February 18, 2010

We're been having basic civics discussions lately, mostly in context of public vs. private schools. This mostly has involved who pays and how, or How to Explain Taxes to a Preschooler.

So, today, Caitlyn asked me, "Is government real?"

"Should I find some pictures of the people who work in government for you?"

"Yes. Because I'm not sure I believe you."

Which seems to me to sum up quite a bit, actually. The visual, easy-to-understand connections between the Taxes I Pay and What Government Does For Me seem to have broken down or disappeared (although I sometimes wonder if they ever existed and it's the Big Picture Informed Rational Human that has disappeared, the extinction of homo rationalis or something). In other words, I'm pretty sure that Caitlyn isn't the only person asking "Is government real?"


  1. So many of Caitlyn's needs are met so locally it's not surprising that the public weal is a hard concept.

    Does she believe in the neighborhood association? Maybe one could extrapolate to government from there. Bigger and bigger neighborhoods, on up through our wee small planet (segue to RCG).

  2. On the big picture side: yes, the body politic is not so sold on the social contract embedded in our political institutions.

    There is at least one aspect where technology is pushing this. As discussed in the PBS Frontline program Digital_Nation , our telecomm technology gives a feel of constant connection and instant gratification.

    In the information-dissemination industry, this has already disenfranchised some middlemen (newspapers) and created openings for others. But the transformation of our engine of transparency and accountability has hardly begun.

    The system of geographical representation has been outdated since the creation of the national market in mobile labor. IMS and Twitter just magnify a problem we had already.

    I don't know where this is going, or how rough the ride is going to be; but you're definitely onto something, and the Tea Parties are just the tip of the iceberg.