Facts seem to become an irrelevance in the US election debate, is it time to ask whether, especially in this social media age, too much democracy is a bad thing?
Fact checking has become the latest pursuit to exercise the fine minds of the US media, but they have got a busy time ahead and a lot of lies and half-truths to rebuke. But do the electorate care?
Do we have too much democracy?
“As my first act of US President, I am going to bring back the tooth fairy.” No one has yet made that claim yet, but the gap between what politicians say and the truth has reached such magnitude, that they might as well.
When a presidential candidate tells a pack of lies it is simply unacceptable. When they claim that climate change is a hoax, advanced by China and then deny they said it, when they say that after 9/11, they saw people in New Jersey celebrating without any shred of evidence, when they claim that Barack Obama may not have been born in the US, and then claim it was their political rival who advanced the myth, it becomes unacceptable.
But then when did facts and opinion hold much correlation?
During the Brexit campaign, the standard of the debate was lamentably low, with facts about immigration, for example, virtually ignored.
Now the UK labour party wants its members to vote in all senior shadow cabinet members, and, presumably if it ever forms a government, the full cabinet.
Frankly, as a species, we are really bad at being objective. We are riddled with bias, and interpret facts to support our pre-conceived notions.
And that is why extreme forms of democracy can be dangerous. That is why in the UK, we hold an election every few years, and let supposedly wise men and women debate and decide upon the big issues.
That is why in the US, the power of the President is reined into the extent that he/she is made virtually impotent by the two Congresses – Senate and the House of Representatives
Back in Ancient Greece, where democracy first evolved in a formalised way (although tribes have been electing leaders for millennium), the voters had far too much power. The assembly of freemen voted on just about everything, with the exception of military tactics which were left to generals, who themselves were elected. And the city-state that the west now holds in such high regard was a tyrant to other states of the ancient Greek world, and eventually voted on a war that led to an unwinnable war against Sparta that proved its ruin.
These days, democracy is not like that. We don’t even make a habit of referendums, although in this digital age, as blockchain technologies advance, the technology to hold referendums online and with regularity will soon exist.
Studies show that when people disagree but are then taught about bias, how beliefs can become skewed by the way we tend to select facts to support our point of view, they become more convinced than ever that they are right, and that their protagonist is biased.
“We are all biased, except for me,” goes the gist of what we appear to think
Studies show that this can only be overcome if people are forced to argue issues from the others’ point of view. So if George Osborne had been forced to argue against austerity, and Ed Balls in favour of it, in front of an audience, with a prize going to the winner of the debate, maybe we would have then have achieved more objective debates in parliament
And since we live in a democracy, it is incumbent on schools to teach the art of objectivity, of paying heed to facts, and on making the formation of opinion a science.
Until that day happens, democracies need checks and balances.