Descent into Democracy

An article in this morning’s Washington Post got me thinking. It was telling the story of the new magic media: texting, twittering, tweeting, twits, twizzles and whatever other “t” words are used to describe the instant messaging that goes on between people no longer in voice proximity. In this particular case, the subject of the conversation was “what I just saw at the movie, and why you “should” or “should not” rush right down to see it. The upshot, in short, was a warning to blockbuster movie makers and the critics who make their living from them: get to work on plan “B”.

Having had the experience most of us have had, of going to a critically acclaimed movie and leaving scratching my head it makes sense that I would value the opinion of someone a little closer to me, and, like me, not all that erudite. So much for years of study and careful development of subject expertise. I know “Joe” and I know how to value his opinion. I don’t know the guys and gals who write for the papers, so if Joe, on his way out of the movie wants me to know that what he saw was a super stinker I’ve got to give that thought some serious consideration. That’s fine, and while it might throw the movie industry into a temporary dither I’m not too  worried about it.

On the other hand, when the twittering world is alive with opinions about which the twitters know nothing, and the lure to join in is very much like the high school gossip mill, that’s a social and probably a moral problem of some serious dimension. When the far right uses state law to wear weapons to a public meeting, and thereby, engage in an obvious act of intimidation and when the far left pillories the president of an acknowledged progressive food company because he dared to question the logic of the current health plan proposal I am reminded that our sloppy thinking is very dangerous indeed.

Among the sloppiness is the continual reference to this country as a democracy. Cute, and just a little bit too simplistic. We are a republic, which means as citizens we do not get to vote on everything, with or without tweets. We elect representatives and are supposed to engage them in a civil relationship where we establish a dialogue with each other, not competing stone decalogues  with which to smack each other. If we take our side of the relationship seriously, they will do the same with theirs. If we revert to the fashion of the moment, that is what we will have to live with: the fashion of the moment. My reading of history and the daily news warns me that those moments can turn deadly before our rude fingers have finished flashing our disappointment, disgust and anger. And what we will be left with is the memory of what we used to have.

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