Things That Are Political and Paradoxical

Ever since Obama visited MIT a few weeks ago, I’ve been feeling more politically charged. Was it because the President of the United States came to MIT? No. Was it because he delivered an address about MIT’s devotion to clean energy? No. Was it because we had an auditorium full of political giants? No. Because MIT scrambled in less than a week to prepare the campus for a presidential visit? Nope. It wasn’t that either. So what was it?

I was absolutely appalled by the disrespect and disgraceful sense of self-entitlement so many people showed concerning Obama’s visit. I saw so many people who were endlessly complaining about the pedestrian traffic on campus that inconvenienced their usual walking or biking routes. There were people who were pointing out the hypocrisy of Obama’s use of a gas-guzzling motorcade and Air Force One to get to a speech about clean energy. Others simply complained about the fact that MIT only got to distribute 200 tickets to the effectively 800 seat auditorium. Some people even went so far as to rant about their inability to access video of Obama’s speech.

You may not like Obama. You may not agree with his views. You may not like the direction in which he wants to take the country. But he is the President of the United States. If you dislike something concerning the President, whining about it is completely inappropriate. Especially here at MIT — our motto is “Mind and Hand,” not “Mind and Mouth.” If you see a problem go out and fix it; don’t gripe. And to those who complain about the street closures and influx of visitors during Obama’s visit: You were told ahead of time that roads and sidewalks would be closed and to expect delays due to security.

But beyond all that, the most powerful man in the world decided to visit MIT. You should accept these minor inconveniences. Even if you don’t like him, it’s an honor. To those claiming Obama was hypocritical by taking Air Force One to his speech, such an argument is flawed. People are not the same — we are not all of equal importance on a world scale. Yes, Obama burned some fossil fuels, but he did so out of necessity and while giving a speech that charged scientists to rid the world of such a necessity. He discussed the Recovery Act that gave an unprecedented amount of money to clean energy research.

Sure, Obama could have done a telecast. But one could also argue that he should never leave the White House. And that no one should use cars in order to reduce carbon emissions. Of course there are always things we can do to be kinder to the environment. But until technology comes along that utilizes clean energy, we shouldn’t stop everything we’re doing. It’s a matter of thresholds, and different people draw the line in different places.

These small acts of disrespect and wrongly-placed self-entitlement are only the tip of the iceberg of the political issues at play.

I don’t believe in democracy. It is a bad system. Literally meaning “rule of the people” and interpreted by Jefferson to be “mob-rule,” it is basically a source of endless troubles. Thankfully, the United States is not a democracy. We are a constitutional republic that holds democratic elections and votes on propositions. However, there are forces at work that are bringing about a mob-rule mentality to America.

A lot of these issues spawn from people forgetting the basic purpose of government. Governments were initially formed to protect people’s rights to life, liberty, and property. People essentially form a pact with the government. The people say, “You protect me in exchange for some of my rights.”

To this end, a person gives up some rights by agreeing to follow the law of the government, set forth to ensure that it can ably protect its citizens. These laws include injunctions against killing and stealing, mandates to pay taxes, among others, all of which are required by the government if it seeks to successfully protect your life, liberty, and property. These taxes go to building roads, providing electricity and water, establishing post offices, libraries, fire departments, police departments, hospitals, schools, transportation systems, and the army; setting up institutions such as healthcare, welfare, and public office; all of which the government deems necessary to best protect you.

If you don’t want any part of the pact, you can leave the country. You cannot absolutely reject the pact and still take advantage of the government’s systems.

That being said, people are dumb. Why? Everyone thinks they know everything about everything. It’s why a 60-something retiree from Minnesota will complain about government healthcare. Does he have a right to voice his opinion? Yes. Is his opinion valid? No. Should it be ignored? Yes. This hypothetical man has no knowledge about healthcare. He has no idea what the proposed system would bring about. He knows nothing about the intricacies and exploitations of our current health insurance system. And yet, he is still vocally opposed to what the government is trying to do.

So where does this problem come from? Why are people so angry at the government, with whom they have a pact to protect their rights? Why do people have such a false sense of self-entitlement that makes them think they can launch complaints about issues that know nothing about? Why won’t people live out their lives and let the government do its job? The issues the country faces today are not much different than issues of years ago, but both the government’s and its citizens’ responses to these issues are not as they used to be. Previously (with some exceptions), the citizens would do their jobs and utilize roads, electricity, schools, and other things the government provided. At the same time the government would not be inhibited in providing these services. There existed a mutual beneficial system. The government provided for the people and the people trusted the government to protect them.

But what happened to this trust? One of the key factors in this degrading trust is new media. Twenty-four-hour news networks, readily available access to television and radio, and especially the Internet, which hosts an abundance of political videos, blogs, and news pieces — created by both knowledgeable amateurs and professionals alike. With the death of the newspaper, people turn to TV and the Internet for their news. But there is no longer any unbiased news. News networks are selling entertainment — a distorted reality that does well in the ratings. Glenn Beck is on FOX to rant and cause turmoil. Whatever will get people to get up and get angry is what TV news wants to be a part of.

Then there’s the Internet. For all its utility, it’s causing massive political damage. Not only can news networks put their (biased) information on their accessible-on-demand websites, but anyone with a pulse can give their two cents. So readers are getting incredibly biased opinions and taking them as facts. And for some reason, people think that once they have this “information” they should go out and tell it to other people, shout it at politicians (who are usually quite aware of the issues), and make a fuss because they can. But just because you read an opinion piece on the effects of gay marriage on family values or watched FOX and Friends speak about how Obama is a socialist does not mean that you have any greater understanding of such issues than the actual politicians. So why can’t we just let the politicians do their work?

Try to think back to an election years ago. Before the internet, before TVs were readily accessible. People found out about the candidates by reading about them in the newspapers or hearing about them in their nightly news broadcast. There was no 24-hour news network covering their every move; no people blogging endlessly about why they personally like or dislike the candidate. Politically charged persons had to work hard to get opinions — they weren’t just shoved in their faces. Now elections are basically a sham. Because candidates are being followed and written about 24/7, they must sell themselves. The candidates no longer truly fight about political issues — they fight for the best public image. They can’t waste time with what’s right or what’s in the people’s best interest, but instead they’re forced to cater to those particularly vocal individuals that think their opinions are fact.

But there’s an even worse problem. Once these candidates are elected and in office, they can’t do anything. Let’s assume we elect a politician who genuinely wants to serve his country. Even if he wants to get something done, he can’t. Everyone is watching every step he makes. Even when he goes to do the smallest thing, he will face immense opposition from the most insignificant people with the most barbarous, uneducated, wrongly self-entitled opinions.

This problem is absolutely disgusting. In a time of crisis like now, the government is being flooded by unhelpful, angry, ignorant citizens that believe they can tell the government what to do. Progress cannot be made, and the country is slowly being torn apart by these poorly formed opinions. And here we reach the paradox. The Internet and new media, something that could not have been created without the existence of a government such as the one we have, one that protects our rights to life, liberty, and property, is the very thing that is harming the government.

What do we do? The best I can say is to take a breath, America. Don’t be so pompous to think you really know all the issues completely, and don’t cause a raucous simply for the sake of causing an uproar. Put some trust in the government. They’re here to help — that’s why it was created. People should not let the government do whatever it wants to do, but people should let the government do what it should do.

There exist checks and balances within the government. You are not part of those checks and balances. If you let the politicians do their jobs — to protect your rights — and not scrutinize their every move, they’ll have the leeway they need to make progress.

It comes down to this: Do not think you know everything. The government is generally doing what’s best. I assume that it has information that I do not know (and should not be allowed to know), and thus it knows more about the issues than I do. As such, it can make better-informed decisions. It may not be as I make it out to be, but we need some trust here. It would be a good first step to progress.

Craig Broady is a member of the Class of 2012.