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The Big Answer

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an article in Time by Robert Wright, et al.

(our site's article review)

Wright discusses in this 1995 tome how Washington is too plugged in to the people, via faxes, phones, letters, and email, and this causes leaders to be reactionary when the public gets inflamed over some hot-button issue. And this in turn causes reactionary passage of inappropriate legislation. But Wright’s example, the “three strikes and you’re out” provision of the 1994 crime bill, is a poor one. The law was long overdue.

Washington D.C. is too isolated from real people
Washington D.C. is too isolated from real people

Wright says that most people think that Washington is too isolated from real people, insulated from their pain, and indifferent to their problems, and that to mitigate that isolation we need to use the Internet to “break through the beltway barrier.” But he says Washington does listen and is too connected to the people—hence the trend toward reactive, knee-jerk, rash actions without careful deliberations. Fear of this type of rashness is what made our Founders design a layered, buffered, representative democracy in the first place, rather than a direct one.

Slogans and sound bites can replace calm, rational thinking when people’s passions and polls set the political agenda
Slogans and sound bites can replace calm, rational thinking when people’s passions and polls set the political agenda

He says slogans and sound bites can replace calm, rational thinking when people’s passions and polls set the political agenda. No evidence is presented to back up the claim that Washington does listen and is very responsive. Perhaps Wright never heard of an oligarchy or a corporatocracy—the U.S. is both. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.) Corporatocracy: rule by an oligarchy of corporate elites through the manipulation of a formal democracy. After the right-wing Supreme Court's decision in the Citizen's United case, the movement of the US toward a corporatocracy is complete.

It is true: Washington does listen and is very responsive—but to whom? The oligarchy and corporatocracy that supplies most of their campaign financing! Sure, they send out canned responses to constituents' queries and complaints and appear to be interested. But the real interest is in the people who actually pay the bills. Rarely, they'll even put in a phone call to someone at a citizen's behest as long as it represents nothing that is contrary to the interests of their oligarchy or corporatocracy sugar daddies. So "very responsive" is true to the degree you mean there'll be some sort of response (however canned and templated and sent by a secretary). Otherwise . . . not so much. The chances of a citizen swaying their representative this way or that is nil. The oligarchy and corporatocracy do that.

He describes the Tofflers as favoring the use of cyberspace to help hold society together. He quotes them as saying that for a secure and stable civilization we need to make appropriate social arrangements, but then he says they never get around to specifying the social arrangements—aside from the electronic expanded family.

The electronic expanded family resides in an electronic cottage
The electronic expanded family resides in an electronic cottage

Most people that advocate social change, including Carl Sagan, the Tofflers, and thousands of others with less renown, have to discuss the changes in general terms and then present some concrete, creative examples to give us the gist of what they mean in pragmatic terms. The electronic expanded family (as specified in The Third Wave) is one of many such constructions from the Tofflers (and in our opinion their best).

Being eclectic synthesists and systems thinkers, the Tofflers were able to actually pinpoint an expected social innovation that in and of itself would help solve many modern social problems. They’ve innovated others, but they’re less relevant to the point here. And that point is that generalists like the Tofflers—two people—cannot make the monolithic accomplishments they do, which help us all to have a better general understanding of the rapid changes in today’s world, accomplishments which would normally constitute the work of one or more fully staffed think tanks, and at the same time research so deeply into each profession that they can come out with the specific social arrangements needed for optimal effectiveness in all areas of society. Where would world-famous futurists get time to do even more? (Besides, our website has already got that covered. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

Research takes time
Research takes time

Another example: Carl Sagan didn’t get past the generality of wanting social forms that nurture better, teach us how to think better, give more support for science and less for superstition and supernatural dependency, treat new ideas with respect, support open-mindedness, support social experimentation, sacrifice short-term for long-term gains, and teach openness to change since change is our constant now. Where would a famous science popularizer and astronomer get time to be more detailed than that? He’s not a psychologist, sociologist, child development specialist or social worker. It reminds one of Bones on the original Star Trek series saying: “I’m a doctor, not a _________.” (Fill in the blank with just about anything.)