As old readers here know, I have a team of visiting anthropologists - from Antares - camping out in my attic. Periodically they offer insights into human behavior, from their very uninvolved perspective. A bit baffling sometimes, but sometimes, perhaps, useful. When I can understand them, through their guffaws and giggles. Just the word "economics" for example, tends to make them start choking on their own tentacles.
The USA is currently "shut down", as virtually every human on the planet is sharply aware. In remote villages in India, the community hunkers in front of their one satellite TV, and watches the latest noise from our politicians, who have locked antlers.
Looks exciting, of course, but when the antlers actually lock (which does happen) the inevitable result is death, for both combatants. Either via predators, or starvation. And we are, currently - locked.
One of the primary results of this political deadlock is a vast irruption of "explanations", via all media. A veritable pundit super-volcano has appeared, drowning the media in lucid, logical lists - of each pundit's pre-existing beliefs. My Antarean friends have actually reached saturation in their normally insatiable sense of humor- they're getting tired of it. And not that this will make any difference to H. sap, of course, (since we never listen), but they decided to take pity on me, at least, and explain it all.
So here it is; in case you want to understand. Warning: the outlook isn't good.
"History!!" the Antarean leader chortles. "Humans are almost the only species in the known Universe that keeps track of their past; and then not only ignores it- but constantly talks about ignoring it! You even have a running contest in smart sayings by smart thinkers on how humans ignore it!"
The Antareans, however, dissect human history, constantly. You have a breakdown in "democratic government"? Maybe- it would be good to look at the entire history of "democracy" - how it came about, how it has failed before- and what preceded it, in human history.
Any good academic could turn this discussion into a 5,000 page tome. None of us really have time for that, though; so I'm going to cut to the chase.
The Antarean anthropologists point out that before "democracy", there were two competitive forms of human government; monarchy or some authoritarian variant; and tribal councils. Authoritarian governments quickly began to dominate the world stage, since it's quite easy for a King to say "Your sons will fight in my army; now." and enforce that; but it's rather difficult for tribal council governments to sustain armies and wars.
Tribes often require that large decisions be made by - unanimous consent. They talk; until all tribe members publicly agree- "Ok; we'll do that." It's understood that some members do not like this action, spoke against it, and still think it's a bad idea- but nonetheless, agree that the tribe will take this action- because no decision, and no action, and deadlock; would all be far more destructive. If the disagreement is too deep- the safety valve is understood to be that the tribe will split. You're free to go do it your way- on the other side of the mountains.
Authoritarian governments forbid splitting, and punish it with death. No, you may not leave; we're all in this together. Great way to keep your army working.
As the human population increased, however, the tribal groups simply ran out of places to go to; nearly all government by unanimous consent was replaced by authoritarian governments- which became intolerably abusive. Power corrupts, etc. So "democracy" was born- able to make decisions by "majority" vote, with modest variations on how you define majority.
Now, all you have to do to get a workable decision is convince a majority. 49% don't agree this is a good idea? Tough. We're doing it anyway. So very much faster than weeks of discussion. When true democracy became too slow, "representative republics" were developed; a kind of hybrid authoritarian-democracy; still involving a periodic vote.
Segue to "the tyranny of the majority"; followed by "checks and balances" as in the USA Constitution, designed to ensure "minority rights".
It's taken a while for the revised system to hit the wall - but that's what it's done. Because in all cases, "majority rule" requires that the minority acquiesce to decisions they disagree with. For 200 years; that was our tradition; you lost the election? Win the next one; meanwhile, we're one country.
But what we stopped doing was the long tribal councils- where all voices were truly listened to, and respected- and the acquiescence of the minority was formally sought, and acknowledged. Little by little, the resentment has built- until we now have a minority that refuses to be governed; and also refuses to even listen to the majority's arguments- truly; locked antlers.
All governments require the consent of the governed. That is what we have lost.
And what sobers my Antarean friends up is, they don't see how we're going to get it back.