I Know that I Don't Know
I need to thank the reigning political ideologies, whether the conservatives; cautious and fearful, the liberals; passionate and pompous or the socialists; caring and naïve. Their hold on power or the quest for it has led them down a path of unquestioning dogma. They are equally able to arrogant in believing that their way is the only way. This bullish bravado has opened a crack for the investigation and deliberation in the power of uncertainty. 


An article in Brain Pickings entitled “Polish Poet and Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska on How Our Certitudes Keep Us Small and the Generative Power of Not-Knowing” – a long title for a brief but clear message.  In it Szymborska says;

“All sorts of torturers, dictators, fanatics, and demagogues struggling for power by way of a few loudly shouted slogans also enjoy their jobs, and they too perform their duties with inventive fervor. Well, yes, but they “know.” They know, and whatever they know is enough for them once and for all. They don’t want to find out about anything else, since that might diminish their arguments’ force. And any knowledge that doesn’t lead to new questions quickly dies out: it fails to maintain the temperature required for sustaining life. In the most extreme cases, cases are well known from ancient and modern history; it even poses a lethal threat to society.


This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself “I don’t know,” the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground like hailstones, and at best he would have stooped to pick them up and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie never said to herself “I don’t know”, she probably would have wound up teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families, and would have ended her days performing this otherwise perfectly respectable job. But she kept on saying “I don’t know,” and these words led her, not just once but twice, to Stockholm, where restless, questing spirits are occasionally rewarded with the Nobel Prize.”


Two powerful paragraphs that resonate with my thesis and that may be why I used the adjective powerful. Nonetheless, I would argue that politicians of all stripes are posturing and positioning for reelection rather than public policy. For our purposes, an argument is a number of premises followed by a conclusion, where the premises are intended to lend support to the conclusion. A valid argument is one in which the support is as strong as can be: the truth of the premises guarantees the truth of the conclusion. A sound argument is one that is valid and whose premises are true (and so its conclusion is true, too). An unsound argument is one that is either invalid, or that has at least one false premise. Let’s see if I can make a sound argument without resorting to partisan rhetoric – it will be quite a challenge.


Giving the benefit of the doubt to all first-time candidates seeking civic office, I propose that they have both personal and community agendas that aren’t being served by the current official. I  further propose that they have voiced those concerns on mostly deaf ears so if you can’t beat city hall (or Congress, or parliament, or …) then they join the circus (oops) and try to make changes from inside the ring. On the campaign trail, they say what needs to be said, even if they are skeptical. The candidate who speaks to their base and offends the fewest has good odds of winning. After they are inside the tent, they realize that it is better than anything outside. They have an illusion of great power, an audience for their views, and adoring or at least doting sycophants who smile and agree with their every uttering. 


The tent has significant influence. If you like your place on the stage, you need to pay the price. Allegiance and obedience are two payments that need to be made. By the time our first-timer gets the lay of the land and a chance to perform in the third ring, they are half way through their term. Advisers begin coaching them on what to do and say that protects the base and offends the least. " Afterall, lame ducks don't want to rock the boat. Maybe next term." and soon the election is upon them and another campaign turns into another term and rinse and repeat.


Okay, I confess, I neither constructed an argument or remain nonpartisan but I would suggest that the inefficiency, ineffectiveness, immorality, insincerity we see is a result of the very system we have helped create and continue to support. I  don't have answers for fixing representative democracy but eliminating first past the post and instituting single term limits might go a long way to cutting the toxicity and restoring power to citizens.