A great problem with America these days is the fact that we are not one nation (even as the Romans, in late antiquity, were not). We do different things, in different places, with different culture, and when we do meet one another, our public square is virtual, dominated by the worst kind of entertainment and entertainers–the kind necessarily divorced from the particular circumstances of everyone and anyone as it attempts to bridge incredible geographic and cultural gaps (urban vs. rural, rich vs. poor, majority vs. minority, educated vs. uneducated, etc.).
Some of our differences are intractable: I cannot know what it is to live in Miami, and I have no interest in finding out. Making me vote on the problems of Miami is a disservice to me and the people of Miami (who actually live there: they are invested in their city as I am not). Even if I am ‘educated’ (as it happens I am), this will not magically make me aware of Miami in the same way as though I were a citizen. Until I live in Miami, I don’t really deserve a stake in its fate (positive or negative: I should be divorced from praise and blame, tax hikes and tax breaks, etc., that signal for an environment where I do not exist).
Modern America is like a gigantic dysfunctional city in which the garbagemen, the policemen, the administration, the schools, and the rest of us live so far removed from the consequences our actions that we cannot behave well, even when we mean to. Education has not lived up to its promise as capable of making me understand how my behavior affects stuff I cannot perceive: witness the wars in the Middle East, the collapse of Wall Street, the death of Eric Garner. Did any of these events arise because citizens understood risks and acted intelligently? No. Has society learned anything from these events (about the consequences of outsourcing the military to mercenaries, the market to pirates, or the making of law to morons with no police experience)? No. The same stupid incentives remain in place, incentives for me to take an advantage for which you pay the penalty–and I don’t care, because I cannot see you. I don’t even know you exist, more often than not. We have become the living embodiment of everything Plato hated about democracy: a bunch of idiots voting on shit that most don’t remotely understand. They don’t even misunderstand it: that requires an expert, somebody competent to sit down and spin a rational narrative about politics, economics, and the various kinds of culture we use to make our lives. They are completely clueless, hanging upon the latest word of someone else. Here Plato steps in and says that we might hope for education to provide us with infallible experts. Unfortunately, that hope has proven historically naive. Most of our experts are wrong quite often, more often as they attempt to work with larger groups of people spread over more geography. Academic worship of Socrates just makes more of us live like Alcibiades.
Where to go from here? I don’t know, but I suspect the solution lies in becoming smaller rather than bigger, in building alternative politics and economics that don’t attempt to solve all problems with alliances “too big to fail” (since such alliances are also too big to be accountable, too big to render individuals capable of becoming cognizant of the consequences of their actions). Make America small, ungreat, fractured, disjointed, again! (One nation, disunited under God? E pluribus plures!)