Frederick Hall: Adam 1 and Adam 2
Government “by the people” cannot survive unless campaign finance laws sever politicians’ dependence on big donors. Books in four distinct areas substantiate this conclusion; their four threads intertwine at the end.
David Brooks’ “The Road to Character”, explores the differing personalities of Adam mentioned in Genesis. Adam 1 is outer-focused, driven by pride in achievements his resume can tout. Adam 2 is introspective, seeking to live morally and find meaning. Character — what a eulogist could say — results from his self-disciplined life. Both Adams are in us.
Nobelist Daniel Kahnemann’s book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, presents research showing that we aren’t the rational beings we believe. It’s as if we have two different brains. The first (which he calls System 1!) is lightning fast, effortless and subject to little control. It is enormously useful doing most of our thinking. Its great gift to us is an enormous library of associations linking untold thousands of experiences. A song brings a smile when System 1 instantly associates it with a happy romance. Similarly, seeing a certain breed of dog can trigger fear because of a childhood incident.
The contrasting System 2 brain is slow and requires effort. Although we believe that it does our thinking, System 2 is lazy, preferring to accept System 1’s instant interpretation … unless they don’t “sound right.” Only then does it go into action to review the information and, perhaps, override the snap judgment. This process may update System 1’s library with the more reasoned interpretation.
The parallel with Brooks’ two Adams goes eerily beyond the numbers identifying the contrasting parts. System 1’s shallow interpretation lines up nicely with Adam 1’s shallow motivation. And System 2’s careful reasoning mirrors Adam 2’s introspection.
Matt Bai, the political correspondent for Yahoo News, wrote “All the Truth is Out Now”. It painstakingly describes the tectonic shift in journalism after the Gary Hart scandal in the 1987 presidential campaign. That title suggests that demolishing the traditional wall separating journalism from politics would delight the journalist in him. The reality is more complicated.
He agrees that the public should know that the same John Edwards who repeatedly called for “responsible fatherhood” repeatedly denied his illegitimate child. On the other hand, several presidents with multiple (ignored) affairs were effective leaders. With the Hart scandal, though, the media suddenly felt free — no, obligated — to expose the minutest of clues to a candidate’s character. The high price, Bai shows, is that politicians retreated behind sound bites carefully scripted to obscure their speaker’s character. Journalists’ zeal to reveal character ironically made it harder to access. Furthermore, Hart, a charismatic visionary who could have performed very significant services for us, was relegated to some relatively minor roles.
Lawrence Lessig’s “Republic, Lost” shows that, when television became the prime mode of reaching voters, money to buy TV time became the lifeblood of political office. To get it, lawmakers accept a donor’s favor … perhaps a contribution. The lawmaker, now more inclined toward the donor’s view, supports legislation more favorable to the donor. Lessig stresses that the favor’s impact doesn’t have to be conscious to be effective; repeating that cycle over and over replaces dependency on voters with dependency on donors.
Now, here’s how these threads intertwine:
A politician — almost certainly operating in Adam 1 mode — runs for office knowing that large donors typically give only to causes benefiting their interests. He/she chooses campaign rhetoric supporting donors’ views and, dismayingly, attacking the opposition. No wonder Congress is so badly polarized!
A delighted Adam 1 donor (an individual, Super Pac, or …) lavishes money to trumpet favorable views on television. The candidate carefully avoids any statement that might stem the tide of money or reflect badly on his/her character, a character purposely kept from our sight. Protecting political office trumps serving the will of the people.
The twin disasters of Citizens United and McCutcheon assure that loud partisan rhetoric overwhelms Adam 2’s voice for the middle ground or the common good. We are influenced more than we realize by a flood of messages influenced more by donor’s money than the politicians themselves realize.
How can we vote wisely in this situation? All this is Adam 1 shouting at System 1 brains not knowing how much the politician is biased unconsciously by money, brains already prepared by campaign rhetoric to take current messages at face value.
We can’t help hearing it that way; it’s what comes naturally!
We can, however, be faulted for not engaging our System 2 brains and insisting that Adam 2 values guide politics.
Frederick Hall lives in Grass Valley.
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