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Blessed Are the Restless

Thomas Edison once said that “restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied person and I will show you a failure.”

I confess to being restless and dissatisfied about trying to be an active participant in the kind of self-government our form of democracy used to exhibit. Many of us are now reduced to being passive spectators who are less likely to bother with politics because a class of professional technicians has taken charge of electoral politics. These professionals (including campaign managers, pollsters, pundits, advertisers, and fundraisers, to mention a few examples) have come to manage both the passions and the passivity of voters like us. They predominantly shape the content of what we know as well as what we do not know.

The manner in which we voters are manipulated costs a huge sum of money, mostly paid for by private donations. These private donors then expect to influence the content of the public political messages, meaning that campaigns are almost always biased in favor of the interests of the rich and powerful. The resulting purpose of campaigns has now changed from educating citizens to electing or defeating certain politicians. In my judgment, this is a primary reason that the current “largest political party” is made up of those who stay at home and do not vote.

This may also be the reason that so many potential voters seem so angry these days. Regardless of one’s ideological or partisan perspective, many have come to believe that our senators and representatives have not worked together to bring us economic prosperity and security. In addition, they have failed to hear the messages so often shared by their constituents. For example, we have just witnessed another brutal mass killing at an Oregon college campus even as a large majority of Americans desire greater control of gun sales and use. In other words, our elected officials are seen as distancing themselves from the common-sense and popular knowledge of ordinary folks like us.

But the following may be the good news. We are already significantly involved in a new era of democratizing technologies. We are increasingly using the power to control our own communications. Through email and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram etc., we now have new ways of communicating with each other.

This new ability is well into destabilizing the old way of doing politics. I think it is a major factor in generating the many unexpected turns of this election season. It is drastically reducing the cost of making political connections (especially financial), and the time and work to organize across long distances and social divisions. It even seems to be the beginning of diluting the political domination of the 1%, the corporations, and billionaires. All I can say is blessed are the restless. May they (hopefully, we) continue to bring about meaningful unrest ahead.