Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Doomsday Feedback Loop

The men who signed the Declaration of Independence initially reserved the vote for white male property owners, and while some of them might have harbored their own sexism or racism, the majority of the Founding Fathers were simply acting on the assumption that only white male property owners could inform themselves sufficiently to vote intelligently. Slaves and women (for the most part) didn’t read newspapers. A slave master was in the position to tell a slave how to think politically, and the same was true for husbands and wives, and only property owners were deemed to have the kind of stake in the governmental system that would motivate them to stay abreast of national affairs. The intent was always to have our democracy guided by an educated, well-informed electorate.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and a focus-tested world where opinions about pretty much everything— including politics— are shaped by what appears on electronic screens of every conceivable shape and size. When it’s time to vote, the 50% of the eligible voters who choose to cast their ballot will do so based on what they’ve been told by the heads that appear on their screens. For the most part, this means that their vote will mirror the opinion of someone else (probably a politician), and will most likely have little to do with their own understanding of the issues. The system has worked this way for at least half a century, ever since the advent of television, and it wasn’t previously much of a deal breaker because the elected politicians, once in office, had access to the kind of information necessary to govern intelligently. Quite simply, a public vote cast in ignorance didn’t guarantee ignorant governance.

Now that’s changed. The politicians, especially Republicans, and especially Michele Bachmann in particular, are perfectly candid in saying that they shape their opinions and voting positions based on what “the voters” tell them. And, of course, the voters tell the politicians only what the politicians have told the voters. In the sciences of chemistry and physics and biology, this is known as a feedback loop, and it doesn’t allow for much, if any, variance based on new input.

The current economic deterioration of America is the biggest single problem we’ve ever faced. Our fate is now being guided by “the people” who know nothing about the staggering complexities of tweaking the largest economy on earth, and this guidance is channeled through elected representatives who know little more than “the people” they claim to listen to. These forces are reinforcing each other in a feedback loop with almost no input from economists or any kind of outside experts who might actually know something about money and finance and business and international banking.

The thing about feedback loops is that they always magnify any imperfection, and— lacking a correction mechanism— when left alone for sufficient time, each and every component of the loop will eventually self destruct.

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