Is The World Too Complicated For People?

BBC World News is now available on Time Warner Cable in NYC, most likely the rest of the country soon enough. They will go up against CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News for American eyeballs. And when I say “go up against”, what I really mean is, get slaughtered by in the ratings.

Why? Because the BBC is the only news channel that actually serves its viewers with, oh my god, real news. You may be able to pick out about 30 minutes (in total) of real news each day shown by each of the other three, well maybe not Fox who are we kidding. You don’t need me to tell you that it’s all just entertainment, or maybe you do, in which case you can just stop reading.

But I’m starting to ruminate on another theory which posits that the transformation of news into entertainment at almost every level of the media is more a symptom of a larger societal issue rather than just a business model meant to generate more dollars.

Is the world getting too complicated for people? We aren’t getting dumber as a society, in fact our mean level of education, especially in this country, continues to expand at a rapid pace. Now you may read how we lag other developed countries in education, which is true, but on an absolute measure we continue to grow smarter and smarter as a whole.

So why is it that it seems people are generally incompetent when it comes to the basic understanding of policy decisions that have a huge effect on them, or how the economy works? Why are they so easily led to believe what a politician or religious leader tells them even when it is so blatantly twisted or false?

I’m starting to believe that the world has gotten too complicated for the average person. Case in point, Instagram changes its privacy policy to include using your pictures in advertisements and there is a full on revolt. At the same exact time, Congress passes a law that allows unlimited spying of you, shredding the Constitution and no one says a thing. Why? Because it’s easy to understand what’s going on with Instagram, but how is anyone supposed to understand NSA surveillance tactics?

How is the average person supposed to understand how a global economy works and when they are being lied to when macro economists can’t even agree and are fractured into three or more camps. Of course a politician is going to lie to you about how we are going to end up like Greece, because they can, because you can’t understand why they are full of shit.

People can understand needing to spend money building roads and bridges, but can they grasp why it’s important to our economy that we invest in rapid transit systems in urban areas? How about a mission to Mars or a Manhattan Project for energy? Kennedy had to scare the nation into giving NASA the money it needed to go to the moon, is that what it takes?

Do we expect the general population to understand that no invading country has ever won a land war in Asia, the topography of Afghanistan and the fact that our idea of nation state doesn’t remotely exist in that part of the world ruled by tribes? Do we expect people to understand the difference between terrorism which is a tactic and the radical religious backlash against globalization which is the root of the issue we are currently dealing with? It’s easy to point at the Soviets and say those guys are evil because they want to turn everyone into communists, but is joe smith up to understanding why globalization has been such an affront to conservative Muslims and why they blame us?

As our world continues to develop more complex systems and deeper understanding of different disciplines, how do we expect the average person to have a hold on what’s true or false, right or wrong, forward or backward? How do we expect ordinary people to take part in civic life when much of the policy making is so far above their understanding?

Maybe democracy doesn’t work at a certain point. China is no longer a communist state, it hasn’t been for at least two decades. It is an authoritarian capitalist state which pays very close attention to its people and their sentiment, and has an orderly turnover of power within one party. God knows the Chinese leadership has made mistakes, which happens when you can move quickly and efficiently to execute policy. But I wonder what China’s growth would have looked like with a messier democratic system where its population was completely unsuited to an understanding of how to take that massive country and move it into the globalized 21st century world. Would they be where they are?

When I look at New York City and the massive improvements made here during Bloomberg’s reign as benevolent dictator, I wonder whether we need such a thing at a larger scale. He doesn’t ask permission to do what he does, because we know he knows best, and he has proven that he does. You just get out of the way and let him and his team do their work.

The world may be getting too complicated for average people to take part in decision making about policy. Even our representatives didn’t read the healthcare bill, they said it was too long.

Good luck to the BBC, but frankly, you’ve got no shot at competing. People inherently know they are not equipped with the tools to make sound judgments regarding what goes on in the world today, which is why they’ve turned to Fox News to just give them the judgements instead. They turn to MSNBC which thinks Kanye West and Kim Kardashian having a baby is BREAKING NEWS.

It’s not just a business model, there’s something deeper at play.

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