Saturday, August 06, 2011

Weekend Reading: Do It For Democracy

It's a beautiful day and, yes, you might think you have better things to do. Barbecue, go to a pool, go to a National Park, to a ballgame or to the mall. The choices are many. The couch potatoes will just stay home and blast the A/C and the TV instead.

Of course, that is kind of how we got to the predicament we're in. We stopped caring about the things that matter. We stopped reading, we stopped trying to find out what goes on in the world around us. We misinterpreted the role we play in a healthy democracy by reducing it to voting every two or four years (if at all) for people who are supposed to represent us. We became numb to the talking points of the few and inured to the pain they inflicted on our lives, as if inevitable.

Someone said that democracy is not a spectators' sport. It isn't, it shouldn't be. Not only we let it become a spectators' sport, we let it become a victim's activity. That's the prevailing thought of many, that we are all victims of an incessant stream of conspiratorial activities at the hands of the powerful is so dangerous and so destructive; because, if you believe that the world is run by a small number of conspirators that cannot be stopped, you stop fighting for what you, in theory deserve.

That is also why religion has such a devastating effects on the lives of Americans: because if you get used to submitting yourself to a higher, unquestionable authority in matters of spirituality, you will most likely retain that attitude in all facets of life. George Carlin put it best, when talking about the Ten Commandments, he said this about the 4th (or 5th, depending on which flavor of Christianity you submit to): "Obedience, respect for authority. Just another name for controlling people. The truth is that obedience and respect shouldn’t be automatic. They should be earned and based on the parent’s performance. Some parents deserve respect, but most of them don’t, period." You can quibble with some aspects of Carlin's routine, but not with the central point: obedience and respect should not be automatic; not for parents; not for any authority, be it governmental or of any other kind.

But it's hard to question authority without being able to grade its performance, not based on belief or unsupported personal convictions, but on facts and logic. Of course, we have also been trained to believe that one man's facts are another's man fallacious opinions. That is not so: everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. It is true that facts and data are subject to interpretation; but the interpretation should rely on a consistent world view. Only when logic is twisted beyond recognition, do facts also lose their essential truth.

I hope that you will forgive me for this long preamble. To make a long story short, there are many things you could be doing this weekend. In truth, they are not all mutually exclusive, and that is precisely why I invite you to read these posts which I found engaging, illuminating, and--to a great extent--convincing.

How to Think About Standard and Poor's Downgrade
America in Decline
30 Years Ago: The Day the Middle Class Died

By all means, don't stop at these; they are just recommendations. If you don't like them, find your own reading. But, as surely as you must feed your body and your spirit, don't forget to also feed your mind. Your well-being, and the well-being of those you care about, depends on it, all the more so in an ailing democracy.

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