The “Democratic Deficit”

Question: What is the most dysfunctional thing about American democracy? 

Noam Chomsky:  American democracy is what we call a "guided democracy" in countries that we don't like, like Iran.  So in Iran, elections are, putting aside questions of the credibility of elections, elections are—the candidates are vetted by the clerical leadership.  Guardian council decides who can run. 

We're pretty much the same.  Here candidates are vetted by corporate interests. The way it's done is, that unless you have huge corporate financing and support, you just can't run.  [Barack] Obama won over [John] McCain, primarily because the financial institutions liked him better, so poured money into his campaign much more than McCain.  And if you check funding and polls, you find that the advertising and so on, in fact carried him over the edge.

And that's true all the way along.  Elections are basically bought.

Congress, for example, has very low ranking among the population; it's in the teens sometimes.  Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of incumbents win.  What does that tell you?  It tells you people are voting for candidates that they don't like, because they don't have any choice.  These are fundamental defects in the democratic system.  It's a huge “democratic deficit,” as it's called and it shows up.  There's a very sharp division between public policy and public attitudes on a host of major issues.

In fact, both political parties are well to the right of the population on a great number of critical issues and the population feels they can't do anything about it.  So, for example, last polls I saw about this, about eighty percent of the population said the government doesn't work for the people—it works for a few big interests looking out for themselves.  Well, that's eighty percent of the population, but if you had asked the next question—they didn't do it—well, what are you going to do about it?  People probably would have said, well, I can't do anything.  There's no way to do anything about the fact that the government's in the pockets of the rich and a few big interests—corporate interests primarily.

That feeling of helplessness, impotence, everything is run by somebody else, I can't do anything about it—that reflects a democratic deficit.  These are enormous problems with the way the democratic system functions.  There's something similar in most places, but the United States is pretty extreme in this regard, among the industrial democracies.

Recorded on: Aug 18, 2009

Noam Chomsky explains why "that feeling of helplessness" and "impotence" is the natural response to American democracy.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

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(MPH Photos/giphy/yShutterstock/Big Think)
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