Maybe More Americans Would Behave Like Responsible Adults If We Taught Them “How To”

On paper, it seemed so easy. After a year and change of locked down lives and a locked down economy because a pandemic was ravaging the human world, humans created a viable solution in record time: a vaccine. All any of the humans had to do to begin the process of arresting the pandemic was get the shot. Considering the carnage, this should have been a no-brainer. Alas, that did not account for the multitudes of brainless humans. The pandemic struck America at the exact same time a right wing coup d’etat was in flagrante. That coup d’etat is the right wing’s Hail Mary shot at establishing permanent minority rule. That has always been the point of this exercise. The hard core right — the fomenters and backers of this tragedy — have always viewed democracy and the structures needed to maintain it with disdain. On the left, we have a tendency to be pedantic and abstract about democracy; that’s why we always seem to bring knives to gunfights. It’s the middle where all the action is. Or, in America’s case — where the inaction is.

The difference between America achieving herd immunity and not achieving it just now is a few percentage points of the American public going along with the majority of us and getting vaccinated. Some of those people are rushing to get vaccinated now in the face of the Delta’s terrifying surge. Three previous viral surges didn’t convince them? A viral surge with a cure in hand? THAT’S what it took? One more just to drive the point home? How does a person become so immune to good information that they don’t know how to process it so as to act in their own best interests?

There’s plenty of data that’s easily accessible to back up the bromide “a rising tide lifts all boats”. We live in a world broken by crony capitalist corruption. What does it take to infiltrate minds so that those minds can 1) connect those obvious dots and 2) do something about it that would be both in their best interest and in everyone else’s best interest, too? My simple suggestion — education. We make it a national policy — as part of every American’s education (whether public or private) — they must experience a thorough (but not uncritical) education in American democracy: how it’s supposed to work, how it’s worked in the past, how it’s working now — and what we need to do to continue improving it. We need to introduce early (and often) that Americans have something billions of other humans would die for and have died trying to get.

We need to bake a love of democracy into the very architecture of our education system. Anything that threatens our democracy should be understood in that context. These are complex ideas but they can be synthesized down to bite-sized, actionable directives like “vote”. Or “register to vote”. Or “run for office”.

If more Americans embraced the foundational concepts of democracy — the US that makes democracy a democracy — they’d have a clearer sense of where individual liberty and the commonweal’s needs interplay. There must be a point where the commonweal’s interests supersedes any individual’s. Otherwise the group could always be taken hostage — an unacceptable option. But then, why would anyone think that freedom comes totally free? That’s how a six year old — or a libertarian — sees freedom: “you’re not the boss of me”. It simply isn’t true — it can’t be — that freedom comes with all benefits and zero obligations. If that were the case, why wouldn’t every human society do that? Because it simply isn’t how freedom works.

Freedom takes work to MAKE it work. And the work involved requires training because it’s so challenging. If we don’t teach our children how to do it, they’ll never learn as adults and, in time, the very ideas will get lost — which is exactly where we are. America did indeed stop teaching civics a while back. Somehow (hmmmmmm… I wonder how….) we decided that Americans knowing how their country worked (or what it even looked like on a map) was unimportant. Civics became like sex education — something best taught at home in the minds of some Americans.

And you know which Americans I’m talking about — the ones threatened by information (especially new information with science behind it).

Like I said — the hard right were never reachable. We need to stop chasing them down their rabbit holes. It’s the middle who need to be addressed here — those who (perhaps understandably) have long taken democracy for granted. It was here and so were they. That’s the extent of their investment in it.

So, let’s give them a reason to invest more by instilling a few “economic” principles into their thinking.

Like every good investment, you have to pony up first in order to collect your payoff later. The ponying up part is where most of the heavy lifting comes in; we all agree, the “learning” and “re-learning” and “learning it again” part is absolutely no fun. But that’s where you bake in the sense of responsibility. And — much more importantly — the sense of how obligation and benefit balance each other when democracy is working properly.

The only problem with what I’m proposing is that it’s never happened in America. It’s an ideal but — in my defense — it’s the ideal promised by “All men are created equal” if we understand it to mean “In America, all people are created as equals”. We could say that they’re equals before the law (that’s really all any government can really assert). Though the American ideal has always remained an ideal and not our actual reality, that it’s flame was maintained till now is a good sign — especially considering who’s maintained that flame: Black Americans especially. Though the benefits of American democracy have forever been denied them, Black Americans have maintained their faith in it because, having been denied those benefits, they appreciate how essential they are.

How ironic that America, while enslaving a significant part of its population was also super-educating them how to be the best possible Americans. If it didn’t hurt so damned much, it’d be hilarious.