Dexter (like Big Love) is a cable television serial depicting the grey area between law and moral responsibility. The fictional protagonist in “Dexter” is a Miami crime scene analyst who moonlights as a one-man vigilante. Acting on more compelling evidence than would be available to a lynch mob, he is a serial executioner of murderers. Dexter is persuaded his victims deserve to die because they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This superficial rationale probably resonates with advocates of capital punishment who also tend to oppose welfare, unemployment compensation and drug rehabilitation. Viewer adulation is jury nullification run wild; a glorified exoneration of someone who believes he is enforcing a “moral” code by punishing perceived wrongdoers, protecting the innocent, and saving the public money. If the means of killing appears cruel and unusual, the victims have legal defenses or are altogether innocent, those are dispensable details. No one expects justice to be perfect.
Dexter is exaggerated for entertainment, but his form of retribution is a motif for societal trends: Procedural details are “dumbed down”, truncated, ignored and overlooked before conclusions are reached and acted upon. Rationales and outcomes are treated the same as if they were properly founded. We encounter this in real life.
One area in which the process frequently occurs is in our utilization of information technology and social networking. New connectivity tools including blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter and Facebook allow us to skim the surface of reality. In doing so we risk compromising our rapport with others, sacrificing depth of knowledge and — often times — the truth. The need to adopt in greater moderation is the well-developed theme of a new book, Hamlet’s Blackberry, by William Powers.
The other unsettling expression of this encapsulating trend is in national politics. As we know, investigative journalism and in-depth reporting are dwindling. Fewer and fewer of us gather our understanding of the world from rational discourse or from newspapers. Consequently, too many Americans despise the U.S. Congress as an institution, and are susceptible to truisms like “no more taxes”. Congressmen, as a result, are so desperately constituent and re-election oriented that – except for the areas of health care and financial reform — they have no motivation to act in the national long-term interest. The failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform or a meaningful energy bill are examples of the lack of Congressional leadership.
David S. Broder, a respected Washington Post political op-ed columnist, addressed University of Chicago alumni on July 19, 2010. He declared pointedly that democracy is threatened when voters consistently hold their legislature in low esteem.