Frankly, I think that’s why I’m a teacher: I believe, deep down, that people are capable of more than they are at the moment, and I think that a proper course of education can realize potential for thought and discernment. The problem is that there are people in the world who work at the opposite: they run into people who can discern and think, and they educate so that people stop thinking and start shopping. Those folks, of course, are the advertisers. And when they work for politicians, they’re the campaign strategists.
I suppose, then, that the folks who write and produce television ads for politicians on one hand and I on the other hand share a pair of assumptions, namely that people can get smarter and that people can get dumber. And we share an assumption about media and messages a la Marshall McLuhan: whereas I devote my life to encounters in which students ask questions of me, fight over philosophical texts, and generally strengthen their minds by using them to fight for their convictions, they produce 30-second political ads to which nobody can talk back (without looking silly) and for which response consists in pressing a button in a voting booth. There’s no essay question on election day, and whatever means the advertisers can use to get the right button pushed, even if that means reducing a complex world into false simplicity, that’s what they make the big bucks for, and they do it. Having been a teacher most of my adult life and hoping to continue being one for the rest of it, I just don’t think I could devote that kind of money and confidence to an effort that turns thinking human beings into button-pushers.