BLOG 10: Republic.com 2.0
Republic.com 2.0 presents too much information for me to handle. One chapter of this book is probably enough to occupy my mind for a while. But I think I understand the main idea. When I started reading this book, the first connection I made was to the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. I haven’t actually read Putnam’s book, but have heard summaries in various classes. Both support the idea that people are becoming increasingly isolated and this is a threat to democracy. Cass Sunstein’s Republic.com 2.0 focuses more on how an ideal citizen should participate in democracy through media while Putnam’s book emphasizes the value of face-to-face interactions. Both of these converge on the idea of deliberative democracy, which was probably my favorite discussion of Sunstein’s book. He reminds us that our system of government is slow for a reason-true democracy in which everyone has an equal vote would not only be impossible for a country like the United States, it would be chaos. An effective government cannot bend to popular passions. I think much of the frustration and anger people feel toward the government comes from expecting the government to respond more quickly to local or even individual demands.
Two other books that came to mind when reading Sunstein’s were Generation Me, which was the book selected for Mizzou’s summer reading program and Generation We, a book that I found online. As you can guess from the titles, these books make opposite claims. The former, by Jean M. Twenge, claims that today’s young Americans are more self-interested than previous generations. Eric Greenberg, author of Generation We, in contrast proclaims:
Generation We – the Millenials – has arrived. They have emerged as a powerful political and social force. Their huge numbers and progressive attitudes are already changing America. And the World.
Greenberg is much more optimistic about the current state of citizen participation than either Sunstein or Twenge. In Greenberg’s words above is a claim that the rising generation of citizens and politicians are active. This is important to Sunstein as well, who quotes Brandeis:
…the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people…
The idea of citizen movement and the distinction that Sunstein attempts to make between citizens and consumers is probably my least favorite part of the book. Sunstein tries to separate citizenship from consumerism, but I don’t think this is possible. Humans react to incentives and we are too enmeshed in consumerism as a culture. We need only to look to the book The Selling of the President to be reminded of how American politics have developed in such a way to essentially buy votes. The last presidential campaign was an incredible effort the appealed to the consumer in citizens by providing a packaged brand. I’m sure no other president has had so many t-shirts or posters printed with his face.
All this being said, I do think that Sunstein’s push for people to consume media from sources that they wouldn’t ordinarily is a great suggestion. Before this semester I didn’t have a Twitter account because I didn’t understand the benefit. Now, I log on every day to catch up with news from multiple sources and end up following links to stories that I wouldn’t normally seek or want to read. I believe this helps broaden my horizons, as the cliche goes, and genuinely better equips me to actively participate in deliberative democracy.