What are the responsibilites of citizenship?
This phrase is usually deployed by political propagandists trying to suppress the expression of dissent, but I have a different take on it.
We’re all, left or right, accustomed to distrusting the motives of the media – for me, it’s hard to watch Fox News and think these people are suffering from honest misunderstanding. It’s quite clear issues are distorted to support a certain political and social viewpoint.
But what about the electorate?
I had a casual conversation with some guy on the street in the West End a while ago who defined whole categories of argument about the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) as irrelevent because it’s “standard left-wing stuff.” This seemed to mean he doesn’t have to consider them, although he seemed aware they’re reality-based and cogent (and he wasn’t arguing from a faith-based position).
This is hardly an honest position, and it made me think about the electorate in the same terms as I think about political flacks and media propagandists. The left/liberal/progressive axis tends to conceive of politics as a rational activity involving persuasion, evidence and argument, yet are constantly outflanked by people who treat it as irrational i.e. the people who appeal to consumers’ aspirations and life style allegiances, or to the darker sides of their nature.
We’ve even seen people voting not for what a candidate has said, but what they believed he really meant but couldn’t say.
So, if a large proportion of an electorate supports (and votes for) criminal, aggressive, hyprocritical foreign policy because it makes them feel good about themselves as Americans (or men/women, black/white, Jew/Christian/Muslim, whatever) when they are well aware they’re ignoring facts which contradict that position (e.g. torture, murder, theft), how can they be engaged in a rational and just political process? Is it even possible?
Maybe that’s why the right wing has largely dispensed with the rational, evidential approach, in favour of advertising, industry sloganeering, lifestyle marketing, and high flown political mythology.
And a question made immediate by the GWOT: should they still be entitled to the standard non-combatant defence of being civilian, innocent bystanders?
(UK note: there’s a strong chance this last statement would fall foul of Tony Blair’s new thought crime legislation about validating/justifying terrorism. I certainly hope so.)