that’s an accomplishment.

    “”Europe isn’t a country?” Another classic.”

    maybe they’re from the future.

    and doc, you live in california. you probably have a tan. have you ever SEEN an englishman with a fucking tan? no you have not. so forgive them. english people with tans are creepy.

  • zingzing

    dave: “And here you demonstrate all the ignorance and bigotry that one could expect from the ugliest American in one clear statement.”

    get a sense of humor, dave. seriously. just because i make fun of you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to see a damn joke.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle


    But then again, you have conservative voices, even by such as Nalle here, who would argue against higher education because they regard it as breeding grounds for Marxism.

    Not at all, Roger. Exposure to Marxism is important in order to learn what it is and how to deal with it. Plus there’s plenty of Marxist indoctrination in our high schools too, so kids might as well go to college. Some of them will learn to think for themselves no matter what kind of programming they are exposed to.

    Dave

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Zing, you’ve displayed enough of that kind of bigotry in all seriousness that you can’t make a joke about it and expect it to be recognized.

    Dave

  • zingzing

    “i could imagine an american, say, having trouble identifying finland, or not knowing that it’s NOT part of scandinavia, but the middle east…”

    well. that’s a funny punctuation issue. i know finland is not part of the middle east, but now there’s a bunch of fer-ners who are going to say they found an american who thinks finland is a part of the middle east. this is how this shit gets started.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    and doc, you live in california. you probably have a tan.

    No tan, man. I stay indoors as much as possible. Can’t be having with all that sunscreen.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Well, Dave, I only brought this up to get the discussion going.

    I know you’re not against college education, even in liberal universities.

  • zingzing

    dave, i’ll admit that it was a mean-spirited joke, but even you must be able to identify a joke when you see one. there are enough language-specific cultural signifiers to kill a horse in the damn sentence, and while i’m sure you don’t find it funny, being the humorless republican that you claim not to be, you really should work on properly identifying what exactly the confluence of tongue and cheek looks like.

  • zingzing

    doc: “No tan, man. I stay indoors as much as possible. Can’t be having with all that sunscreen.”

    so the dumb americans come knocking at your door?

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    so the dumb americans come knocking at your door?

    No need. Notwithstanding all the sun, some buildings in California do have roofs.

    I also travel by night as much as possible, and avoid garlic, crucifixes and running water.

  • zingzing

    stm: “Down south for me zing: Virginia, Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, parts of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and those bits of the mid west that might be loosely described as south.”

    ah, the home base of the aforementioned republican breed of american “thought.” (that was for dave.)

    doc: “No need. Notwithstanding all the sun, some buildings in California do have roofs.”

    and here i thought they all lived at redondo beach, wore no shoes and called each other after ladies undergarments.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “language-specific cultural signifiers”;
    “the confluence of tongue and cheek.”

    There you go, show ‘em zing.

    Let no one be knocking down American education.

    Only a Yankee can flirt with their language so.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    It’s Venice beach you must be thinking.

  • zingzing

    roger–public schools, the whole way! and if that was flirting, i had my pants around my ankles and my fingers up lady language’s shirt.

  • zingzing

    and i was certainly thinking of redondo beach. surfin’ usa by the beach boys is stuck in my head.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Then you must have been typing with the other hand.

  • zingzing

    i always type with the other hand. actually, i just grab my penis and aim carefully. slap! “w” slap! “h” slap! “a” slap! “t” slap! “?”

  • STM

    zing: “american football is rugby for sissies” again, i’ll bring this up. “i don’t make comparisons,” my white ass.

    Even though there’s some truth in that statement, I’ve always just been winding you up. And lately, mainly because you pretended to know that rugby and rugby league were two completely different games, when you plainly didn’t know.

    I’m fully cognisant of the need for Americans to pad up in case they get a bit of a knock, and to have two separate teams for offence and defence in case they get a bit tired and can’t play out the full whack.

    But I’m appreciative of the athleticism involved, and the toughness required. Even though most would get eaten alive playing rugby league :)

  • STM

    zing writes: “get a sense of humor, dave. seriously. just because i make fun of you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to see a damn joke.”

    Pot, meet kettle … again.

    Gotta love you though zing. You never take a backward step (not like some of those helmet-head nancy boy footballers you like :)

  • STM

    Doc: “I dunno, zing. I’m English and I’m constantly being asked if I’m from Australia.”

    Paradoxically, back in the 80s and 90s, people asked if I was British. One guy asked if I was Welsh.

    I said, “Not really, but I am from New South Wales”.

    He said, “I didn’t know there was a new part.”

  • zingzing

    “And lately, mainly because you pretended to know that rugby and rugby league were two completely different games, when you plainly didn’t know.”

    actually, you must have me confused. i do know that they are different (although “completely different” is another issue), even if i don’t know the many specifics of their differences. but i believe you are thinking of someone else, as we never have really delved into the specifics in conversation.

    “Even though most would get eaten alive playing rugby league :)”

    don’t you get started.

    “Pot, meet kettle … again.”

    bah. besides, i was just winding you up (as “my white ass” should have informed you), so you and me and dave and all our blackness should meet up and compare.

  • STM

    Doc: “No tan, man. I stay indoors as much as possible.”

    The original pasty Pom, ed Doc?

    At least you don’t moan and carry on all the time.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    and called each other after ladies undergarments

    Dude? Bro? Man? Victoria’s Secret? Whut???

  • STM

    zing: “english people with tans are creepy.”

    Mate, that’s a generalisation. Most of the buggers are just creepy, full stop.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Yes, you’re right. Most people with tans are creepy.

  • STM

    The closest I’ve come to that is when I walked into that surf shop in Manhattan Beach and asked the girls behind the counter if I could look at their thongs.

    See, there are many traps for the unwary. I only wanted to buy a pair of essential beach footwear, not chalk up an LAPD arrest record for making lewd comments.

  • zingzing

    doc: “bra” is the particular raping of a word i’m after. as in, “what’s up, bra?” *shudder*

  • Baronius

    Then again, I heard this anecdote recently, about a British couple visiting a friend in Ontario. The couple had never been to North America, so they planned on renting a Winnebago and driving down to Florida, then visiting Napa wine country, and stopping in Vancouver to ski on their way back to Ontario. They were visiting for ten days.

  • STM

    Lol. We get that here too. We were talking yesterday about a Yank and a Brit who came out for a series of meetings. They tried to organise a morning meeting in Melbourne, a flight back to Sydney for an afternoon meeting and then a trip to Perth, for another meeting, returning that night.

    Then they just wanted to relax for a few days. We had to point out that the Melbourne meeting alone would take up an entire day of travel time, with drive to and from airports and flying time, then if they somehow managed to get the red-eye to Perth they would have to overnight there and have a meeting the next day then return from Perth that following evening or night, getting in to Sydney either very late that night or at 6.30 the next morning.

    They hadn’t worked out that it was like flying from New York to Boston and back, then on to Los Angeles and back.

    I must say though, long distances don’t faze me coming from here. When I was first in the US, planning to drive from coast to coast was just another car drive.

    It’s nothing for us to plan a drive up to Queensland to visit family, which is about 10-12 hours. Beats flying if you have the time and you get to drive your own car while you’re up there.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    “what’s up, bra?”

    I’m not hiding anything up my bra! I mean… what bra? I’m not wearing a bra! And I’m not hiding anything up it! I mean… if I was wearing a bra, which I’m not, I wouldn’t be hiding anything up it! And I’m not hiding anything anywhere else either! Shit! Enough with the third degree! Aaarrrgggghhhh…

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Baronius @ #118:

    Dang. That might have been just about doable, but only with the help of some sustained Bay Area-style driving. But nobody can sustain that level of psychosis for ten days.

  • STM

    Might have been fun trying though. You wouldn’t get much sightseeing done, however, except through the window of the winnebago.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    It’s nothing for us to plan a drive up to Queensland to visit family, which is about 10-12 hours. Beats flying if you have the time and you get to drive your own car while you’re up there.

    Ugh. Not something I’d fancy doing, although it does depend on the scenery along the way. What is the drive from Sydney to Brisbane like?

    The longest I’ve driven for is the six-hour haul from Fresno to San Diego. Done that in both directions over the course of a weekend. Not the prettiest of drives, even along the coast through Orange and San Diego Counties.

    Driving out of Fresno to anywhere is tedious, because you have to navigate through at least an hour of flat, smoggy farmland in any direction before the topography starts to liven up a bit – and even longer if you’re going north or south.

    It’s why I prefer to fly if I’m going any further than a couple of hours’ drive out of town.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Not the prettiest of drives, even along the coast through Orange and San Diego Counties.

    Having said that, there is one very entertaining highlight along that stretch of road, which is the San Onofre nuclear power station with its two suggestively-shaped reactor halls.

    It was famously featured in one of the Naked Gun movies, in a scene where Leslie Nielsen is reminiscing about an old girlfriend. At the moment he says, “Everywhere I go, something reminds me of her”, the reactor buildings are seen through the window of the car he’s riding in.

  • zingzing

    i once took a drive, mostly along the pacific coast highway, from san francisco to vancouver, bc. i had an erection for most of the two days it took (i stopped off in portland and seattle, two of the most beautiful cities in the country). i’ve also, several times, driven from charlotte, nc to indianapolis. now that is like watching your eyes get shit on. sometimes, driving is worth it. sometimes, it’s not.

    (i also once flew over southern russia going into northern china, and, not knowing where i was in the least, thought i saw mars from the plane.)

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    (i also once flew over southern russia going into northern china, and, not knowing where i was in the least, thought i saw mars from the plane.)

    The Australian Outback looks a lot like Mars as well – and not just from a plane. If you ever get the chance, you must visit Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) in the aptly-named Red Centre: for my money the most extraordinary, magical place on Earth.

    Take away the vegetation (of which, considering it’s a desert, there’s a surprising amount), and you could easily be standing in one of those panoramas the Spirit and Opportunity rovers beamed back.

  • Dr. McClay

    “Democracy has developed over time. Just as it has gone through many different stages in the past, it will continue to evolve and improve in the future. Along the way, it will be shaped into a more humane and just system, one based on righteousness and reality. If human beings are considered as a whole, without disregarding the spiritual dimension of their existence and their spiritual needs, and without forgetting that human life is not limited to this mortal life and that all people have a great craving for eternity, democracy could reach the peak of perfection and bring even more happiness to humanity.” (Fethullah Gulen)
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  • db

    I haven’t read all of the comments so apologies if someone already said this:
    I don’t think it’s enough to say that ‘people should behave better, but they probably never will’.
    People are behaving rationally, given the political system they live in.

    I think that only changes to the democratic process can improve the behaviour of people and politicians – constitutional changes. Addition of the ‘single transferable vote’ and ‘direct democracy’ are two thing that would change voter behaviour and give people the power to change their society. And therefore, give people a good reason to be interested in politics as a means to change things, not in the cynical ways people usually treat politics.