In the days of Lincoln, interested citizens from across the countryside would gather together and stand in rapt attention for hours while politicians engaged in thoughtful and informed debate on the issues of the day. Back then, it was common for average people to take a great interest in political matters, and politicians were expected to be able to offer factual and reasoned points with which to counter the arguments of their opponents. For hours on end, points would be won and lost based not upon passion or prejudice but on logic and merit.
Last night I watched in horror as an angry Republican and a smug Democrat tried for 90 seconds to out-shout each other on a cable news program. What were they arguing about? I don't remember. Who made a better point? You got me. Why did I continue watching? I didn't. I turned the channel and watched cartoons.
Sound bites and hairstyles determine who will win elections in this country. Talking points and propaganda take precedence over the ability to craft a meaningful argument. Talk radio personalities tell us what to think, and cable news commentators let us know who’s on our side and who the enemy is. In short, we’ve become a nation utterly afraid to think for ourselves.
Don’t think so? A school board in Kansas recently voted to return the teaching of creationism to the classroom. Every day, hundreds of thousands of Americans rely on a comedy television network to give them their daily news. Once a month or so, a real-life, honest-to-goodness American war gets knocked off the front pages of newspapers across the land when some blonde teenager goes missing.
This nation was founded by men who believed that the most lofty virtue of humanity was our ability to think and act for ourselves. When we eschew these virtues in favor of intellectual laziness, we spit directly in the face of those men who fought and died so that we could live in a nation governed by a system of laws crafted by thoughtful and deliberate debate. By ignoring what’s going on in the world around us in favor of reality television and video games, we create an alternate reality that’s isolated from truth. We shut our eyes on ourselves.
Because of this, our political leaders have become corrupt caricatures of what representatives of the people should be. Each day, we’re treated to the latest tale of some wayward politician who’s been caught with his hand firmly in the pocket of big business. Because of our unwillingness to care about the truth, we’ve enabled our government to enter into no-bid deals with the devils of industry who’ve already been proven to be interested in nothing more than profitability and greed.
Capitalism and democracy are not one in the same. If we continue down this path of ignorance, we’ll soon find ourselves standing in a ballot box choosing between an oil company and an automobile manufacturer for our next president.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Question authority. Demand answers. Reject the status quo. Turn off your television, pick up a book and engage in thoughtful discussion with your fellow citizens.
The most intelligent nation in the history of the world currently is standing at a crossroads. One path leads to destruction at the hands of apathy and numbness of the mind. Down the other leads the way toward a new and enlightened century.
We’ve got the choice. Will we allow ourselves to be drawn into ever-escalating culture and religious wars, or will we sit down at the table of reason and begin to solve those questions of poverty, injustice and hate which still haunt our world?
Or will we just fall asleep and let someone else do the thinking for us?
As of Saturday, Matt Tunseth is a former reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.
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