Gregory Rodriguez wrote an “op-ed” in the Los Angeles Times on “the new American segregation.” It shares a similar editorial slant coming from other dead-tree and ink proprietors, bemoaning the rank partisanship that dominates political discourse. Rodriguez revels in his role as a Cassandra-esque hand-wringer about what what this might mean for democracy.
Rodriguez points out that there is a link between political participation and partisanship. Rodriguez asserts:
In other words, a healthy democracy needs the uncommitted middle, the fence straddlers and the apathetic as much as it the firebrand activists. Indeed, in a nation so torn by the passions of partisans, it is those of us who aren’t all that enamored of either side who give politicians the room to compromise, which, of course, is the art that politics is supposed to be all about.
First of all, the percentage turnout of the voting-age population in the U.S. has never been as high as it was in 1960 at 63.1%. So, presumably the society is less partisan than it was in an earlier era. Second, there are a number of countries that enjoy higher turnout percentages and they haven’t imploded.
So, even if voter turnout were 70% (which I think is well beyond most people’s predictions for the 2008 election), predicting the demise of democracy as a result seems to be directly at odds with the reality in other countries.
Rodriguez then goes on to bemoan the shrinking numbers of “skeptics and the uncommitted.” I assert this is more of an artifact of the issues we are facing as a country. We are occupying a foreign country. We are torturing people. There is good evidence to say that the government is illegally spying on American citizens. The president commuted the sentence of one of his own staff; a crime the staff member committed to stonewall an investigation into other members of the administration. The list goes on. What compromise is there between those of us who say the United States should abide by the Geneva Conventions and those who think they can dance around those principles with impunity?
Rodriguez then goes on to cite Bill Bishop’s thesis that it the plethora of media choices which are tearing us apart. Similarly, people are clustering in like-minded communities meaning they don’t have to interact with people who don’t share their world view.
From my perspective, the real problem is there isn’t a shared culture of consensus building. Put another way, there isn’t a shared recognition of a superior argument, or broad understanding of arguing something on the merits. There might be such a culture, but it certainly doesn’t apply to everyone. Instead, people resort to a number of logical fallacies or sloppy thinking to defend what they believe. In certain cases, that is the only way a world view survives.
Hence, the unstated premise becomes clear. The presumption is that some world views are equally valid as others. This is the core of the centerist doctrine and it is also incorrect. In an information age, with a great variety of information sources we would expect a split to take place. The previously apathetic are now awash with more than enough information to make up their own minds about any particular issue. The superior world view spreads in the communities where it can. As for inferior world views, they have to circle the wagons and introduce filters in order for their world view to survive or else it would simply disappear.
In short, this isn’t the end of democracy; it is the new beginning. We may be establishing a truer consensus now than at any other time in our past. In the meantime, the centerist doctrine is one of the world views I cheer towards extinction.