I try to keep my e-mail as spam-free as possible by generally declining to sign up for on-line petitions, and other such rubbish. At some point, however, I must have agreed to something or other, because for the last few years, I’ve been the recipient of occasional e-mail action alerts from the American Family Association.

AFA, and groups like it, are entitled to generate as much support for their advocacy programs as they can muster. By nature, I am strongly disinclined toward activism in any stripe — I’m just as aghast at the tactics and deceptive, shrill vitriol of those whose positions I favor as those whose positions I oppose — preferring instead to change what I can and stop worrying about the rest. But I don’t mind people trying to drum up support (or opposition) to various questions regarding the sociopolitical order. The free marketplace of ideas is one of mankind’s highest achievements, after all.

That said, it’s interesting to see the outrage that comes through in some of the AFA missives. Today’s message recommended a boycott of Ford Motor Company for its advertisements in the pro-gay magazine Out. AFA suggests that the collection of beliefs and practices that they lump under the rubric “pro-gay lifestyle” are, by definition, opposed to the interests of America and are poisonous to the health of America’s families. Whether AFA’s criticism has merit is beyond the scope of this rumination; what is significant is that the central question of contention — the way homosexuality and homosexuals integrate into the body politic — is substituted with an asserted answer that cuts off rational debate.

I don’t read that particular magazine, nor do I drive a Ford product. So I really don’t have a dog in that fight. Yet ….

The singular weakness of democracy as a system of government is that political power can be wielded by those whose opinions are poorly informed by fact or reasoned debate, and from which, there can be no further appeal from the rule of the mob. Don’t like the result of a democratic process? Tough.

I am not so naive that I believe there was a golden age of democracy, when politicians were of pure heart and the people were genuinely interested in effecting the sagest policies. But politics informed by rational, honest, respectful debate has a much better track record of leading to prudent outcomes than, say, leaving the matter to whichever faction of the people can shout with the loudest voice.

Too many commentators have wasted too many words lamenting the sorry state of civil society across the Western world, for me to bother hitching a ride on that bandwagon. Yet the solution offered by many — stronger activism, “more” democracy — is hardly a viable response to cultural and intellectual malaise.

Today’s activism, regardless of its origin on the ideological spectrum, is too comfortable with assertion and fallacious argumentation to provide an effective input to the political decision-making process. In the 2004 election cycle, for example, the half-truths and insinuations of groups as diverse as “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” and twisted the public discourse over which candidate would lead the federal executive with the greatest diligence and prudence. We had lots of debate, but the national conversation was led by activists who had no interest in the debate itself but in achieving a foregone conclusion. Lost in the middle were those who wanted better information to form their own conclusions.

The more cynical-minded might question whether advocacy-driven public debate is (a) an inevitable consequence of free speech, or (b) an inevitable consequence of having a critical mass of citizens tune out of the political process. And perhaps the cynics may have a point.

But all I can state for certain is this: When groups like AFA and others ad nauseum deluge the public square with assertions that cut off debate and then expect me to agree with their conclusions, a critical ingredient of informed, democratic decision-making has been removed from the mix.

I might be old fashioned, but I can’t say I’m too happy about that.

Rudder amidships

Here’s the million-dollar question: When you feel that you’re being tossed without mercy upon the stormy waves of fate, what do you do? Over the last two weeks, five of my closest friends have confided some degree of epistemic ennui about their lot in life. To varying degrees, they feel adrift — that they’re not […]

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Gay men love me

Once; coincidence. Twice; perhaps something to think about. On Good Friday, I was browsing (ultimately unsuccessfully) for new shoes at a local Target store. As I was scanning the shelves for appropriate footwear, a young man — my age, or perhaps a few years younger — walked up to me and asked if I attended […]

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Lost, Season One

My dear friend Tony lent me the six-DVD set of the entire first season of ABC’s hit drama, “Lost.” I had heard good things about the show, although I had never seen an episode. So, I watched the entire set of 24 episodes over two days (yes, at 42 minutes each, that totals roughly 17 […]

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Two weeks since the last entry. Two very busy weeks. A few recollections may be in order, in no particular sequence. 1. Today, I completed my annual eye exam. No change to my vision status, but I had an interesting few hours after getting some eyedrops to dilate my pupils so the doctor could check […]

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Ethics in quality

I received today my monthly issue of Quality Progress, a publication of the American Society for Quality. The magazine’s theme, this time, is an exploration as to whether a culture of quality can contribute to a stronger compliance regime. To be honest, it is an interesting question — the answer to which, at least in […]

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