i’m a voter and don’t know squat

today, as i was responding to my friend Chooky’s post comparing Nepal and Iran, i realized i don’t know much about the world in terms of history, current affairs, and the connection between the two. i was trying to construct a coherent argument and basically couldn’t (not without consulting the CIA world factbook in an effort to get at least the basics right). i knew bits and pieces of history and politics associated with each country, but nothing you’d take to the foreign policy bank.

it’s pretty startling that i’m so uninformed, even though i make a daily effort (read the New York Times, listen to NPR, talk with friends who know more about current affairs than i do). in the end, it probably only really matters when i vote (and when i try to influence other’s opinions).

my hope is that i vote for people whose knowledge of foreign policy is greater than mine [cough]. seems like a bit of a crapshoot when you really think about it, but that’s the ultimate price (and gift) of democracy: the belief in the collective wisdom of an imperfectly informed electorate (averaged out over time, of course; even a well-informed electorate can make a mistake once (or, twice)).

this state of imperfection is natural. there’s no objective truth when it comes to the past, since the supposed facts of history are always filtered through someone’s lens. knowledge of the future based on the past is even more of a fool’s errand – the world is a complex, emergent system. so when it comes to current affairs and foreign policy, even the smartest people are just making educated guesses most of the time, and however smart they are, even they can’t escape unintended consequences.

as globalization, economic interdependence, and the daily influx of world news increases over time, we face an important challenge – how to make sense of it all. i’m not sure at this point. i can’t even read the whole newspaper, not mention the modest 30+ RSS feeds piped to my newsreader every day. with all this information, there’s just no way to know what’s wheat and what’s chaff.

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