First things first. We actually don’t live in a Democracy. That would be chaos. Imagine if every American Citizen was able to submit legislation that could be voted on by every other American Citizen. Sure it would be neat to have a National Holiday dedicated to the release of the new Star Wars movie, or a three day weekend whenever Bethesda releases a new video game, but it could also mean that the residents of Mobile, Alabama could make it illegal to be black within twenty feet of it’s borders.
No. What we have is a slightly more rational version of government by the people. We have what’s called a Republic. In a Republic, the people elect representatives to do all the legislative nitty-gritty with the assumption that the representatives share the opinion of the majority who elected them.
Sure there is bound to be corruption when elections require money, but who could have seriously imagined Super PACs during the Constitutional Convention in 1787?
Even with the terrifying implications of Citizens United, we still run cleaner than most countries.
Disagree? Pick a country, any country, and spend five minutes reading about their leaders. If you picked any of the Nordic countries you’re in luck (but remember what happened last time someone wanted to model the world on the blond haired blue eyed humorless super man). Everywhere else . . . total dumpster fire.
Yes . . . even Canada.
We just hope the majority of our representatives are level headed leaders regardless of ideological slant, and not completely bat-shit crazy.
And in the case we actually do elect a Pat Robertson or a James Carville, we assume their insanity will be minimized by more level heads (or at least actual adults) and we can vote them out again a few years down the road when we’ve had enough of listening to them, or we kick ‘em out when we catch them doing something really stupid.
Rod Blagojevich, ahem . . . Richard Nixon, and almost Bill Clinton, until he handed the Congress a Budget Surplus and they nearly wet themselves with pork barrel glee.
The problem is, those are a lot of assumptions. And it becomes more complicated as the electorate becomes more diverse. What has really been devastating is that the algorithm we’ve applied to the voting system is based on 18th century thinking, when it was only for white male landowners, and even then it fell apart (See Civil War)
An algorithm is a simple mathematical tool designed to take in large variables and spit out an easy answer.
If the home town voters are predominantly white christians, it’s a safe assumption they are against abortion, homosexuality, gun laws, and death taxes. Make it easier to campaign. Makes it easier for voters to assume who you are and what you’re really like.
You can assume that because I listen to NPR, I want to take away your guns (I don’t), that I want abortion to be cheap, easy, and available to anyone (Okay, you got me there) and that I don’t believe in Capitalism (I think the free market is super awesome).
The people don’t elect someone representative of them, they vote for the closest fit, or someone whose strongest issue happens to be your strongest issue, regardless of the rest of their platform. It pretty much forces politicians to be divisive in a job that requires nuance.
Even worse, it forces politicians to be disingenuous which makes them weak and unlikable. Like being against immigration even though your own father was a refugee . . . Ted Cruz.
Our dear Republic has become a war zone instead of a peace negotiation, and in the words of General Sherman “War is Hell” (See Civil War).
It took the U.S. Government 15 years to catch up to the majority of Americans who were just fine with gay marriage. And even then, it was decided by the Supreme Court and not our elected officials.
The problem isn’t with the people, the problem is that the algorithm applied to the Republic is just too fundamentally narrow and single dimensional.
It’s been exacerbated by the creation of the Party System, yellow journalism, an absurdly long primary season, a static primary cycle that gives undue influence to early voting states, religious influence, and now of course, unlimited financial corruption. Each of these requires an essay in their own right, but the point isn’t to debate the veracity of the claim, the point is take a peek at what can be done.
Because the future isn’t hopeless.
It’s actually pretty cool.
It’s pretty cool because of the Millennials.
Now you may have heard a lot of negative things said about the children of Generation X, but when you remove everything that’s ever been said about every younger generation ever, you end up with a pretty positive picture. You also get the first electorate who have lived their lives almost entirely through complicated algorithms.
Polling is already beginning to change to meet their demands. In the 2012 election, Barack Obama was elected well over projection because the Millennials that voted for him don’t answer their phones to an unknown number. Polling became wildly inaccurate because of Caller-ID.
Voting apps are becoming as easy to use as a BuzzFeed Quiz, but instead of finding out which Lord of the Rings character I am, it tells me my politics are 93% in line with Democratic Candidate Bernie Sanders.
No surprise there.
We’re only a few years away from being able to cast our ballots on our smart phones, and when that happens, imagine the turnout.
But also, and more important, because the data algorithm can now exist on a massive scale, politicians can use real time information to set agendas. Not just test the waters for particular legislation, but test the enthusiasm for that legislation.
Imagine less time wasted on divisiveness, and more time debating and refining our laws.
Imagine if in 2003 George Bush had access to a Twitter feed and came across #Sowhatsourplantogetoutofiraq? which would have been trending like crazy over in my neck of the woods.
Algorithms aren’t perfect but they can help simplify complicated issues in a three dimensional way that outlets like Fox News have clearly failed to do.
The Millennials have the tools. They are the masters of engagement and are just chomping at the bit to have their voices heard.
Now it may feel a little frightening if politics can become some kind of mob rule forum for anyone with an internet connection, but if Reddit can successfully adjudicate an AMA with millions of anonymous users, surely the government can handle a little feedback on Debt Ceiling issues.
Maybe we will move away from being a Republic and move closer to an actual Democracy.
Maybe it will be chaos.
Maybe that won’t be half bad.