Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Apathy and Third Parties

I'll be brief with this one... sort of.  What I'm thinking about today is that there's no quicker way to apathy than a two-party system.  And there's no quicker way to demagoguery, fanaticism, and politics-by-fiction than apathy.

The reason there's no quicker way to apathy than a two-party system is that neither party would then be able to elucidate a distinct platform on a variety of issues.  A majority of people in this country, and around the world, would be defined as moderates or near-center in a right vs. left party debate.  Thus, in a fight to win party dominance, both parties in a two-party system need to fight over those moderates, and in doing so their platforms cannot, by rule, be all that unique.  Certainly, each party would also need to pander to their 'side,' and so differences between parties would exist, but not enough to the point that any significant change could occur when offices change hands.  If no significant change occurs, then apathy grows as people realize that it doesn't much matter which of the two parties have control of government: the result would stay nearly the same.

I'll go further and say that a two-party system also breeds corruption.  With only two parties there are fewer leaders, and with fewer leaders there are fewer chances to rise up the ranks and fewer targets for lobbyists and others, and so there is greater opportunity for those who cross lines of integrity. 

But the two-party system's main consequences are not corruption so let's keep that as a side note.  The main consequences are, 1) a strong apathy that creates an uninformed and destructive passion; and 2) 'movements' of the people.

First, we all should be able to agree that when a high percentage of a democratic nation's citizenry grow apathetic, the populace is uninformed.  To the extent that an apathetic society is informed, it is informed by sound bites.  Gone are the days when people might actually stay in regular contact with their representatives or remain up to date on bills in state and national legislatures.  Gone are the days when people might actually attend town meetings, town selectboard meetings, city council meetings, or any other local government actions.  Instead, we listen to five minutes of news.  Instead, we read Facebook.  Instead, we seek after biased news that tells our story so that we can read an article or two a day and feel better.

Apathetically being uninformed then creates destructive passions.  At some point, because of the sound bite, piecemeal manner in which we get our news and form our opinions, we only accept our way of thinking as truthful and we only accept our party's explanation.  A few minutes or less of news and information a day are simply not enough to seriously reflect, and therefore not enough to convince a person to change positions.  Confirmation of one's own stance is the only possible outcome of sound-bite news.  Even if we do not think of our opinions as adhering to party logic, that is what we will be doing because in a two-party system there are only two sides of the aisle and our bias will, inevitably, fall on one side or another.  If and when our passions emerge, they will thus be destructive because the other side--and there will only be one other side--will be the enemy to our side.  Indeed, the rise of 'fake news' shouldn't have been all that surprising because of the acceptance of one's own logic, whether it's real or not, without any reflection.  Less surprising still, though more destructive, is the more common habit of labeling truthful news as fake simply because we don't like it and our biased sources, our party's sources, do not confirm the truth.  One party is determined to be destructively set against the other.  People are determined to be set against people on the other side.  Whether we want to think of ourselves as part of the problem or not, we are, simply by taking part in a two-party system.  It is a structural fault.

Now what we're seeing now with Trump, and with Bernie Sanders, is an attempt to transcend the party dynamics to create a movement of the people.  Many who voted for or supported Trump or Sanders might think that they transcended the problem with two-party dynamics.  They did not.  In effect, Trump and Sanders made the two-party, oligarchic system worse.  By claiming to be a movement of the people with platforms that could have, and should have, resulted in new parties altogether, both men perpetuated the myth that only the Republican and Democratic parties are worth anything.  Essentially, Trump and Sanders used their respected parties to get elected rather than doing what could have best served our country in creating new parties with their unique platforms.  Perhaps neither would have had a chance running as the candidate for some new party, but Trump was not and is not a Republican and Sanders was not and is not a Democrat.  Why run as a candidate of those parties?  For personal gain, not integrity.

I do not blame either Trump or Sanders.  Both did what they believed to be right and there is certainly a logic to getting elected no matter what it takes if you believe in your position.  Despite that, it is because of Trump's and Sanders's 'movements' that we now see greater destructive passion aimed at the other side and, worse, greater apathy in both parties.  Members who associate themselves with either party are now lost in confusion concerning for what his or her party actually stands.  With such apathy stemming from confusion, the voices that are left in the game are louder and, again, more destructively passionate.  And, on top of that, members of the 'movements' all think that they now have more right to total control of the political landscape because 'the people' are on their side, thus leading them to believe that all those who disagree are sore, sad losers.  It's all a vicious cycle, and it's all because of movements that should have resulted in the establishment of new parties but instead resulted in the fortification of a corrupt, apathy-making two-party system.

Recently I heard a political scientist from England state that parties are the protector of democracy.  After what we have seen in the past year, we should understand.  Parties are the mechanisms by which we begin dialogues by clearly marking out our boundaries and positions in rank of importance.  The more political parties we have, the more clearly we demarcate our positions and the more clearly we can dialogue.  More parties creates more clarity rather than less, and also create more dialogue rather than less because a multi-party system eliminates all the factors in apathy covered above.  Without apathy, a multi-party system is therefore less likely to result in the easy planting and growing of false narratives and destructive passions.  We are therefore more likely to talk than hate.  Even if biased hate stuck around, we'd still better be able to dialogue because dialogue first requires understanding the other, and with more clear party designations there would be better understanding.

The solution here is obvious and not obvious.  Allow, support, and involve ourselves in third parties.  The more viable parties there are, the more likely movements will not confuse party lines and create hysteria, and the more likely they are to rise up within the appropriate parties and help all people understand, reflect on, and dialogue within the appropriate political landscape.  Third parties are not delusional.  To the extent that they are delusional, they are such because of the two parties sucking up all the resources and painting the third parties as irrelevant.  Third parties are only irrelevant because the two-party system would break down with a third party.  Simply calling parties other than Republican and Democratic 'third parties' is part of the problem: there is more than one third party. 

Here's the funny thing.  In my discussing Trump with people who voted for him, most could agree, usually without prompting, that his words and actions were deplorable and unacceptable (hear me aright, I am not calling those who voted for Trump 'deplorable').  Indeed, if they had an alternative, they would rather have not voted for him.  And that's funny.  It's funny because most people who voted for Trump did and do have an alternative: the Libertarian Party.  Many voted for Trump to reduce taxes, to reduce American policing around the world, and to re-balance federal and state government.  Is that not Libertarian?  Further, many people who voted for Trump, if we went down the list of Libertarian priorities, would say, "Yes, I agree."  Why not vote for what you actually believe?  A novel idea.  I'm not saying that people should vote Libertarian because it's some superior party or that those who voted for Trump voted wrongly.  What I am saying is that many who voted for Trump have said they'd rather they didn't have to, and if we simply moved out of our apathy in the two-party system then those people could have voted their conscience rather than for what they determined to be the lesser of two very great evils.  As I see it, we technically have six parties in our country as I write, and only the Republican and Democratic parties can conveniently sit on the linear two-party line.  We also have the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, whatever Trump is, and Sanders's Democratic Socialist party (which should be its own party).  If everyone voted their conscience and supported the party they believe in, rather than waiting every two or four years to vote for the lesser evil, then we'd instantly erase a whole lot of apathy and evil because we'd also have four or five major parties and one or two smaller ones.

The less obvious 'third party' solution is to involve ourselves with third-party organizations.  Non-profits and churches fit this bill.  If we are unsatisfied with our political system, the solution is not to fall prey to false narratives because of our apathy and susceptibility to sound bites but rather it is to change the ground on which the political system is planted.  If the soil of our communities changes, so does everything else.  Non-profits and churches (which are non-profits, heyo) transform the soil of our communities.  I can just about guarantee that there is a non-profit out there that will suit your taste.  And whatever your taste, we cannot let apathy or adherence to a mania be our response when things do not go well.  We must make the change we want happen one way or another.  If we are political, then building up a third or fourth party will be the best solution; if we are religious or justice-oriented, then a non-profit or church will be the best solution. 

If we are worried that churches or non-profits can't make the third-party type of change we'd like to see, then the reason is similar to why we think political third-parties don't work: we have made churches and non-profits obsolete via our apathy.  Organizations are only as powerful in community work as the support they receive. 

So if you are as concerned as I am about the destructive prevalence of the two-party system and all its various, harmful symptoms, give a political or organizational third party a chance.

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