Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Power is Yours (2 of 3)

[Today we continue with Megblum's essay on meliorism.]

Next, let’s consider the problems of rejecting meliorism. Because some degree of meliorism is essential for the furtherance of a democratic society, we can easily lose sight of our democratic ideals. At its most basic level, political participation is an expression of meliorism, an act of faith in the idea that our actions can affect the course of our city, state, or country for the better. According to political science professors George C. Edwards III, Martin P. Wattenberg, and Robert L. Lineberry, one of the primary factors motivating people to vote is a high sense of political efficacy, the belief that they can effect their government. This is a quintessentially melioristic belief, in that it is a belief in the ability of people to effect a positive change in the world. When potential voter’s senses of political efficacy decline, voter turnout plummets, and democracy suffers.

Perhaps the most obvious effect of the rejection of meliorism is the loss of all the good that can come of meliorism in action. Charitable and humanitarian action is, at its heart, motivated by a desire to make a change for the better in the world. In 1966, the World Health Organization set for itself a lofty and ambitious goal: worldwide eradication of the deadly disease smallpox, according to 1998 PBS report. Though a vaccine had been developed over a hundred years before, smallpox continued to kill millions of people every year in forty-four countries, including some of the world’s poorest nations. The Smallpox Elimination Project, an offshoot of the WHO, went to work and slowly but surely saw country after country report their final case of smallpox. The group was so successful that in 1979, a global commission declared that the dreaded disease had been eradicated. If the men and women who worked for eradication had not believed they could make a difference, countless lives would have been lost and smallpox would still terrorize the globe.

[To be concluded tomorrow]

1 comment:

sq said...

I'm not sure I wholly believe this is true in all cases. ( At its most basic level, political participation is an expression of meliorism, an act of faith in the idea that our actions can affect the course of our city, state, or country for the better.) In many cases, political participation is an expression of individual or group greed and a naked power grab and undoubtedly affects some people for the worse. That lovely town meeting style of local governance, with its reliance on rules and order, the stuff that de Tocqueville got giddy about, is not universally exercised. Reading too much about Latin American politics, I guess.