I have remarked in the past on this blog that because it is just as easy to think about everything as it is to think about something, philosophers tend to think about everything. Indeed, lately, they have taken to thinking not only about everything that is but also about everything that could be -- about "possible worlds," the actual one not providing sufficient weightiness for their thoughts. When one tries to change the actual world, on the other hand, as opposed to just thinking about it, it turns out to be very, very difficult to make even a small change, and ten times as hard to make a slightly bigger change. This may explain why philosophers, by and large, do not try very hard to change anything [as Marx rather tartly observed in the eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach.]
Which brings me to my brief stint this morning as a data enterer in the Obama 2012 headquarters in downtown Chapel Hill, NC. There are a variety of tasks that the campaign needs volunteers to undertake -- phonebank calling, door-to-door doorbell ringing, voter registration table staffing, and the like. Since I hate walking door to door, talking to people I do not know, and only slightly less dislike sitting at a voter registration table accosting passers-by to ask whether they are registered to vote, I volunteered to do data entry.
Just so we are clear, data entry means entering into an Obama campaign database on a computer the coded results of phonebanking or voter registration. Today, I was entering the results of some phonebanking that focused on the issue of health care reform. The callers had been given printed sheets of prospects that list the name, address, and phone number of each person to be called, and little boxes to be checked indicating whether the person was at home [or the phone number was incorrect], whether the person contacted supports Obama or is a Republican or is undecided, whether the person on the other end of the phone supports HCR ["health care reform"] and is for or against repeal of HCR, and finally whether the callee would be willing to volunteer in the campaign.
There were six names to a sheet, and I was given nine sheets, so I entered the results of fifty-four calls [a very easy task that took me perhaps half an hour -- things will heat up as the campaign progresses.] Of those fifty-four calls, I would say that in forty or more instances, the person was not home or the phone number was incorrect. A handfull of callees described themselves as Republicans or Undecided, Several said they were opposed to HCR [but only one, interestingly, favored repeal], and perhaps three or four were supporters of Obama.
Now, think about that for a moment. I do not know who did the calling, but the Obama volunteers in Chapel Hill tend to be of a certain age [as we say politely] and well educated, so it is a fair bet that several mature well-educated people [myself included] spent some hours gathering and entering what added up to a tiny assemblage of usable data. It would be easy, but it would be wrong [as Richard Nixon famously said about a different matter] to conclude that this was all a colossal waste of time.
Not a bit of it. This was exactly the sort of labor intensive results-sparse work that goes into mounting an effective nationwide campaign for the presidency. It takes the paid and unpaid efforts of thousands upon thousands of people doing all manner of not very elevated or inspiring tasks to create a campaign that has any chance of winning. It is far easier, and very much less effective, to write corruscating, biting, brilliant political commentary. Very satisfying, no doubt, but not much use in actually getting enough people to the polls to win an election.
This is, after all, as it should be. In a nation of three hundred thirty million, it ought to require the efforts of very large numbers of people to have a political effect. The alternative is dictatorship, or, as we now see, plutocracy.
I imagine I shall be spending a good many more hours in the pleasant, airy Chapel Hill office of the Obama campaign, making very little difference in the grand scheme of things. If I want the big picture, I can always go back and re-read the Republic.