When I phoned a friend at the start of November, he reminded me to vote on Election Day, Nov 8. I said ‘Right, thanks, talk to you soon. Give love to Janet’. (I was careful not to say I’ll vote. Truth is important to me.) I knew I would not vote; I couldn’t vote, having missed the last day to register by 2 days. I had moved permanently from Chicago to live with family in the NW suburbs a few weeks prior. I knew nothing about the multiple candidates for the dozens of offices – local, state and federal – and didn’t want to vote blindly along party lines. So in the chaos of relocating, I let it slip by, for the first time in 62 years! When I first voted (1961), in Pennsylvania where I grew up, you had to be 21 to vote, but 18 year olds could be sent into battle and killed. That unjust law didn’t change until a majority of states ratified the 26th Amendment in 1971. But Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Utah never did ratify. Hmm…That shows how Red some States are.
I used to encourage students in my ethics classes to vote, but we discussed many provisos. For example, you should know the candidates well enough to be confident they’ll represent your views or values. Obviously people are more apt to vote if the outcomes are important to them. Your major interests could be the environment, women’s rights, abortion, LGBTQ+, immigration, taxes, finding employment, etc. These personal political values cannot be met simply by allegiance to one political party or another (especially not when effectively there are only 2 parties in the USA). The rhetoric on both sides does not represent what we can expect from the outcome. Not wanting to be cynical, I find that politicians on either side are greatly influenced by lobbyists and money plays a big role.
Making Community. John F. Dewey (1859 – 1952) influenced me with his emphasis on community to build real Democracy – not the rhetorical form of Democracy. People need to practice getting involved locally. E.g., join the school board, help the needy, join beautification projects, volunteer at the library, etc. Dewey was a philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer. His 1916 book Democracy and Education is free to download from Penn State (my ‘dear Alma Mater’), from which I’ve quoted 3 paragraphs of the summary that ends Chapter I. His language is a bit verbose, so I’ve edited out some confusing bits.
“It is the very nature of life to strive to continue in being. Since this continuance can be secured only by constant renewals, life is a self-renewing process. What nutrition and reproduction are to physiological life, education is to social life. This education consists primarily in transmission through communication. Communication is a process of sharing experience till it becomes a common possession. It modifies the disposition of both the parties who partake in it.
“That the ulterior significance of every mode of human association lies in the contribution which it makes to the … quality of experience is a fact most easily recognized in dealing with the immature. That is to say, while every social arrangement is educative in effect, … [the effect] first becomes an important part of … [the association of elders] with the younger. As societies become more complex in structure and resources, the need of formal or intentional teaching and learning increases.
“As formal teaching and training grow in extent, there is the danger of creating an undesirable split between the experience gained in more direct associations and what is acquired in school. This danger was never greater than at the present time, on account of the rapid growth in the last few centuries of knowledge and technical modes of skill.”
I believe this danger is more evident today than in Dewey’s day over a century ago. Here are two well-know authors giving a modern version of the troubles that changes in media can bring, if not well understood and managed. In his 1964 book Understanding Media, Canadian Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase The Medium is the Message. He meant that any new technology – especially in communications – has the effect of changing what’s possible in people’s environment. He used the lightbult as an example. It doesn’t say anything, but it makes available activities for good or ill that weren’t possible before its invention.
Neil Postman expanded on this theme in his 1985 Amusing Ourselves to Death – Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness. Postman’s son Andrew published a 20th Anniversary Edition, showing how relevant that is today. Theaters are giving way to big screen home T.V.s, and to the Web and smartphones are around the world. Clearly these media can be addicting, and harmful (especially to children) and they’re subject to enormous commercial and political manipulation. With regard to the latter, Murry J. Edelman’s work shows how easily politicians and money interests can bamboozle the electorate.
Cathy M, a very progressive friend who taught poli sci at DePaul U, led me to Edelman’s first publication in 1964: The Symbolic Uses of Politics (U of I Press), and his follow-up in 1988: Constructing the Political Spectacle (U of C Press). I was sad to learn that Cathy died in 2020 at age 58. Scott Hibbard, her friend at DePaul and Department Chair kindly shared this link with me. Cathy, thanks. I’m sure you’ll find a loving partner and a happy community where you are now and forever.
Britannica describes Edelman’s earlier book in this article and his later publication in this article. I was surprised to see the latter article was updated 2 months ago (Nov. 1, ’22). That shows how current the topic is. Both these books influenced me greatly, when writing Chap. VI of my Iniquity, Inequity and Debt (2018). I saved the topic of that chapter – Debt, Wealth and Democracy – in Scribd.com. Alas, that demands a subscription, so perhaps the reader’s cheapest access is to buy my book (around $4 on Amazon). Please excuse the self-promotion.
Free press is another favorite topic for me. From what my teaching and research experience show, the American public is increasingly uninformed about our money system and who controls it. Renowned British-American economist Mariana Mazzucato’s book discusses, ‘The Value of Everything ‘. Here’s an excerpt from her synopsis: “In modern capitalism, value-extraction is rewarded more highly than value-creation: the productive process that drives a healthy economy and society. From companies driven solely to maximise shareholder value to astronomically high prices of medicines justified through big pharma’s ‘value pricing’, we misidentify taking with making, and have lost sight of what value really means.”
People’s beliefs are manipulated by targeted ads, surveillance of individual needs and preferences, AI algorithms, and unbelievably manipulative marketing skills. That’s true even with government services, such as updating a voter registration card which I attempted online. The website was sponsored by a dozen companies, for which I had to enroll to continue. So I didn’t. Not knowing how to get around that, and having no geek to show me, I dropped the effort.
There are free sources of good information. Wikipedia is not to be scoffed at, as so many scholars do, and I happily contribute to the Wikimedia Foundation that sponsors it. Aeon.co deals with every kind of topic. It’s a Japanese company which sells many products. But like Wiki, it asks for contributions at the information site. My current interest is the Aeon Psyche post.
Not allowing some groups to vote is a very old story in America. Blacks, browns, women, the uneducated, ex-prisoners, and others were kept from the poles in many localities, states and federal administrations. But it continues today in some states, by means of elegibility rules, hard to get documents, electioneering, and plain intimidation. Here’s an article on the topic by Pew Charitable Org, from which this photo of Trump Supporters harrassing voters is taken.
The USA has long been the hoped-for destination of people from around the globe. According to our State Department, “The United States hosts more immigrants than any other country, with more than one million people arriving every year as permanent legal residents, asylum-seekers and refugees, and in other immigration categories”. Those numbers however don’t tell us which individuals or groups are admitted. That issue is constantly debated in Congress. Who is welcome depends on Federal law, but also on State and Local rules, and even attitudes, all of which change frequently. Some communities are welcoming, and others erect barriers. This is also the case within the country when people try to relocate. Some people – primarily the more progressive and affluent communities – permit the homeless and panhandlers almost to become welcome.
Such was the case in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, where I last lived. Here’s a blogpost on that topic. Sadly, however, the local Walgreens – where 2 of the busiest streets for cars and pedestrians crossed – refused to renew their contract allowing Salvation Army to take contributions on ‘their’ corner. This season, Macy’s in NYC did the same. And needless to say, people have stolen unguarded kettles. Where I now live, that bell-ringer and the iconic red kettle are seen all around the neighborhood this holiday season, though inflation is making it tough for the organization to meet its goals. BTW, if you don’t have cash, you can give with your smartphone app. Technology for Good!
So from now on, so long as I’m able, I’ll vote in whatever elections seem Meaningful and Good for the Communities they affect.