On the old saw, “Be the change you want to see in the world”

It’s as though life is a constant election. With our every choice, we signal our preference, and someone or something (public opinion, the market, etc.) registers it and acts accordingly. We don’t simply consume things — we “support” them, like we support a political candidate. I eat organic food in order to signal to the market that food should be produced organically. I patronize my local bookstore whenever possible so that the market will know that local bookstores are valuable. I debate my family at Thanksgiving dinner because every individual who adopts liberal views on political issues contributes to a more liberal tilt in public opinion.

If every decision is an election, every debate is a jury trial. Politics presupposes the jury member as archetype — the definitionally ignorant observer, disallowed from bringing in any outside information, trapped in a room with eleven peers and eager to find some kind of lowest common denominator to bring about a decision. Whatever is presented in court — the liberal nephew’s arrogance about all the fancy things he learned in college, the hurtful personal aspersions cast on George W. Bush, etc. — is relevant. Whatever is not presented at the trial — the actual content and likely consequences of public policy proposals, the broader context that might explain a vote or a remark — cannot be considered. Political consultants and corporate marketers alike play to this purely virtual juror, and both are at once overconfident in their ability to manipulate this lazy ignoramus and horrified at the arbitrarity of his or her whims.

Of course, I am always the informed voter who has the leisure and resources to make responsible decisions, while the general public is made up of the inert juror, the proverbial swing voter from Ohio who is simultaneously malleable and elusive. Indeed, whose very susceptibility to influence makes the ongoing election so unpredictable and exciting. I can always do better in my efforts to manipulate (or, more politely, “persuade”) my swing voters, always spin better, always frame better. It’s not their fault that they keep making the wrong choice, because it always comes down to my presentation, my legal maneuvering. I live but to serve, to figure out some roundabout way to induce the swing voter to make the right decision — albeit always only for the wrong reasons.

One thought on “On the old saw, “Be the change you want to see in the world”

Comments are closed.