Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Tyranny of Bandwidth III

In summary:
  1. Your Representative in Congress cannot hear you.
  2. You cannot hear your Representative.

There is a very long and sclerotic narrow pipe between you and your Rep. The only reason anything flows in this pipe is that the powerful people trying to warp it are all pushing from opposing directions.

Your Rep and the people your Rep relies on for information range from the unwaveringly public-spirited to the deviously self-interested. Their attitudes to public exposure also range from the eagerly attracted to fearfully averse. You have no idea, and the press has little idea, of what exactly is going on and who is involved. Your Rep, who must have a better idea of where the levers of power reside, needs the help of all these pushy and these shadowy figures to get anything done, and even to retain office. They all have some peculiar control and clout accruing to their persons, their wealth and talents, but also, to a certain extent, because of the fragility of the Image, which is the shield of a public official.

Image is the substitute for knowledge that voters must rely on. The natural selection of politicians insures that only the ones with Teflon images move up to high positions, but even so, they do not have freedom of action. No one is sufficiently free of Image vulnerability to Do the Right Thing. For instance, tactical amendments to legislation are often inserted at the last moment because there is insufficient Image robustness to allow a "No" vote. No one can really count on getting the truth out. (This is the real reason that Senators cannot be elected President. They can always be crucified upon their records no matter what their intentions were.)

I believe that the Bandwidth problem is serious and continuously destructive. It should be addressed, and is, of course, being addressed constantly, but obliquely. Some of the approaches that have been used are:

  • Common Cause type organizations that address the mechanisms of government
  • Carter Center type organizations that address the functioning of elections
  • McCain-Feingold type laws that attempt to limit monetary influence
  • News reporting, editorials and columnist opinions to explain events and issues to the voters
  • CSPAN, which tries to give voters a realistic picture of the legislative process
  • Investigative journalism by reporters that follow Congress
  • Ombudsmen appointed to promote justice relative to specific issues
  • Polling and focus groups to inform the members of Congress about their constituents’ opinions
  • Public Interest Groups that, possibly, project the Public’s true voice upwards
  • Educational resources that explain how the powers that be can manipulate public opinion

All these things have their merits and limitations. I think that characterizing the problem as a collective network breakdown could lead to more productive approaches. Some of the ideas that I want to discuss in future posts as possible correctives are:

  • Voters unions to combine and enhance the voice of citizens
  • Mock court style debates on legislative issues
  • Computer matching of voters with educated role-model voters
  • Self-characterization aides for voters, perhaps with correlated blog-mapping

I think I am exploring new territory here. At least I’m stumbling down a path which may provide a new vantage point. If anyone is ahead of me on this, I’d certainly appreciate hearing from them.

6/2/2005 11:46 PM

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