We published an article recently that touched on the possible effects that the internet and smartphones seem to be having on the ability to think, or to function effectively as voters in a “democracy.”
While I don’t disagree — smartphones are the real-life version of soma, as predicted by Huxley in Brave New World — that story still didn’t sound quite right to me.
Voters have generally never actually liked to think about issues — unless there is a direct and immediate “problem” to solve, thought processes usually seem to be very limited. Voting in a large-scale democratic system is mostly about emotion and identity, or at least that’s how it seems when observing it in action and taking a look back at earlier elections.
When reading the recent piece about the spread of “Flat-Earth” beliefs in recent times, the below quote — which dates back around a century and shows that such observations are nothing new — came to mind:
“The mob man, functioning as citizen, gets a feeling that he is really important to the world — that he is genuinely running things. Out of his maudlin herding after rogues and mountebanks there comes to him a sense of vast and mysterious power — which is what makes archbishops, police sergeants, the grand goblins of the Ku Klux and other such magnificoes happy. And out of it there comes, too, a conviction that he is somehow wise, that his views are taken seriously by his betters — which is what makes United States Senators, fortune tellers and Young Intellectuals happy. Finally, there comes out of it a glowing consciousness of a high duty triumphantly done which is what makes hangmen and husbands happy.
“All these forms of happiness, of course, are illusory. They don’t last. The democrat, leaping into the air to flap his wings and praise God, is for ever coming down with a thump. The seeds of his disaster, as I have shown, lie in his own stupidity: he can never get rid of the naive delusion — so beautifully Christian — that happiness is something to be got by taking it away from the other fellow.”
I think that last bit is the most important part — thinking that if something is “wrong” in a democratic system, that all you have to do is gain the majority and then screw over the voters you outnumber. I’ve heard that sort of thinking on both sides of the supposed spectrum a lot as of late. (It’s not a spectrum, but a globular mass where issues move around and rearrange themselves over time on different “teams.”)
I know that there are probably a lot of “Democrats” reading this, so to just lay this out here — I’m not a believer in the value of mass, large-scale democracy. No, not even after you quote Winston Churchill to me (and, no, I’m not one of the millions that he ordered murdered in India).
Democratic systems can work well on a local and small-scale. Beyond that, they just bog down into money grubbing, incompetence, and ego-stroking exercises … though, maybe that’s their best quality, that the harm that can be done is somewhat limited inherently.
So, what are my solutions to the governance of the US then, you ask? I don’t think that the US has ever even been a real country … it’s more just a collection of much smaller countries that were temporarily wealthy enough that they could pretend to get along. At this point, it’s probably best for either: 1) a devolvement of further powers back to the state level, or 2) a genuine controlled dismantling of the whole (which will probably never occur).
Since neither of those things are actually going to happen, it’s probably best if various states simply continue to do what some have been as of late — that is, to arrange for their own goals to be achieved independently (or regionally). It’s probably far too late at this point for something like actual discourse on the existential problems facing the US to happen openly on the political stage.
As an end note to this, I’m aware that H.L. Mencken often said things that people now find offensive. Or pretend to find offensive. I don’t think he ever made any claim to being perfect, and judging by his actual behavior rather than just his words, I’d say that there’s a lot that could be said positively about him anyway (for instance, if we’re talking about his comments about “Jews,” we can compare his opinion early in WW2 that Jewish refugees should be let into the US in large numbers. The much-loved King-of-the-Nukes FDR didn’t want to allow Jewish refugees into the country at all.