Sunday, February 26, 2012

a dysfunctional electorate

Yesterday, I followed my frustration with the Republican primary to its roots with the voters themselves. It lacked eloquence and meandered a bit from the original point I thought I was going to make when I started writing. Looking for some better words, I found this series from last August in the New York Times asking various public figures what they would do if they were President. The words of Neil deGrrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist and science educator, put so well what I was trying to put forth yesterday:
The question, “If I were President I’d…” implies that if you swap out one leader, put in another, then all will be well with America—as though our leaders are the cause of all ailments.

That must be why we’ve created a tradition of rampant attacks on our politicians. Are they too conservative for you? Too liberal? Too religious? Too atheist? Too gay? Too anti-gay? Too rich? Too dumb? Too smart? Too ethnic? Too philanderous? Curious behavior, given that we elect 88% of Congress every two years.

A second tradition-in-progress is the expectation that everyone else in our culturally pluralistic land should hold exactly your own outlook, on all issues.

When you’re scientifically literate, the world looks different to you. It’s a particular way of questioning what you see and hear. When empowered by this state of mind, objective realities matter. These are the truths of the world that exist outside of whatever your belief system tells you.

One objective reality is that our government doesn’t work, not because we have dysfunctional politicians, but because we have dysfunctional voters. As a scientist and educator, my goal, then, is not to become President and lead a dysfunctional electorate, but to enlighten the electorate so they might choose the right leaders in the first place.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
New York, Aug. 21, 2011

Obviously, the core issue is the one that lacks a cohesive answer. How do we educate and enlighten people? How do we get people to be scientifically literate? How do we teach people how to reason and make logical conclusions based on evidence? These are hard enough questions to address on their own, but are complicated by another layer of obfuscation for many people. How do we get people to want these things? To want to be scientifically literate and educated and logical? It's quite clear that many of the people who lack those things are quite content with that lack of knowledge.

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