Information Ages

My father, in response to my previous entry on Iran, made the insight point that a key difference between his generation and later ones is how we view democracy. His generation, he says, had an idealized notion of democracy, whereas ours is highly cynical and even fatalist regarding government. I have theories as to why this is, and why this is likely to continue for some time.

Take, for instance, the recent insistence of republicans that the current clamp down on Iranian protests and their subsequent use of social networking tools such as twitter is akin to what republicans have been doing during the Obama presidency. Statements such as these represent a fundamental failure to understand the basic functions of how the world works, or at least to put enough effort into ascertaining the facts of a situation to make a clear, level-headed assessment.

It's this latter possibility that highlights the generational gap. How we process and acquire information is fundamentally different. The new generations are growing up in an era where all the information they could possibly need is at their fingertips. In such an era, it's fundamentally baffling as to why any of these responsible, important people are able to so consistently get fundamentally obvious and crucial facts wrong. They may be busy people, but at least their support staff could have looked it up for them, right?

At this point we're experienced enough to know that most often people fail to ascertain the proper facts of a situation when they have a vested interest in a reality that is unaffected by those facts. Whether this is emotional or financial, the interest precludes proper judgement. So, when we see politicians arguing that it isn't the nicotene in cigarettes which causes cancer but the smoke, ignoring the fact that the contentions concerning nicotene have nothing to do with cancer but addiction, we have to wonder whether they're stupid, emotional, or financially tied to organizations who have an interest in the outcome of the legislation.

This is the source of the cynicism and fatalism. We know so much about the world, its people, and its awe inspiring wonder, and yet leading us are buffoons who can't tell the difference between climate change and weather change. We want to be rid of them, but we feel it's futile because there are so few of us compared to the generations that came before who voted these 5-6 term senators and representatives into office year after year.

Of course, our cynicism along doesn't account for the amazingly voter turnout numbers. Even in last year's amazingly heated election, nearly half of all voters never reached the polls. Voter turnout is barely a third of all possible voters in gubernational elections. This all started before I was even born.

I can only explain, in part, why my generation doesn't seem to care. Why most of the country doesn't seem to care except for presidential elections (and in 1996 even then), I can't say.

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