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Manipulation or Enlightenment?

Archon Fung, a professor of Democracy and Citizenship at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, offered an interesting column in the Huffington Post on the cynical reaction of two liberal economists (and fellow Huffington Post contributors) to a recent series of regional conversations about the national debt. The URL for this column is:


I offered this explanation for their suspicion.


There does appear to be tremendous inflexibility on both political flanks. Just try advocating for the validity of spiritual perspectives (or religion at all) on the political left. And we do need to address our budget deficit - just not in a way that marginalizes the well-being of the many in order to safeguard the interests of the few. To borrow an idea that Hillary Clinton first popularized, it took a village to both create and destroy our markets. And it will doubtless take a collective approach to get us out of our current mess.

The problem is that while The Framers suspected the people, we have expanded the role of the people - without simultaneously insisting, via appeals from the bully pulpit, and through other forms of moral persuasion, that every citizen perpetually expand their understanding of human psychology, history, economics, and the world. To even suggest such a thing today is to be instantaneously labeled elitist, a charge that many Framers of the Constitution, or signers of the Declaration of Independence, would certainly be judged equally guilty of by any honest jury of our time. Furthermore, any Congressman or Senator who proposed such a thing would be doubtless voted out of office at the next possible opportunity.

Yet, if the truth be told, the American people have collectively demonstrated themselves to be as easily hoodwinked as any people on earth. That's the reality. And that's why there's such extraordinary suspicion of anything that appears a 'dog and pony' show, intended to further manipulate public opinion.

As Jackson Browne observed in his "Lives in the Balance":

They sell us the President the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us every thing from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars

Partisan politics aside, can anyone honestly demonstrate that he's wrong? I don't think so.

In a democracy a people necessarily get the kind of government that they have earned in consciousness. The American Revolution was perhaps the sweetest fruit of the Age of Enlightenment. Today, many among America's economic and political elite prefer ignorance, paranoia, coercion, and manipulation to the process of enlightenment. They're routinely scornful or dismissive of Americans who aspire to one of the two authentic models for enlightenment. And our fruit tastes increasingly bitter.

Matthew Carnicelli, © 2010. All rights reserved.
Originally published June 29, 2010.