If we truly believe in the ability of a people to rule themselves, we need to have a somewhat shared understanding of our world. I think the story of our cultural and political moment is that this seems to have slipped away. Therefore, any true political reform must have a larger vision. It must address the public access to information and how our opinions are expertly manipulated. While bias is inherent, letting the power of a few shape the understanding of the many is a choice. What we are missing and need desperately is both to hear more independent voices from all perspectives, but then also to engage in the constructive criticism of all ideas. It is only this process that can let us understand how to best live and thrive together.
To get there, I argue there are four necessary pieces to this new kind of politics…
Support Independent Media
There will always be more to gain individually from creating bias than trying to advance public understanding. It is this natural state of things that when combined with any real concern for the common good, necessitates a pooling of public resources to try to overcome. We have to collectively provide the financial support for media to avoid the commercial influence of networks and advertisers. This will help to limit the culture’s general exposure to bullshit and make facts and reason more prevalent in the public discourse. There are people willing to do this work in art and journalism, but we have to make it part of our civic duty to fund it. Free from control by government and other special interests, with content available to all.
Regular Local Meetings to Discuss Politics
We have all had different life experiences, and exposure to information, that shape our understanding. Better government at all levels requires that all of these different perspectives be heard and that we embrace compromise. As much as we can learn from all the forms of media now available, overcoming our most stubborn differences will probably always require the empathy that only comes from ongoing public conversations in a shared space. Expanding public understanding, and the immunity to political propaganda that comes with it, is the only real way to take back our government.
Make Political Parties Irrelevant
In a low-information environment, political parties were very useful. Voters could use them as branding to get a general understanding of the policy positions of politicians. But the parties also always had their problems, problems that now outweigh whatever usefulness the parties still provide. In general, they act like just another special interest. They restrict candidates from following their conscience on how best to serve their constituents’ interests. They also create a divide in the electorate that is corrosive to the body politic. They allow the media to focus more on politics than policy. We must make it easier, starting at nearly impossible in some districts, to run and win as an independent candidate.
Distributed Social Media
Without a gatekeeper, social media is word-of-mouth on steroids. It allows us to democratically control what we pay attention to and how we are influenced, thus giving us more freedom in how we live our lives. Information has never been so available as it is on the internet, or easy to consume quickly as it is with social media. While we actually don’t need anyone or their algorithm modifying that content feed for us, it is unavoidable in our current model because of the financial pressure that comes from the advertising opportunity. The only way out is to collectively move to an independent, distributed but also interconnected platform we control, giving us real choice.