I'm not convinced that democracy is a good idea. It's an idea that I love, but in practice it can become terribly poisonous and discouraging. It just requires too much grown-up behavior. We're not up to it.
I was reading Sapolsky's memoir a couple months ago, and he talked about how stress levels shot up in all the baboons whenever the alpha was challenged, and the lines of the hierarchy became unclear. I see the same thing at election time: the human beings all become anxious and fearful, and liable to outbursts of rage; their intelligence, individual and collective, seems to drop several notches. I'd prefer to think that we're capable of a non-hierarchical society, but I wonder if we are.
One of the signs of this is the disinclination to vote for anyone imperfect: the longing to vote for a perfect human being, rather than for an ordinary party, run by ordinary human beings, with a list of things it would like to do. I was puzzled by the responses to Obama until I understood this. He's a good solid center democrat, way over to the right of me in many ways, over to the left in others. His voting record in the Senate was clear and consistent, if short. He's as good at trying to do what he said he was going to try to do as any president I remember. No surprises. Standard Democratic Party stuff. But the excitement that surrounded him was intense, and I think it's best understood in terms of primate psychology: we had had a weak alpha for a long time, who couldn't speak persuasively, and made many obviously bad decisions. Here was a confident, persuasive one. And he was a different color! Maybe that would make a difference! I really think much of the excitement, and consequent disappointment, is as simple as that. We're not really very complicated critters, in a lot of ways.
And instead of blaming themselves for electing a Democratic president, a divided Senate, and a Republican House – a configuration which our constitution pretty much guarantees will prevent any significant legislation – Americans are preparing to do exactly the same thing again. And again, they will blame the subsequent paralysis on Obama and on Congress, as if anything else could happen. The marching orders of the Republican House are – present right-wing legislation. The marching orders of the Democratic Senate are – quash it.
I've always been irritated by employers who blame their employees. You've got the power; you set the rules; if they're not getting the work done, it's your fault, not theirs. I feel that way about the American public blaming congress. If you want them to work, you have to give them consistent orders that make sense.
I see no sign that Americans, generally, take their responsibilities as a democratic people seriously. They don't take the time to do democracy properly: they won't learn about the issues, they won't engage with the Americans who disagree with them. They seem to me childish, petulant, and irresponsible. They have no idea how to solve the problems of the country, and yet they're eager to blame congress for also having no idea. The constant bleating pleas for “leadership” are ominous. This is a democracy. We are supposed to be the leaders. That's the whole idea.
It's only this situation that has enabled the lobbyists for the large business and corporate interests to gain their ascendancy. They do take the time to learn about the issues, to work out long-range plans, and to engage with people who don't agree with them. I don't like these people – they're political mercenaries: but the fact is they're behaving more like citizens, by and large, than we are.