Eno Worries

Edge.org asked Brian Eno what we should be worried about. I like his answer (and really like his music):

We Don’t Do Politics

Most of the smart people I know want nothing to do with politics. We avoid it like the plague—like Edge avoids it, in fact. Is this because we feel that politics isn’t where anything significant happens? Or because we’re too taken up with what we’re doing, be it Quantum Physics or Statistical Genomics or Generative Music? Or because we’re too polite to get into arguments with people? Or because we just think that things will work out fine if we let them be—that The Invisible Hand or The Technosphere will mysteriously sort them out?

Whatever the reasons for our quiescence, politics is still being done—just not by us. It’s politics that gave us Iraq and Afghanistan and a few hundred thousand casualties. It’s politics that’s bleeding the poorer nations for the debts of their former dictators. It’s politics that allows special interests to run the country. It’s politics that helped the banks wreck the economy. It’s politics that prohibits gay marriage and stem cell research but nurtures Gaza and Guantanamo.

But we don’t do politics. We expect other people to do it for us, and grumble when they get it wrong. We feel that our responsibility stops at the ballot box, if we even get that far. After that we’re as laissez-faire as we can get away with.

What worries me is that while we’re laissez-ing, someone else is faire-ing.

Part of the series 2013 : WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?

(Thanks to DF for the pointer.)

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2 Responses to Eno Worries

  1. Earl Killian says:

    It is helpful to remember that in any given election, roughly 29% vote Republican, 29% vote Democrat, and 41% don’t vote at all. If those 41% chose to vote, they could elect anyone they wanted in a landslide. The aim of practical politics is to make sure they remain so disgusted that they don’t participate. So far that is working for the plutocracy.

    I was surprised when Terry Gross asked Norm Ornstein, “What’s the one change you’d most like to see?” and he answered, “If I could wave a magic wand and do one thing – and it’s something were not going to be able to do – it is to bring us the Australian system of mandatory attendance at the polls. … It’s not that higher turnout is, in and of itself, a goal, or creates a healthy society. The former Soviet Union had regularly 98 percent turnout. What they’ll tell you in Australia is that if you know that your base is going to turn out and their base is going to turn out, that you don’t have politics driven by I’m going to scare the crap out of my base to get them out there or suppress the other sides. You focus on the voters in the middle, and it changes the issues you talk about and the way you talk about them. If I could do that, and if I could change the Supreme Court so that we didn’t have terrible, destructive, foolish decisions like Citizens United coming down the pike, I’d be a happy camper.” It’s a fascinating idea.

  2. Vic says:

    Absolutely, Earl (on your first point).

    I think smart, politically aware people tend to forget two things:

    Most people (as in the VAST majority) have no real interest in, nor knowledge of, any political issues.

    Politicians know this.

    They also know that some of these low-information people vote, but most do not.

    As the goal of any politicians is not doing what some smart person thinks should be done as a principle, but rather, getting into office and staying there, the working politician has two goals:

    1). Keeping as many people away from the polls as possible.

    2). Manipulating those that do show up with any sort of spin, misstatement, wild accusation, promise of free stuff, etc. that they can think of knowing that the election is controlled by that portion of the electorate who barely knows their name and couln’t tell the Constitution from the Declaration of Independence from the Gettysburg Address, from Shakespeare, if their life depended on it.

    They do this over and over and over again, right before our eyes, but smart people think it’s much too cynical a view to be even considered. After all, THEY spend two hours a day reading articles about the Fed Reserve, or the limits of the Commerce Clause, doesn’t everyone?

    Then the true money-makers come out and “explain” how so-and-so lost because he didn’t appeal to Latinos, or Women, or whatever, when in reality the appeal was never meant except as a Pavlovian response. Then they collect HUGE amounts of money for being able to explain and strategize (which is their only actual goal).

    Meanwhile, the politician just laughs his way back into office knowing that smart people had nothing to do with electing him, and the political strategist cashes his checks, while the smart dupe just keeps believing that the system favors information.

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