Saturday, August 25, 2012

How relevant is politics to my life?

Many of my friends are astute, energetic people.  They seem to be helped to feel that they are contributing to the good life for all by trying to persuade everyone to vote for their choice of the good guys and not to fall for the half-truths and innuendos marketed by the others.  

My friend tries to get me involved, to show me the error of my ways.  "Do you think it would have made a difference to the country if McClain and Palin had been elected?", he asked.  I try to avoid speculation, especially about what could have happened in the past.  They were not elected, and if a person approves of the democratic process, they shouldn't be if the other candidates were more promising in the eyes of the voters.

I feel as though I understand the value of staying alert to corruption, misdirection of funds and energies, to narrow views that are not in the best interest of all.  I have felt like that since I was a graduate student reading research articles while more concerned and involved people chanted their view in mass gatherings just outside.  It seems to me that most of the time, when people are very highly energized for or against political subjects, they basically lack information.  

I wrote my dissertation on applications of decision theory to education.  I think it is clear that people do all sorts of things unconsciously and semi-consciously but also make some decisions as deliberately as they know how.  The mathematical theory of decision making is overly abstract and cannot deal with the nuances and multiple constituent groups and opposed audiences for whom big, national decisions are made.  Deciding who to support and who to vote for is a very murky business.  I imagine that political scientists, computer scientists and historians are just some of the groups who have studied executive and legislative decisions in detail.  I have not done so.  I am much more highly motivated to think about my own life and the lives of ordinary people I know than to study all the ins and outs of either national politics or the several important levels below or above the nation.

Not long ago, I listened to "How to Think Like an Economist", a Great Course by Prof. Randall Bartlett.  He mentioned "An Economic Theory of Democracy", published in 1957 by Anthony Downs.  Downs concludes that it is efficient to ignore politics in a democracy, I heard, on the grounds that the information needed is unavailable and the result of each vote is negligible.  I was heartened by the idea, although I do intend to continue to vote and to put some limited energy into deciding who to vote for.

I have served on several recruiting committees and in other sorts of bodies, much smaller of course than the body of voters just in my town, not to mention larger bodies and divisions.  I concluded from my experience that I could not predict the decision of a committee that I had met with and studied the possibilities with.  So far, I am content to live with the decisions of the voters, even when I feel they have made a mistake.  

We used to say in my family that money, religion and politics were fertile subjects for strong disagreement.  It doesn't surprise me that I am not very tempted or moved by all the marketing and explanation.

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