The Geopolitics of Man – Part 1

Nation states, of course, do not form purposeless alliances. The purpose, itself, can be characterized as the will to survive, or the will to gain power, wealth, and control. It should not be a surprise for us to know that politics is driven by fear and greed. Man is driven by fear and greed. Why should politicians behave any differently? Are they immune to their own nature?

Most fascinating, however, is when the consequences of being greedy and fearful appear on the global stage, in front of the eyes of the world. We all harness those sentiments internally.  The news headlines that characterize how politicians are currently behaving reflect our most intimate inclinations on a mass scale. That’s what is so captivating about it. In the same way that sexual or violent content immediately grabs our attention, so does fear and greed. We understand these things non-verbally. In fact, our understanding of them can be seen as we act them out in our daily lives.

Interestingly, there have been campaigns in the past to outlaw or severely limit any adult content that contains violence or sex. Is it not interesting, then, that there has never been an effort to combat fear and greed? The latter two sentiments can be just as destructive to the human psyche, but the packaging makes all the difference. When you watch the news, you think you are ‘learning’ about the world, are becoming a more informed citizen. Afterall, it should be one’s duty at the end of the day. The worst part is that watching it makes you feel like you have a part of it. It creates the illusion of agency in many, and the idea of ignoring the politics and the fear and the greed diminishes from their sense of agency. And yet, it is not a stretch to stipulate that the avid political follower is no more or less powerful than the carefree citizen who pays no attention to such affairs and does not intend to either.

This brings us to a fundamental point. Politics is entertainment. Watching a political story unfold, understanding the details of the shameful, scandalous acts (Fear) and the triumphs, deals, and victories (Greed) creates quite a powerful narrative. The narrative is this. There is a game being played. This game is bigger than you. It has many players, and the mechanics and dynamics of this game are infinitely complex. Every now and then, you will get an insight into a story, where you can now rearrange the parts and suddenly a new story emerges. Now you are an active investigator. You begin to find more clues. You think you’re clever, so instead of getting your information from one source, you get it from CNN, RT and everything in between. You then take your findings and start to build your arguments while you debate with friends, taxi drivers, and strangers. I specifically mentioned the “while” here to make a point. Most people do not deliberate over politics when they are alone, being thoughtful and quiet. People have conversations with others about politics and share information with each other. Once a position has been assumed, the other will assume a counter position by trying to look for evidence in a narrow, inaccurate, limited mental library of news stories and ‘facts’ that he has encountered over the past few weeks across a number of news channels.

This brings us to another important point. The news is not real knowledge. First, there is very little you can know from politicians themselves. They are, by virtue of being a public figure whose role it is to cajole, deceive, and manipulate, untrustworthy. This is not a blanket statement either. It is very difficult to imagine anyone who can maintain credibility when thrown into the political game. It is also important to remember that there is a reason for all of this. Sometimes, it is to maintain national stability and prevent any threats to the economy. Sometimes, politicians behave responsibly by deceiving the people. It is perfectly conceivable for a parent to protect their children by doing the same.  The more important point, however, is to notice that many news channels are not motivated by informing the public, but rather, by getting higher ratings. There is an inherent flaw in the incentive structure that exists. There is no reason to even dig deeper into why it is dangerous to have a system that rewards news that gets the most eyeballs, not the news that is the most accurate or informative.

 

 

 

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Knowledge Gaps – The Problem with Voting

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In a friendly conversation with a stranger at a bar, it occurred to me that there is something fundamentally flawed with the way we perceive the world and how we react to our perceptions. The man, quite talkative with a thick Eastern European accent decided to discuss political affairs and some of the happenings around the world. In one of the subjects, he displayed an unusual sense of understanding of the region in question. He couldn’t properly identify which capital cities belonged to which countries, or what exactly was happening beyond what is apparent on the face of it.

It got me thinking about how all people are likely to have a similar sense of knowledge where they have different amounts of knowledge pertaining to different subjects. The idea intrigued me because I immediately thought of the process of polling, and elections, and they are fundamentally based on the idea that every person, above a certain age, belonging to a particular nationality, is allowed an equal vote like everyone else that shares those criteria that required no skill, effort, or intelligence. This imperfection of democracy is, of course, not a novel idea.

Churchill famously remarked, “The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter.”

There is, of course, political incorrectness involved in this idea. It implies that a certain amount of knowledge is required to make democracy something really worthwhile. It persuaded me to think of examples where either a double standard exists in our society that would overrule the political incorrectness of this idea.

Society is built upon the general principle that most high paying vocations can only be reached through passing certain criteria such as standardized tests or earning academic qualifications from a university. Job competency then is directly measured by the amount of knowledge and/or intelligence a person possesses. But if people need to be qualified in order to work, then why don’t they need to be qualified in order to vote.

In market research where companies compile data about consumer tastes and preferences, and use it to create a more suitable product, the ‘voter’ or person surveyed is not required to tick any boxes when it comes to qualifications. They just need to have a residence, access to the internet, and a general preference for things over others. It’s quite interesting to me that the process of voting has more or less the same criteria. Both forms of voting do not require any qualifications or proof of knowledge.

This seems to suggest that a presidential candidate is not elected on the basis of being competent. I say this because many people, even those who are educated, do not have the sufficient political, economical, or social knowledge to make an informed choice about who they think should lead their country. In the case of market research, the product is catered to be suitable for what most people want. The product is consumed within these groups of people, and a continual process of feedback would be taking place after that.

In the case of politics and presidential elections, the newly elected president is the product. However, in this case, the product has the ability to affect society, the economy, healthcare, and even other sovereign nations. It seems to me a little absurd that almost anyone can be part of these significant decisions.

If I hired a plumber to fix my sink, I would be sure to take note of his qualifications. I would also do the same for my mechanic, teacher, taxi driver, pilot, or anyone who is required to complete a job with any kind of competence at all. It would seem to follow that when it comes to deciding who the leader of my country is, I should want people with some kind of competency to decide.

The underlying insinuation from all of this is that the accessibility to the amount of power highlighted above is very odd. Of course, if asked about what a possible solution to this is, the immediate answer would be to test the competency of the voters in terms of political, historical, and social knowledge. Only those who have displayed adequate, relevant knowledge would be allowed to vote. In the same way a prospective drivers, job applicants, sports athletes, and police officers need to display competency in their domains, so should a prospective voter.

The fact that the situation as it is now is not like that seems to undermine the seriousness of voting and the actual impact it could have. It might indeed suggest that the process of voting is a meaningless exercise altogether.

As it was wonderfully put in the excellent 2001 movie, “Waking Life”, “You want the puppet on the right, or the puppet on the left?