More and more, politics has devolved into positions that can be stated in 15 seconds or less. That’s not at all a coincidence with the time it takes for the shortest of commercials that run on teevee.
There are many examples. The war in Iraq, for example, is a complicated situation that is going to be very hard to get out of. What’s the most popular view of this war? “We should get out, now.” While I understand this perspective, it’s hard to imagine what people would think about anarchy spilling over into Arabia, not to mention gasoline at more that $5 a gallon. I never wanted to get into this mess in the first place, but I understand the wisdom of Colin Powell – “If you break it, you buy it.”
I’ve had to deal with this problem locally as well. People think that “Rail transit is a good thing,” without stopping to think long and hard about the problems associated with the system that’s involved. My concerns haven’t even come close to being registered. The 15 second commercial, that rail is good, has sunk in. Join the Pepsi Generation!
The Cola Wars are similar to another phenomenon associated with 15 Second Politics. There’s a kind of tribal warfare that develops around where the particular political meme has come from. If Rush Limbaugh said it, the left will hate it. That goes the other way as well. Most political ideas are little more than simple ideas that, when traced to their source, define a course of action and those who should back it, entirely. Nevermind that they don’t even come close to defining the situation in any kind reasonable way.
Recently, I took on the idea that the recent housing bubble was caused nearly exclusively by abuses in sub-prime lending. I did this because the position lets an amazing number of people off the hook. The problem is that it fixes an effective scapegoat, the mortgage industry, that does indeed have some amount of money and influence. This particular example of 15 Second Politics is as harmful as any of them, especially since it allows people with even more money and influence to escape responsibility.
Does anyone care about this? I think some people do. But there’s a tremendous amount of damage that is done by reducing complicated situations to 15 Second Politics. A democratic society demands that the that views of the people be taken into account, but if those views are obviously destructive or even counter-productive, what can you do? Our leaders need to ignore the views of the people if they can’t take the time necessary to teach us the better and more accurate way. If a view based on 15 Second Politics is repeated a thousand times, it may take 15,000 seconds to undo it.
It’s hard to fault people for taking these views, however, as the world becomes more and more complicated. The USofA more or less runs the world, and the strain of this bizarre dystopia has run us a bit ragged. We can’t possibly understand the intricate local politics of every corner of the world, which should lead us to wonder why we try. Instead, we don’t try, but pretty much punt on all the heavy thinking. 15 Second Politics is the only reasonable way to fill the gap, outside of some blunt honest talk about what the Hell we are trying to do in the first place.
In the end, 15 Second Politics is going to rule the way we think about things until we get a lot more honest about what we are doing. That’s not heinous or stupid on our part, but simply a natural reaction to an insane situation. We’ve allowed things to become far, far more complicated than any democratic society can possibly handle. We’d do a lot better to ignore the commercial sized memes and understand the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.