When the first wave of baby boomers turned 18, it marked a turning point in American youth voter disaffection. But more on the baby boomers in a moment.
My previous post suggested that those of us who are both eligible to vote and actually vote in the United States … well, we aren’t talking seriously about who’s not voting and why it matters to all of us.
The Pew Center released survey results shortly before the November 4th elections, providing some helpful information about “non-voter demographics.” The Pew Center’s study is available here and I’ve embedded one of the report summary slides at right. The results overwhelmingly show that a large minority of American citizens who are struggling to make it economically, who feel alienated from community or economic institutional structures that the majority of citizens enjoy … well, that experience of everyday alienation translates into effective disenfranchisement. The economically marginalized tend not to vote. Continue reading Were Baby Boomers the First Demographic Wave of Electoral Malaise?→
I mean, there’s something that tends to go unacknowledged … About the complexity of democratic election results. From the local to the national. From votes on referenda and constitutional amendments to races for political offices.
Elections are almost always determined by a small minority of swing voters … But we talk about the results as if the electorate really was a coherent “body politic” that had deliberated, reached a decision, and announced it with ritual fanfare.
Of course, human social life is full of tensions and confusions between identifying-with and separating-from the bodies of others. The ambiguity and contradictory emotions involved in experiencing and committing to the similarities or the differences between self and other shape what it means to be human. Being part of, with, or even in others often defines identities through distance and intimacy, tenderness and violence. Bodies link us and keep us apart, very very metaphorically AND very very literally.
But when democracy seems only to enhance the ambiguity between separate, free, and variable versus collective and coherent and constrained bodies … well, that seems to undermine the point of democratic rule and accountability, for citizens and elected rulers alike. It would hardly be the only instance in which ritualized, mass media drama makes it seem like the very performance of elections is enough to make our bodies and their connections to others’ sufficiently safe and orderly. Continue reading Why Don’t We See the Impact of Voter Registration Drives?→
Or, The Anthropology and Psychology of Doing Nothing … and Then Doing
In our recursive, never-ending engagement with the world (and thus, with each other … and with ourselves), we humans generally create our own resolve about how that world is supposed to be.
And we do that by convincing ourselves that we can heroically make clear sense of muddled situations.
Should I add another spoonful of sugar to my tea? Or should I turn my concern for health and longevity into fast principle? Should I give into small desires, or should I always moderate? Objectively, reasonable people can provide arguments that on the balance, it’s better to treat yourself, at least once in a while … but maybe, it’s actually better not to, it’s actually better to develop stronger mind-body discipline.
In other words, this is a simple case–as professors so often say, encouraging their students to dare to pose critical questions–of there being “no one right answer.”
To be sure, most of us find that in the real-time emotional experience of moments–those seconds and minutes under which we maintain acute cognitive attention on a given situation–we may strongly resolve to act according to one answer or the other. Making that embodied decision through action makes us feel good.
Nearly twenty years ago, the mathematical ecologist Joel E. Cohen published a landmark book scientifically evaluating the question, “How many people can the Earth support?” In a companion article in the journal Science, Cohen introduced and explained what he called a mathematical cartoon of human population change. He made two very simple suggestions about how we should alter our assumptions concerning the relationship between our population size and the ecosystem resources that feed its growth. First, Cohen said, don’t worry first and foremost about absolute physical limits to key resources–of fresh water or arable land, say. Second, worry more about the social relationship between the number of people and the efficiency of economic production.
Mathematically, this involves a minor change in notation. We’ll get to that in a moment, but it is worth noting that it is almost absurdly simple.
Let’s consider the traditional model that Cohen wanted to update. The classic logistic growth model represents how finite resources will limit a population’s growth–specifically when there is a constant population level, denoted by the letter K, at which that population’s aggregate extraction, consumption, and impact on resources is in equilibrium with the wider ecosystemic renewal of those resources. K–or the population’s ecological carrying capacity–is known as the largest size the population can reach while leaving just enough material, nutrients, and energy to sustain demographic replacement in the next generation. In nature, a population at this ecological limit would not literally be in perfect harmony from one generation to the next. But it is an equilibrium level to which slight fluctuations in population growth or decline will return. What did Cohen change? He suggested that we should no longer see K as a constant. Rather, we should see carrying capacity as a factor that changes over time. Thus, he suggested designating carrying capacity as a mathematical function of time, K(t), which would vary in a mutually causal relationship with population change.
How does the process of culture influence democratic participation and social fairness?
We usually take it for granted that concepts of democracy and justice are so overarching–so encompassing over the structure and maintenance of social order–that they have an independent, fixed, objective definition. This is certainly a practical narrative. As long as things are OK for most citizens of those societies institutionally defined and overtly committed to democracy and rule of law, the notion that our access to legislative, executive, and judicial decision-making is fundamentally fair … well, it’s quite convenient to confuse fundamental political fairness with the experience of not being treated unreasonably unfairly in daily life.
In other words, notions of social fairness and justice have a tendency to take an unmarked symbolic form in relation to the markedness of unfairness and injustice. The succinct, iconic narrative that the system is basically–or at least sufficiently–fair … this is easy for us to tell ourselves, easy to think. It diverts our attention from pervasive instances in which local, regional, or national governing institutions–with claims to sovereign powers over their jurisdictions–actually abuse their power and unfairly harm civilian individuals or groups. It diverts our attention from the ways in which governing institutions unfairly ignore or flaunt legal protections and democratic accountability.