[n.b.: I did vote against W twice--what I heard from him, especially given that I figured he was spouting what "I" (Mrs. John Q. Voter--and the archaic form of polite address is deliberate, folks) wanted to hear, was absolutely frightening.]
Of course during all this time, there I was in Abilene, reading Dr. Frederick Aquino's dissertation on Newman and social epistemology, again and again (yes, it's just that good. Oh, and it was my job). Embodied knowledge, collective knowledge, partial perspective, epistemic judgment, epistemic virtues and vices, the necessary role of exemplars of informed judgment, etc., it's all still banging around in my head... So eventually, I realized that of course I was right about all the epistemic unreliability, but that this was no good excuse for pretending like politics didn't matter and that I had no responsibility for shaping political outcomes. What was I waiting for? "Certainty"? Right. I was just taking the lazy way out: I didn't want to do all the hard work of really figuring out, first, what I really thought about a bunch of things I didn't quite properly understand--like health care, and the economy, immigration policies, etc.--and second, how I was going to sort through all the propaganda thrown my way and evaluate the information about candidates. Where would I go, what standards could I use to evaluate, and all that. Because I was already aware of the problem, having used it as an excuse to get out of all this work, I couldn't regress and just start picking someone I liked better and trusting everything he said while distrusting everything the other dude said. Finally I resigned myself to just muddling through the morass of misinformation and praying to God that somehow I would be able to make an informed judgment.
I think most of us have felt this frustration to some extent, though maybe no one else let it paralyze them the way I did. But the constant refrain of lament about the state of American mainstream media, from both sides (and even more vociferously from the marginalized Greens!), says to me that everybody is aware that there's both too much information and too little trust. This may be somewhat unfixable, as I think trust is directly related to the epistemic agent--and this social group (America as a whole) is too large for the kind of direct personal knowledge of the epistemic agents in question to be the route for developing the necessary trust.
When I was in Wuhan, China in '98, the year America "accidentally bombed" the Chinese embassy, my students were so pissed off at me as representative American that the only effective pacificatory thing I could say was, "do you think Bill Clinton knows my name? do you think even if I personally told him to own up and take responsibility for this awful tragedy that he would care what I think?" The point was, I and the average American don't personally know these people we vote for, nor do we personally know the people on TV who report about them. So on what basis do we start investing our epistemic trust? Why trust what they say?
It seems like an unsolvable problem, one that has only been multiplied by the internet's glut of information and the ubiquity of bloggers like me who get on here and spout whatever we damn please, with no regulation whatsoever.
So: ameritocracy.com. In creator Porter Bayne's words:
"I think each of us involved in the project had our own light bulb experience. For me, I originally came up with a similar concept in 2004 when I was frustrated with how so many of my friends/colleagues were repeating misinformation straight from campaigns’ mouths or their favorite radio show, and they didn’t trust information from the “other side.” Then one day my sister, who reads voraciously and has as many degrees as my right hand has digits, said “I just don’t know how you stay up on political information”. That made it real to me: people just don’t have time to keep up."
You can read the rest of the interview here.
What impresses me about the project, given my sense of the enormity of our collective epistemological quandary, is that it offers a way to navigate the problem without promising to hand out a solution on a silver platter (or golden plates inscribed from heaven). It's a way to help you make an informed judgment, rather than making a judgment for you. We're not being offered the Truth (always a false offer anyhow). We're being offered a specific tool in the hope that we can make better judgments of the information we have.
Of course, how political quotes and epistemic agents get rated is a matter of who does the judging. Which means that the more people involved, the better these collective judgments will get. Particularly, the more diversity of perspective included, the better these judgments will get, that is to say, more nuanced.
So I'm bookmarking the site, still in beta testing, and soon I hope to get brave enough to sign up and start sharing my own more-or-less-informed judgments. I hope some others do, too. Even those pesky Anabaptist-leaning types who still think we ought to just not get involved...because despite how much you annoy me, we need to hear from you too. :)