In an article in the Washington Times (here), a reporter tells about the difficulty of cracking Internet censorship by China’s authorities. The reporter begins by asking a Chinese hacker to show him how easy it is to get to blocked Internet websites. At first, this hacker is uninterested. Until some money is involved this hacker is reluctant to waste his time. So the reporter makes a bet. The hacker wins if he can get to three blocked sites within five minutes. The hacker wins; he gets to four sites within three minutes.
After showing the reporter the ease of getting to the blocked Internet websites, the hacker observed the following.
“You could have asked anyone here to do this,” Mr. Li said with a wave around the room. But he added, they are more interested in using skills to access restricted pornography sites than to read about politics.
“I don’t care about the stuff you want to see. What’s the point?” he asked.
This Chinese hacker wanted to play his games and make a few bucks. What was the point?
What do you spend your time doing? Do you live life or do you fantasize about it? Are you a player or a sports fan who pretends to be part of the action? Do you have a choice? For moment, at least, in America you do.
American politics offers each citizen the opportunity to participate. Few of us can or will run for office, but each of us can support the candidate of our choice. Candidates need our support. Although politics in America is still a relatively peaceful pursuit, it shares much of the character of war. The battleground is the ballot box. Each political party and each candidate struggles for the possession of our votes, grappling with us to pull us off our duffs and into the voting booth.
In this war, this great game, we each can be players. Do we participate or do we ignore the battles? Have we educated ourselves as to what the battles are about and how they are fought? Do we behave as mind-numbed robots? Do we choose to believe whatever the authorities tell us? Or are we intelligent and active participants?
Can you afford to ignore the battles? Consider the extent to which our society revolves around politics. From our earliest years, each of us has been educated by a system created by politicians. Ostensibility, politicians created the public school system for the benefit of children, but this system often works poorly. Many are the victims of unnecessary educational incompetence. Many of us have even been made to dislike some throughly interesting subjects. History, for example, is a fascinating subject. History is our story. Although storytelling is perhaps the earliest and most fundamental form of teaching and entertainment, the public education system has made even history seem boring.
Nonetheless, because the public school system serves political purposes, the system has avid defenders. The public school system pumps children full of propaganda about our history, the role of religion, the role and structure of government, and our civic duties.
So if we want to participate in the game, where should we start? What are the rules? We call the rules Civics. As citizens, we help to make these rules — unless we renounce our right to do so. When we do not show up at the battles, we renounce any right to help set the rules of our society.
Before we have any business taking part in how the rules are set, we need understand both how the rules work, civics, and how they came to be, that is, our history. In addition, we must understand what we believe. What kind of civic structure do we prefer? How do our religious beliefs affect our beliefs about our civic duties?
Soon after we begin to understand how the game is played, we must secure intelligence. Who are the players in this great game? What are the stakes. How are the players changing our society? Which players should we join with in the battles? What constitutes a victory? What sources of information can we trust?
In the end, most I think will find politics too much like war. As mere foot soldiers, we will be discouraged by our inability to have much affect on the outcome. Our victories will seem small. Our inevitable losses will leave us frustrated.
Yet there is a blessing. We get to meet and befriend others who see the need to participate in politics — good, public spirited citizens. In addition, our participation will help to leave our children a political system at least as good as the one our parents left us. That hope — that obligation — by itself should be enough to keep us involved in the game (see here).