Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Public opinion = Democracy?

One of the differences that strike me in comparing American media and Canadian media, and I hope Canadian media keeps this difference, is the attention given to "public opinion" and the instantenous feedback now possible with the internet. Canadian media, so far, seems less reliant upon this illusion of interactivity and "democracy" than American media.

The thing that kind of concerns me about this "interactivity" is, at the risk of being accused of elitism, the blurring of the notion of difference between "informed opinion" vs "visceral reaction" in decision-making. In specialized discourse, say in politics or science, there is what is called "conventional wisdom" (esp. in politics) and "peer review" (esp. in science) that acts as a filter and counter-balance to keep the discourse sane and rational (ie, provides continuity and stability), to filter out dilettantes and - at least in theory - demogoguery out of serious discourse. These safe-guards also tend to keep out or ameliorate ego wishes as long as they're respected.

Conventional wisdom is the enemy of ring-wing ideology because, despite all appearances and accusations of elitism, it is a very democratic way of policy-making because at its core conventional wisdom really is a set of principles and codes of behaviour outside and transcendent of any single point of view and/or agenda.

With the rise and domination of ring-wing ideology in Canadian politics conventional wisdom was the first casualty with attack ads being the nuclear bomb. Attack ads appeal to our basic prejudices, and without proper information and perspective to direct our hearts and minds, utterly devastating to the noble ideals of human rights and just society which are founded upon uncoerced, implicit agreement between "free persons", not demogoguery, not deceit by selective presentation of facts.

Public opinion without conventional wisdom to inform and cut its edge is really a breakdown of politics. Canadian political commentators and pundits just aren't willing to admit it yet but the fragility of the Westminster model has already been breached, and its useful fictions of propriety and polite imaging lay waste dead or dying.

What is the end-game here? Open regionalism? Prelude to separation? Indulgence of pretensions to republicanist dictatorship? Rule by corporation through block voting? Fascism? Perhaps it's the rise of techno-social Darwinism...

Whatever it is, real, and often messy, sometimes unsatistfying democratic discourse apparently seems  to have no place in it. If contemporary American discourse is any intimation, we've just regressed and devolved as a society by way of purchase through raw, visceral public opinion.

Jay

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