One of the joys of the modern world is that almost anyone can voice their opinion. At the same time, one of the worst aspects of the modern world is that very few of those opinions are actually worth paying attention to (says the author without any hint of self-awareness).
One of the ways both of these modern traits manifest becomes painfully obvious during election season, when members of Group A claim that most of society’s ailments have been caused by Group B and viceversa. Once election season is over, this then turns into blaming the administration for not living up to their supporter’s highest standards, not meeting the losing voter’s lowest expectations and whatever results from their own incapacity and incompetence. As time goes on, apathy increases and government officials and public servants come to be seen as outsiders who are out of touch with the average citizen and who don’t understand their experiences.
In this post we’ll scratch the surface of that idea and see some of its merits and mistakes. Although the title of this post gives the gist of my opinion on the subject, I’ll try to be evenhanded. At the same time, this post will focus on what most politicians are actually like, and we’ll focus on those that are elected into office, attempt to do their job, and then leave. This is important, because I’m not really interested in dealing with aberrations like Nicolas Maduro, North Korea’s Kim Kollection, Cuba or any other such situations.
Politicians are out of touch
There are extremely good reasons to say that politicians are out of touch, the main one being that they are. Given generational, wealth, geographical, and life experience differences, it’s pretty obvious that the average politician will be uninformed, unaware, or ignorant of the average voter’s concerns. It is one thing to with voter’s on an individual basis and another one to deal with the aggregate. In this way, even if legislation or policies are intended to solve specific voter’s concerns, how much those concerns are dealt with will depend on the circumstances surrounding each individual voter, as some will benefit more than others. This may give some the idea that their elected officials aren’t really that good at representing them, when it’s actually more of a can’t-solve-every-single-situation-problem.
Despite that, it is true that successful politicians tend to come from specific backgrounds. Perhaps it’s a wealthier background, being part of a racial group, but most of the time it’s about having the right connections. There is quite a divide between the company an average person keeps and the company politicians keep. As such, it’s the concerns of those connections that will be prioritized over those of the general population. After all, who has a bigger influence? As important as elections are, they only happen every so often and crossing the wrong, but well connected individual, may have career ending results.
More can be said in this section, but I want to focus on something that is seldom discussed: who are the sort of people who actually want to get into politics? I bring this up because it’s not like everyone wealthy person with the right connections gets into politics. It does take a special kind of animal to be interested in that. In a way, popular wisdom shares this opinion when stating that those who seek power tend to do so for their own self-interest. How is it that we forget about this when election time comes and easily fall in line into our respective groups? I don’t have the answer for that, but I think we can put some of the blame on the way we use social media.
Despite social media allowing us to keep in touch with our loved ones and up to date with the things that we’re interested in, it also allows for parasocial relationships to be unconsciously created. Before we go any further, let’s answer that question you just asked: “what is a parasocial relationship?”. From Wikipedia,
Parasocial interaction (PSI) is a term coined by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in 1956 to refer to a kind of psychological relationship experienced by an audience in their mediated encounters with performers in the mass media, particularly on television. Viewers or listeners come to consider media personalities as friends, despite having limited interactions with them. PSI is described as an illusionaryexperience, such that media audiences interact with personas (e.g., talk show host, celebrities, fictional characters, social media influencers) as if they are engaged in a reciprocal relationship with them.
Sound familiar? The fact that we can “respond” through Twitter and Facebook to politicians only compound the issue, giving us further illusion that we’ve done our part in supporting or criticizing whatever they’ve said. At the same time, it becomes easier to see elected officials as regular people: “oh, they enjoy the same drinks or hobbies, and we share some opinions perhaps we’re more alike than I thought”. As Reality TV and real life mix and intertwine, so do the real and fictional parts of social media and real life.
What is the net effect of all this? On the one hand, it becomes easier to win the popularity contest that elections are. Secondly, since the focus is no longer on policy but on entertainment, real harm is done when problems are not properly addressed and they just grow bigger.
Politicians may not be so out of touch
So how am I going to respond to the points I’ve just raised in the previous section or other arguments that can be made? The answer is simple: I won’t because I don’t really have to. Despite all previous issues being true, one thing that I didn’t cover was that enough of the population are complicit, through inaction or participation, in keeping those issues unresolved.
So I just told you everything’s screwed and it’s your fault, which isn’t completely accurate. See, chances are that there isn’t much that you can actually do, right? At the same time, truth be told, this process has been going on for so long that it really isn’t your fault. Still, my point still stands because it’s not about you being complicit, it’s about the population at large acting in ways that end up hurting it in the long run.
As bad as some politicians and elected officials are, they didn’t appear out of nothing or traverse some dimensional barrier to get into our universe. They were born, raised and became a part of the society that then voted for them. To drive the point home even further, they were most likely born to local families, attended local schools, enjoyed socially acceptable hobbies, got jobs in the area, made friends and had partners like anyone else in that society would. Would the situation really be much different if a different individual from the same society took their place?
Bear in mind, this isn’t problem that someone else, from a different society, can come and solve. If anything, the evidence shows that this is a problem common to every society in the world. The solution, then must also come from each individual society, and that requires society to change, which also means that the individuals who make that society up have to change.
Therefore, people do get the government they deserve, because they’re the ones that can get a different government.
It’s impossible for me to suggest a solution to the problem described that can be applied to every society. I am now knowledgeable enough to propose a real solution and I’m not so far up my own intestines to think that it will help everyone. I do know, however, that there are wiser people out there who may have some realistic solutions, and I think that’s the key. This is not something that can be solved in a top-down way, but something that must be created and applied bottom-up.
See you next week.