Why I Feel Like an Extraterrestrial

Maybe it’s because I don’t watch TV.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m lying in the dentist chair.  The TV on the ceiling is tuned to CNBC.  The technician asks, “Would you like me to turn the TV off or shall I leave it on?”  I tell her it’s OK either way.  I think I don’t care and most of the time I am indifferent but every so often the moving images and voices attract my attention.  “Look,” says an intelligent looking young man, “if we eliminated the entire defense budget it still wouldn’t fix the deficit.”

The voices were being processed by my brain all the time.  Recognizing “defense budget”, something said, “heh, pay attention” and presented the entire sentence the man had spoken.  The interviewer thanked the young Congressman.  Nobody broke out howling with laughter.

We can’t know everything so maybe the Congressman didn’t know how much we spend on defense.  Maybe he didn’t know what he said was factually incorrect.  Perhaps he’s too busy to investigate what took me only a short time to learn (see this ) but can he really be a stranger to logic?

Let’s say it was true we would still have a deficit if we entirely eliminated defense spending.  Does that mean we have no choice but to continue defense spending at the same rate?  If those we elect can say such things and be treated as wise and suitable leaders, I must be an extraterrestrial.  Why isn’t anyone laughing?

The technician continues to chip away.  I try to relax, telling myself, “you’re over-reacting.  He probably knows what he said is nonsense and that many people like to hear such things.”  It doesn’t make me feel better but you can’t expect to feel all that great in a dentist chair, anyway.

The pattern recognizer alerts me again: “If we make enough laws, we can all be criminals”.  It remembers I was interested when I heard that before.  The speaker is another thoughtful looking man who also seems to be an elected representative.  He’s being asked about the President’s push for stronger gun control legislation.  He says new legislation will only make things worse.  Again, my hopes for a raucous laugh track are disappointed.

In the decade since 9/11 when 3,000 were killed, there were no additional terrorist killings on the USA mainland.  In that same ten years, 340,000 of us killed ourselves and others with firearms (40% homicides, 60% suicides).

We took action to avert more terrorist attacks.  We took too much of the wrong kind but we also took some that was both appropriate and effective.  Pretty much all of us are pleased by the results of the effective action.  Why, then, would it be impossible to take effective action to avert more firearm deaths?  Isn’t that why we elect representatives – so they will establish effective legislation?

Maybe I’ve forgotten my extraterrestrial childhood but I remember and never regretted choosing to become an American.  So what if I feel like an extraterrestrial when I watch TV or read things like this ?.  I’m committed to this society and I will keep doing everything I can to help it grow ever better.

2 comments on “Why I Feel Like an Extraterrestrial

  1. Thought-provoking comments from a very smart Anon who works at a policy consultancy:

    “With few exceptions winning a Congressional seat has very little to do with your knowledge of policy and / or a willingness to identify and solve civil problems. Sadly. Anyone who expects to win a seat needs to recognize that no election is about your capability as an elected official. It is about your ability to convince voters that you’re a better pick than the other guy(s), and most people don’t vote on the issues. Many vote on just one (whatever their personal hobbyhorse is).

    The whole point of democracy is ‘rule of the people’. This means that it is explicitly not ‘rule of what’s best’ or ‘rule of what’s good for the people’. It’s ‘rule of the people’. And, of course, ‘the people’ is the majority of all the people. Not the smart ones, or the ones who care, or the ones who have expertise in relevant areas. Just the most of everyone. And most of everyone has very little education or was raised and molded by a family with very little education, and couldn’t possibly be swayed by a rational explication of policy. It’s too hard to follow and takes too much attention. It’s too hard to understand policy for most people. They are swayed by emotion and tactics that manipulate emotion.

    The ones who win seats are the ones who understand that and capitalize on it.

    The ones who win seats and govern well are the ones who understand that and capitalize on it, but also have a strong grasp of policy and what’s best for the people – and are prepared to act on that despite what the people may think, even if it costs them a re-election. The problem here is that legislative processes take so long that if you sacrifice your seat for an issue, you’re likely to never have an impact on it because it will be resolved after you’ve lost your re-election.

    The ones who win seats, govern well, and get re-elected are those who have one of two things (a) enough luck to live in a district of completely like-minded constituents who they don’t need to fight to keep, or (b) they understand how to manipulate voter emotions so well that they can not only win an election and go on to stand up for what’s best for the country, but they can come back to an unhappy district and convince them that it was what they wanted all along.

    This is why Plato said that democracy always leads to tyranny. The very nature of the system makes it inevitable – it’s never, ever been ‘rule of what’s best for the people’. It’s ‘rule of the people’, and people don’t know what’s best for themselves.”

    • The indicated action is what Anon says at the end. We must get Representatives elected who: “understand how to manipulate voter emotions so well that they can not only win an election and go on to stand up for what’s best for the country, but they can come back to an unhappy district and convince them that it was what they wanted all along.”

      I’d say it a different way – we need to frame the problem in a way that resonates strongly with enough voters – but it comes to the same thing.

      A practical issue is that many, many districts have been gerrymandered to make them safe for one or the other political party. That is outrageous corruption but it doesn’t prevent us from electing representatives who really will “stand up for what’s best for the country”. We should have Members of Congress who, just like voters, represent the full spectrum of values.

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