Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guillermo Jimenez: Political Irrationality: The World's most important problem (and how to solve it)

  Political irrationality is the world's most important problem. Millions of people around the world have lost their jobs. We have seen rioting in Cairo, Damascus, Athens and London. Bombs dismember innocent citizens on a daily basis; countrymen kill each other in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and the Congo. Countries take years to recover from natural catastrophes. Global warming emissions have been utterly unaffected by governmental regulations or discourse. None of these problems can be effectively addressed with a crippled political system.

  But research from fields as diverse as cognitive psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics suggests that when it comes to politics, most people are irrational, most of the time. We are biased and overconfident in our political opinions but generally unable to perceive this irrationality in ourselves or in our fellow partisans, though we can easily spot it in our opponents.

  Politicians don't have the answer. They are required to proclaim pristine values even though they must win electoral battles at any cost, which inevitably means selling out to elite interests or caving in to pressure from partisan factions. If you want to go into politics, it helps to be a hypocrite and a smooth liar, so what kind of politicians are we going to get? Read the papers. The result is visible in our current ongoing political fiasco, a slow-moving train wreck. The world's governments are not only ineffective, they often cause problems themselves, provoking social unrest and legitimizing corruption.

  After the recent debacle over the U.S. budget and the near-collapse of the euro, many of the world's citizens are disgusted with their elected representatives. Sadly, though, they don't seem to have the slightest idea as to what to do about it. Most obvious is the "throw the bums out" strategy seen in the so-called Arab Spring. The problem with this strategy is that new bums always come in. As we have seen in the former Soviet Union, the new bums can be even worse than the old ones. Rotation of power is a palliative, not a solution.

  Here lies one of the great challenges in overcoming the irrationality of our current political systems. Whenever there is a disaster, such as in the recent financial chaos, both sides react by motivating their partisans to become ever more polarized and angry. Thus, our modern political systems have a powerful built-in shock absorber - instead of blaming the system, as they should, the citizens only blame half the system, the other half. When things go badly, citizens get angry at the opposing party's leaders, and they hope and strive fervently to win the next presidential election. Consequently, about half the populace is always disappointed with the current leader.

  This state of affairs would eventually become unsustainable, but our system is self-righting in that the incumbent party always gets thrown out eventually. Each half of our polity takes turns being angry and frustrated. We end up with zig-zag, yo-yo government. The left-wing administrations pull the government to the left; then the right-wing administrations pull it back. One side digs a hole, the other fills it up, then the first digs it out again.

  Politics is a mesmerizing shell game. It's hard not to fall for it, because it's hard not to hate one or the other of the party leaders (politicians are helpfully obnoxious). The two wings of the political spectrum play good cop/bad cop with the citizenry. They end up splitting the nation like rival sheepherders, with the sheep showing up every four years to be proudly shorn at the ballot box. The unfortunate result is a society divided against itself, mired in parliamentary gridlock and culture wars.

  What's the answer?

  First, let us accept that dissatisfaction is necessary. That is the silver lining in our current financial predicament. People are furious and disgusted? Good. Things change when people are fed up with the status quo. Let it build a little more.

  Second, people need to begin to ask themselves: is there a better way? Is there some alternative to our so-called modern democracies? What's the main problem with our current system of government? How can we fix it? Nothing will change until people begin to ask these questions.

  The answer, as I have suggested before, is an open secret: democracy. It is still a great idea, we just haven't tried it yet. Nobody has.

  I propose the adoption of citizen-controlled democratic mechanisms as the best way of combating our habitual political irrationality. One of the main problems with our current system is that elections, perversely, are actually an un-democratic mechanism. We have been brainwashed into thinking democracy requires free elections, but the Founding Fathers of the USA were perfectly clear and prescient when they associated elections with republican government, which is a euphemism for electoral oligarchy.

  Referenda are not the answer either because they are so easily captured by special interests. The most powerful answer for controlling the power of politicians lies in that great innovation of medieval law, the jury. We use juries because, in a sense, we do not entirely trust the judge. Similarly, we do not entirely trust the politician. It is time to supervise the politician with legislative juries.

  This is not an entirely new idea and great work has been done on it by academics such as Ned Crosby and James Fishkin. Experiments have been attempted in dozens of countries. A number of possible systems and democratic innovations are set forth in my book, Red Genes Blue Genes: Exposing Political Irrationality. If you want to save the world, the tools are out there. Start questioning, and don't stop thinking.

  About the author: Guillermo Jimenez is a professor, attorney and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of "Red Genes, Blue Genes: Exposing Political Irrationality" (Autonomedia, 2009).

  Article source: http://EzineArticles.com/

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