Narrow Self-Interest: Welcome to the Age of Cynical Voters
In Poland, it is no secret that the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is packing governing institutions with its lackeys, misusing public media, rewarding cronies and undermining the independence of the courts.
Nonetheless, PiS trounced Poland's opposition parties in the European Parliament election in May.
The fact that Poles, Britons and Americans have all ushered in morally bankrupt governments is symptomatic of what German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk described in the early 1980s as "cynical reason."
Sloterdijk argued that, in the absence of widely shared narratives of progress, the Western elites had absorbed the lessons of the Enlightenment, but applied them in the service of narrow self-interest rather than the common good.
Social problems such as slavery, poverty and inequality were no longer attributable solely to human ignorance, and yet enlightened people lacked the determination to solve them.
As Slavoj Zizek has put it, the operation of ideology today is not "they do not know it, but they are doing it" — it is "they know it, but they are doing it anyway".
The great ideas promising significant social change are only finding resonance among the older generation.
In Sloterdijk's view, this cynicism began with the elite.
Now we all behave like enlightened egotists. Although we know how to fight inequalities, they are still increasing. Authoritarianism (whether Russian or Chinese) deals more efficiently with poverty than democracy does. Rich societies are little moved by wars or refugee crises.
The great ideas promising significant social change, whether social democracy or Christian democracy, are only finding resonance among the older generation.
Voters who don't care...