Creating Compelling Civic Value Propositions – Making Lazy Citizens a Part of the Solution

From a long reply of mine (Comment #43) at firedoglake, this mostly stands on it’s own, OK. I argue for creating a credible civic value proposition, that is so easy to attain, as well as so compelling, that even a lazy citizen will be sufficiently motivated to make the necessary effort. In my example, that’s 3 hours PER YEAR.

From a long reply of mine (Comment #43) at firedoglake, this mostly stands on it’s own, OK.

If you want to solve a problem, you need to appreciate whatever constraints are inherent in that problem, and not pre-judge that you can’t possibly work with those constraints, successfully. So, e.g., Nathan made clear that he is looking for solutions that don’t need campaign finance reform, in order to succeed.

It’s certainly possible to try and regulate, or limit, the amounts of money that make their way into political coffers, but the only practical advantage I see to it is that we’ll at least be calling the system what it is; bribery. It’s not likely to fundamentally stop the bribing. The winning strategy is going to have to be one which nullifies or neutralizes the effects regardless of its existence.

He is effectively saying “There is evil out there – let’s find a way to accomplish our goal, in spite of that.”

You and I may want Americans to be politically active, and passionate about having a vibrant democracy, but, to misquote Donald Rumsfeld, “You go to politics with the citizens you have, not the citizens that you would like to have”. If you want to abort any thought processes that might lead to a solution, because you have a good insight into how poor citizens most Americans are, that’s your right. But then you won’t be part of the solution, will you? I mean, of course, if there is a solution. (And if there’s not a solution, there’s not much point to participating in political blogs, is there? May as well watch the ball game and go dancing. At least you’ll have more fun!)

I choose to accept that fact that citizens are politically lazy, they are distracted with entertainment, and that they are highly susceptible to being manipulated, not just because of the fact that a highly developed infrastructure exists which is rewarded for doing exactly that (the main stream media, and even a lot of the “alternative media”; read up on “left gatekeepers” to find out more about this), but also because humans are essentially irrational, first and foremost. We behave tribally, and our “reasoning” is often as shoddy as our beliefs are fantasies – probably because such behavior had survival value, and for millions of years, at that. (See On Human Nature by E. O. Wilson, especially the chapter on religion, for more insights.)

The fact that citizens tend to be politically lazy and disinterested is an argument for why we should be even more keen to create democratic infrastructure, and tools, to make democractic control of our putative democracy easy. If you know that a given citizen, who is honorable and decent in their personal life (at least as understood by themselves), and votes for an endless parade of Democratic or Republican losers because they ae practicing “lesser evilism”, but will nevertheless not spend 15 hours per week reading political blogs, 2 hours per week calling and emailing their Congress critter, and 10 hours per week building up a grassroots movement which can either (eventually) take over the D or R party, or else displace one or both of those with a third party, then I claim that you STILL have much you can work with to achieve real political effects. But NOT if you’re going to ask them to make commitments which they are in no way going to give you. Just because you cannot expect the average citizen to participate in democracy at the level of an activist, that does not mean that they shouldn’t be appealed to. After all, they get exactly the same voting privileges as activists – and they are far, far more numerous.

No, what you want to do is make it EASY for citizens to make wise choices. You want to create a system such that, with only a willingness to spend 5-15 hours per YEAR on politics, the activists and ethical “gurus”, if you will, can create trusworthy civic value propositions to our less politically motivated brothers and sisters, that they will find compelling, if not irresistable.

I think some of the resistance to making democracy easy is because of a somewhat romantic worship of past “struggles”. And, indeed, we should honor the people who sacrificed, bled, and even died to make this country a better place. But rather than wait around for another MLK, or depend upon millions of people getting either desperate enough or inspired enough to take to the streets, we should also honor the patriots who suffered and died in the Revolutionary War, so that we could have a more democratic government than just letting English royalty and/or English parliament dictate to us. And that is by using our vote, wisely, and by creating the democratic infrastructure and tools necessary so that our less motivated fellow citizens can use their votes more wisely.

Do you think it would please Crispus Attucks to find out that even decent, honest, but politically lazy Americans, would feel that they had no better, realistic choices for President in 2008 than Obama and McCain?

If there was already a democratic infrastructure and toolset already built out, complete with a well-stocked candidate pipeline and some means of reliably conducting ‘consensus votes’ between different voting blocs (to avoid vote-splitting in real-world elections), how hard do you think it would be to get those voting blocs to support candidates who backed a healthcare system that would cut our costs, on a per capita basis, in half? If you tell John Q. Lazy-Public “If you spend 3 hours finding a primary voting bloc which supports universal coverage, but at far less cost, when coalitions of such voting blocs become large enough, they will prevail. So, if you’re spending $1,000 per month for health insurance (with it still questionable whether you’ll be able to afford health care when you really need it, even with your insurance company picking up 80% of the tab), you can drop that to $500 per month. IS SPENDING 3 HOURS OF YOUR TIME, PER YEAR, TO SAVE YOUR FAMILY $6,000, PER YEAR, WORTH IT TO YOU?”

Even the laziest among us should be able to divide $6,000 by 3 hours, and realize that $2,000 per hour is nothing to sneeze at. (Let’s not even talk about the fact that John Q. Lazy-Public can cease paying attention, after healthcare is truly reformed.) If John Q. Lazy-Public has children that still haven’t graduated college, you can make things even clearer by saying “The $6,000 per year that you save in health insurance can go into your child’s college fund. If they can’t afford college, they may end up flipping burgers for a career. Is THAT enough to get your attention, plus 3 hours of your time?

Right now, you can’t honestly make such a compelling civic value proposition. I have a problem with that. More importantly, I claim that we will never be able to make such a civic value proposition, until we build more democratic infrastructure.


  1. “You tell me it’s the institution…”

    “Well you know

    “You better free your mind instead”—–J Lennon.

    Interesting essay, I still think we still need more of a critical mass of those with expanded and raised consciousness for revolutionary change to happen.

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