If you were going to build a boat, who would you ask for advice? An experienced boat maker? Or a sample-sized cross-section of the entire population? In most situations, we have experts trained to deal with specified scenarios. Theoretically, however, in a free democracy, political policies are the result of a populous vote. Most Americans are under the impression that we have a fair say in our democracy, but how fair is the choice between two similarly aligned parties? The fact remains that we are a part of the politically unaware. But in higher-up intellectual circles, the idea that the population is unaware of the state of our democracy is directly appealing.
In capitalist America, the means of information are directly controlled by the upper class. The political economy of the mass media is not talked about enough, resulting in a deep-rooted lack of available information. The United States has the largest income gap in the world, meaning the largest gap between those controlling the media, and those not. We live in a society where the distribution of wealth is directly equal to the distribution of information. The facts we see on the news are continually skewed while the upper class controls the mass media. Every child grows up understanding the importance of nine eleven. Whereas it's not until teens develop their political understanding, that they begin to unpack the anti-Islam ramifications of Geroge W. Bush’s war on terror, and the effect it had on the politics of the empire.
It’s not that the media we consume is inherently false, it is simply selected to promote a distinctly capitalist agenda. The same distribution is true for the freedom state of our democracy. The reach of our political choice only extends so far when our system of education is controlled by the government. Noam Chomsky says that “education is a system of imposed ignorance,” because we are brought up in a system that discourages further introspection into the state of our democracy. Many believe that western democracy is an example of complete freedom, but it's time we began to unpack the idealism surrounding this narrative.
Canada and the US have a long history of extreme voter suppression. This is when parties try to make voting booths more plentiful and well-marked in areas with people more likely to vote for their own candidates. In 1867, African Americans were granted the right to vote in the US. This began an era of reconstruction, where hundreds of African Americans were voted in to be state representatives or serving jurors. White politicians were threatened by this uptake of black Americans in Congresscongress and began to find their way around the new legislation. Polling stations in African American communities were in direct proximity to crime, people were hired to use violence as a form of intimidation, and polling taxes were placed in low-income communities of color. These taxes were eventually declared unconstitutional in the US under the twenty- fourth amendment, but there are still many forms of voter suppression alive in the US and Canada today. This intentionally tarnishes the freedom we are afforded under our constitution and denies people of color their democratic rights.
In the US and Canada our society suffers from crippling socio-economic polarization. With a gap in wealth, comes a gap in the distribution of information, resulting in the formation of distinctly contrasting views. People with low incomes have a very different view of the world than someone who has grown up to be middle class or above. In America we have such a large income gap, with these differences, we are left with different values and different belief systems. Thus, a polarized voting pool is born. People will assume a political position based on who each party is marketed towards, instead of being forced to align with a party of similar individual thinking. With such opposite perspectives, people begin to foster competition, and turn a blind eye to the valid criticisms of the party they choose to support. With a gap in wealth comes a gap in information, resulting in vastly different views and a crisis in the accessibility of political understanding. The equal distribution of information is something we have been working on for decades, but despite free press movements like what we saw in Venezuela in 2019, there is still an upper-class narrative that shapes what we know and understand about politics.
Despite the criticisms of western democracy, we still find ourselves prescribing to the belief that we are free. The discourse surrounding the flaws within democracy is nothing new; it can be dated back to Socrates' long-standing debate with his student Aristotle. Socrates believed that governmental decisions were better left to those with a proper education. At the time, this argument had some weight considering most of the population couldn’t read or write. Common folk based their political beliefs on the backs of what they were told, and this could be influenced by anyone. On the other side of the spectrum Aristotle believed that since politics influenced everyone, each person deserved a say. It is also worth noting that the “educated class” was also the wealthy class. Thus, a long history of educational divide between the rich and poor began.
Discussions we see today on the manufacturing of consent, is a distinctly nuanced take on Socrates' original question: Is it a good idea to put the state of our government in the hands of those less educated? However, with an expanded western education system, it’s no longer a question of educated vs non educated, it is a question of who controls the media we consume. Most high-class academics view the population as a “desensitized mass.” Due to wealth disparages beyond our control, we find ourselves easily exposed to manipulation from the ruling class within the media.
Despite this lack of accessibility, politics still plays a massive role in each person's life, from how we plan to send our kids to school, to the housing crisis, to available medical care. Not only this, but minority groups, or people with limited access, find their own livelihoods at risk depending on who is in office. When something influences our lives to this degree, it is crucial that we have a say. Especially for people who need better legislation and proper reform in order to feel safe in their community. But when upper class academia has control of the mass media, how much of our democracy do we really understand? When voting in our civilization, fairness could come in the form of understanding the issues within our two-party system, or the inherently oppressive nature of western education. Introspective discussion on the nature of the upper-class media and their control of the senate is something that needs to be encouraged, but instead we often see the manufacturing of our beliefs through the mass media and other systems of education.
The media uses flowery language, complex references, and factual suppression, in order to avoid individual political autonomy. The press writes what sells to their demographic, meaning people are only exposed to their own confirmation bias. We receive, at best, fifty percent of the information we require to make an educated vote. The hope for our democracy going forward should be to offer more introspective and accessible systems of education.
In 1947 the UN voted to separate the Jewish and Arabic territory along the West bank. The proposition was not accepted, and separation never occurred. The westerners left the country in the following year, and the Jewish created the state of Israel. The Palestinians inhabiting the area fought back against ethnic cleansing and cultural colonization. This fighting is better known today as Al Nakba ‘the catastrophe.’ The fighting ended in a tentative peace agreement, but the tension opened the door for another hundred years of conflict between the two regions.
When people become too aware of their countries' political position, they split based on belief, and violence ensues. The population in the middle east is very aware of their political position, for most the livelihoods of their family hinges on the success or failure of the opposition. For the Palestinians, it was important that they were aware of the cultural and ethnic cleansing they were experiencing. It is important that they fight back against an opposing power, but since then, thousands have died. The second Palestinian intifada began in the year 2000, and lasted for five years, resulting in thousands of civilian deaths.
The middle east remains divided today and is in no way like our democracy. But it is important to understand how the people in Gaza and along the West Bank were taken advantage of by organizations like Hamas. It has been uncovered by multiple former Israeli leaders that Israel funded Hamas in their search for power over Palestine. Israel dealt funding to their opposition knowing they could later weaponize the group’sgroups militancy to detract attention from more secular and idealist Palestinian organizations. Hamas is fundamentally Palestinian, but their violence and death toll has gotten in the way of receiving foreign support for the people who need it most. Hamas took advantage of the Palestinian political culture, in order to push for a theme of violence and conflict. It is important to consider that even factoring in the militancy of Hamas, they are still fighting a war against new age ethnic colonization, and in certain circumstances violence is necessary to defend citizens.
The years of conflict in the middle east are not necessarily comparable to our western democracy but serve as an example of revolutions held outside the realm of limited understanding. If each person in Canada was in complete understanding of the flaws in democracy, or the oppression minority groups face each day, politicians believe in the possibility of revolution. We have seen sparks of discontent in various political protests and movements so far this year. Even though these movements have been not only peaceful, but also well informed with a strong basis in truth. The only issue is that if we had any more cause for revolution, it would only be a matter of time until the working class is led astray by a stream of government issued propaganda, or an influx of militant dictators looking to take advantage of the misinformed.
It is interesting how politics today can all lead back to Socrates' original question: How much democracy is too much? Being too aware of your political position could lead to revolution, so it is often best to leave the most complex dealings to professionals, while being unaware leaves a country at risk to populism. We all deserve a right to information, and a Western government is required to have some level of political transparency. Despite the privilege of voting, this is made subtly difficult in order to discourage mass awareness of individual political autonomy. We are led astray by political jargon, while we leave ourselves exposed to mass manipulation. Academics often believe a shallower democracy is better to evade civil war, but as civilians we are left with far too many questions. Is the imposed ignorance of our democracy a hindrance to the population? Or a self-preservation tactic?