They Should Have Taken the Fifth about the First
re: Homer Simpson, Yes; First Amendment? "Doh!"
Guest Post by Mike DePinto
Americans know more about the Simpsons than about the Constitution according to the latest poll. I doubt this surprises anybody. You need only turn on the television for an evening to see that entertainment dominates the airwaves. Americans have a fascination with celebrities and are bored with politics. The problem arises not from stupidity but from laziness. Turning on the television takes no effort while understanding complex issues does. Democracy can only work if the participants make sound choices based on logic and reason. It might be time to for those who believe the first amendment protects the “right to own a pet” to turn off the tube and pick up a book.
[Note from Rossputin: And why shouldn't entertainment dominate? But that in itself doesn't excuse Americans knowing nothing about their own Constitution and government. However, maybe there's something that does: Rational Ignorance. Rational Ignorance is a specific academic term coined by Anthony Downs in his 1957 book "An Economic Theory of Democracy" which asserts that one must consider the cost (particularly the opportunity cost) of getting information as well as the likelihood that the information can actually be put to a use in excess of that cost in determining whether it is rational for someone to spend his time or other resources to become informed. In other words, the decision about learning something is subject to the same sort of cost/benefit analysis as other economic decisions.
Here is a decent short description:
and a longer study, focusing somewhat more on philosophical theory: http://cniss.wustl.edu/Rikerpapers/hardinpaper1.html
Here's my take: The people who know more about the Simpsons than about politics are not particularly likely to vote. As long as it stays that way, I have no objection to their remaining ignorant. When government starts messing up their lives enough for them to care, as generally happens at one point or another, they will rationally get informed.]
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