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Mass Confusion
The World Is Getting More Complicated, and Americans Know it

Count this as more evidence that ordinary Americans are far more perceptive about politics than they are given credit for: Respondents in a recent survey report being more confused than ever about the political issues facing our country. A new Associated Press-GfK poll surveyed Americans who vote regularly or are informed about politics, and here’s what it found, according to the AP:

Among Americans strongly interested in political news, nearly 6 in 10 say political issues facing the United States are “much more complicated” than a decade ago.

Of course, creating Medicare and fighting the Cold War weren’t easy.

Perhaps nostalgia blurs people’s judgment of current troubles?

Sheila Suess Kennedy, director of the Indiana University Center for Civic Literacy, thinks there’s more to it.

“Not only are we dealing with a more complex environment, we are dealing with a more ambiguous environment,” Kennedy said. “People want ‘this is good and this is bad.’ Increasingly we live with ‘there’s black and there’s white and there’s a whole lot of gray.'”

This is a healthy perception for the simple reason that it is true. Many gentry liberals think that the issues, both global and domestic, are as simple as ever. The “poor peasants,” they believe, are just confused and distracted by all the horrible corporate shills at Fox, not to mention those unspeakable Kochs. They are wrong. Polls like this point to one of the core convictions that shapes this site’s coverage. The old, 20th century industrial age form of social organization in the United States is breaking up, and we haven’t yet figured out how to make the information age society that will replace it work. We live in an age of uncertainty, anxiety, and change, with many competing ideas about how to reform our institutions to fit new realities.

A society that understands this truth is in much better shape than one that insists that things are really very simple. An obstinate belief in that kind of simplicity makes truly dangerous polarization, conspiracy theories, and ugly ideologies spring up like weeds. Americans are frustrated, and sometimes angry, about the difficulties in our path, and the failure of our leaders to meaningfully grapple with those difficulties. But, so far at least, most of us seem to understand that we are confused because the world is complex, and that is a far better place to start from than a blindness to the seismic, perplexing shifts around us.  

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  • lukelea

    The Middle East situation is certainly chaotic. And China represents a tremendous unknown. But domestically I believe the problem is not complexity so much as denial: a refusal, in part caused by wearing the blinders of political correctness, to come to terms with the distributional problems caused by immigration and trade and the never-ending invention of new labor-saving technologies. These problems, while not simple, are certainly tractable to rational analysis with the tools of neoclassical economics (marginal supply and demand) which are well understood. We just refuse to apply them because the powers that be — our new plutocratic ruling class and its paid minions in the media and our elite universities — prefer not to. As far as they are concerned life is good.

  • Kevin

    Rather than a more complex worl, the problem is our leaders are simply inept, unable to deal with it and incapable of convincing the populace that they know what they are doing.

    • Bruce

      Our leaders not only can’t fix the chaos. They created a lot of it.

      • Kevin

        Unfortunately that’s a hard point to argue with… 🙁

  • Boritz

    What a fascinating modern age we live in.
              –Master and Commander

  • Major914

    Right, got it. The simple truth of complexity in three short paragraphs. Everybody on board?

  • Arkeygeezer

    ” political issues facing the United States are “much more complicated” than a decade ago”
    A decade ago the informed public did not have access to the internet. They received their news filtered through various news media. The media attempts to make news intelligible to the lowest common denominator, i.e. eighth grade intelligence.
    I don’t know that the issues or more complicated, or that we know much more about them in the information age.

    • Pete

      My thoughts exactly.

      The average person now has more access to information and the facts behind the network presented news than ever before.

      The main stream media’s leftwing propaganda is still influential (as seen by the election of BHO) but it is fading in importance with the advent of the Internet, talk radio, and FOXNews.

  • Anthony

    “Increasingly we live with there’s black and there’s white and there’s a whole lot of gray.” Nuance and information overload (of various kinds) combined with the stresses of daily living are indeed factors that certainly work against perceptive identification (by many) of issues vital to America in changing world (domestically/globally).

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I disagree, people have always been confused by the complexity of life, it’s just when economic times are very bad like they are now, that people’s attention to this fact gets grabbed. This story reminds me of the “Jay Walking” segment on the tonight show, it’s amazing how many people are just clueless about nearly everything.

    “Remember: Half of all the people you know are Below Average.”

  • FriendlyGoat

    We should reasonably expect the political conservatives—–who claim A LOT of church people in their party—–to be balanced and honest. The fact that they never are contributes to the complexity. The people you SHOULD be able to trust the most (pastors and church members) are participating in disinformation campaigns.

    Conservatives everywhere claim tax cuts create jobs—-when they don’t. They claim we need photo-ID at the polling places to kill real people’s right to vote when there has never been enough actual voter fraud to fill a thimble. They claim the gays have destroyed marriage, while porn, cheating and divorce are national pastimes. They claim we should despise our sensible president. They claim we can and should be in cold or hot war with Russia, China and various Islamic countries, all at once and permanently. They claim there is no human responsibility for climate change. They claim minimum wages are bad public policy. They claim the growing wealth divide is no problem. They claim hundreds of millions of guns in society are no problem. They claim the rape culture is no problem. We could go on, but the point is that “supposedly” good people have morphed into either idiots or willful liars—–while pretending to explain “the complexities” to their kids. It’s not going to end well.

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