Continued from part 1 and part 2.
The symptoms of an ailing body politic, treated at the expense of the solving the fundamental processes of political organization: elections, the media, and education. How they inter-relate is straightforward:
- The educational system fails, on average, to impart necessary critical thinking skills.
- Without these critical thinking skills, we are poorly equipped to deal with the media’s propagation of massive amounts of information, misinformation, advertising, and propaganda.
- Without a clear understanding of reality that comes from processing the world around us, we can’t act effectively within (and/or against) a political system that is intentionally designed to work against us. We are also easily divided, distracted. and exhausted by the endless supply of crises that mask the core problem – control over the political apparatus.
- Whomsoever controls the political apparatus exerts control over education. Go back to 1.
Straightforward, of course, but also a vicious circle that makes it challenging to identify the most vital pressure point for a political revolution to hit. And if I talk about pressure points, it’s because a slow-burn political revolution risks getting snuffed out all to easily. What we need is a spark.
There’s no question that education reform is critical, since education is the foundation of any society. Education is also about more than schools. As Henry Giroux puts it at CounterPunch:
At issue here is the need for progressives to recognize the power of education in creating the formative cultures necessary to both challenge the various threats being mobilized against the ideas of justice and democracy while also fighting for those public spheres, ideals, values, and policies that offer alternative modes of identity, thinking, social relations, and politics. But embracing the dictates of a making education meaningful in order to make it critical and transformative also means recognizing that cultural apparatuses such as the mainstream media and Hollywood films are teaching machines and not simply sources of information and entertainment. Such sites should be spheres of struggle removed from the control of the financial elite and corporations who use them as propaganda and disimagination machines.
But the problem with reforming education, other than the sheer scale of the challenge given the patchwork of educational systems throughout the country, is that it is a generational effort. We can’t spontaneously re-educate an entire population, and it takes time to put the framework in place to educate the next generation in a way that will yield the political results that we want. Simply put, education is not a pressure point.
Reforming the media is also a formidable challenge considering that the majority of the media is owned by a few large corporations. Yet as polls have consistently shown over the years, most people don’t trust the media. According to Gallup’s 2016 survey, “Americans' trust and confidence in the mass media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly" has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year.”
The poll, interestingly, points to Republicans (pushed by Trump’s campaign) as a driving force in this mistrust. It also shows that the sentiments spans age groups.
Tangling out the causes of why people don’t trust the media is an essay in-and-of-itself, but the gist is that the media has increasingly blurred the line between ideology and partisanship over the years at the expense of actual journalism. It’s one thing for the media to report from a particular ideological position, particularly when that position is clearly articulated. Jacobin Magazine, for instance, is a socialist magazine, just as Forbes is capitalist. No one reading either of those publications would be confused by the filter through which the news is discussed. But not all news sources need to start from any ideological position except for the Gold Journalistic standard of reasonably impartial reporting. Nevertheless, whether specifically ideological or ostensibly impartial, both are comprised when the media crosses over into partisan combat that applies a double set of standards. Just as Fox News tends to be reluctant to criticize Republicans, the more liberal-leaning establishment media struggles with mustering criticism of Democrats. The Gallup poll points to how upset conservatives/Republicans are with the media for their heavy criticism of Trump and light criticism of Clinton. But the complaint doesn’t come solely from the Right; leftists have argued against the media’s treatment of Bernie Sanders and third-party candidates in favor of Clinton, just as they criticized the media for providing Trump with a yuuuge (and free) platform on which to campaign, before finally deciding to do something approximating truth-to-power journalism.
Profit and the political interests of the corporate/wealthy classes go some way into explaining the partisanship posturing. So, what to do about it? Support independent journalism? Absolutely. Create new media that exemplifies the old-school values of journalism? Sure, but building a new source of journalism that can provide reasonable, impartial, and expansive reporting in a way that cuts through partisan bickering is a big medium-term undertaking. While it’s definitely a pressure point, in that whoever controls information shapes perception of reality, it’s not a fast-acting one.
The proposals for reforming elections aren’t new; instant run-off, public campaign financing, and impartial districting that minimizes gerrymandering. They also aren’t especially complicated; in that they can be enacted through legislation and implemented fairly quickly. Unlike reforming the media and the educational system, which involve dealing with a number of intangible factors, electoral reform is eminently practical. It’s definitely a pressure-point, and one that can be hit on for the most immediate results.
The Pressure Point
If you’re tired of the same old politicians, and frustrated with a system that produces the same old politicians putting forth the same old failed policies, then breaking the duopolistic system is essential. Indeed, by giving voters greater influence over politicians – through votes and by mitigating the influence of lobbyist money – it should, in principle, yield policy results closer to what voters want. Whatever your cause – the environment, black lives, the war on drugs, guns, abortion right – progress boils down most immediately to the extent voters can influence elections instead of being manipulated by them. Given how widespread discontent with the political situation is, electoral reform can, with some marketing, be a cause embraced by people across the political spectrum.
But let’s be clear that electoral reform is only the first step, a movement that is part of a larger strategy and also concurrent with efforts at creating better media and a more effective educational system. It also isn’t a cure for bad politics; it is “merely” progress. Democracy is itself a problem, as Crimethinc argues, but not the only fundamental structural problem with our society. Bearing that in mind, activists would do well to unite and fight this single fight together, in numbers that make a difference, and use their success as the foundation for the next steps – progress on their specific causes.
The next question is: what are the chances of a political revolution?