–noun, plural -sus·es.
1. majority of opinion: The consensus of the group was that they should meet twice a month.
2. general agreement or concord; harmony.
I like watching James Burke’s series on the history of technology and it’s impact on society. Every time I watch one of the episodes I get something I missed before. For a very long time people only really knew what was going on their particular families and villages and what the people thought there. And what they thought was for the most part what the emperors and leaders told them to think. To do otherwise or at least to let anyone else know you thought differently was at the very least quite risky. This was true case pretty much through out the entire world. Until the invention of the printing press, communication was slow and tedious with documents hand written and most news by word of mouth which made it hardly news. And then only the biggest and most important events were conveyed. Like who the King was going to invade or have put to death or some such.
Movable type helped this but still communication was slow but now could be done more or less on the spot. At least in the bigger burgs. But you still did not find out much about what was going on in the next village unless you went there and talked to the people which few did except for trading purposes. Especially if the next village was some ways away. Still most folks held beliefs along the lines of what the King or Queen or Pope or Priest told them too. Not to do so could end ones existence rather harshly.
As the ability of people to communicate better among themselves through printed matter and better communication and transportation this eventually changed with the Monarchs being removed from power and religious figures diminished in power and more representative governments put in place. But this all took time. Freedom of thought and expression became more and more acceptable. Well to an extent. It took a while for the beliefs of a flat world that everything revolved around to change and have the concept of the world being round and it revolving around the sun to be generally accepted. Still if one held a contrary view of things to that of the majority, one was considered either deranged or a heretic or both.
Our representative Democracy was considered a very radical idea at the time. Having people elect a person to represent their concerns, beliefs and ideas and meat to decide how to manage the country on their behalf was totally new. The rest of the world at that time was still doing and thinking what the Monarchs and Popes and Priests told them to do and think. In fact even here this was considered radical by many who were of the opinion that only the elite land owners should have this option.
All very nice and idealistic. But even the representatives would be influenced by their own beliefs and agendas which may or may not be inline with the majority back home. This is only human nature. Since communication back and forth was slow and unreliable at best, one could never really know how this was going to turn out.
Communication improved slowly at first with the telegraph and then telephone and finally radio and television. But even with all of this and the speed improvements they each contributed one thing that really did not change much for a long time was what was reported. It was a lot easier and quicker to find out nearly everything that was going on locally and even regionally. The new media did a fairly good job of that if you were in the bigger metropolitan areas. But unless the story or news item was considered big enough to warrant national attention, you did not hear about it. If you lived in Pittsburgh or Ceder Rapids you heard about what was going on there, how people there felt about it and what (if anything) should be done. You only heard about what was going on else where if the event was big enough and rarely what the citizens of the area thought about it. It was very easy to ignore what was going on and what people thought in Utah or Indiana or South Dakota because nobody told you about it. If you did not have the issue in you own local, you generally were not aware it was an issue.
But as our communication technology improved our ability to find out what was and is going on in other places in the world has improved as well. We have had opinion polls but as anyone could tell you they are not all that accurate. You need a very large sample and the polls can be easily biased by the type of questions they ask. With the explosion of technology since the 1980s we now have the ability to know what is going on in just about any place in the world and nearly every area of this country. Something that we never had before.
As a country we are now finding out what people think and feel in all parts. We cannot get way from it. If somebody is molested in Gary Indiana, chances are very good this information is posted somewhere on the internet. This is new and it’s not comfortable lore. What’s the matter with Kansas ? Nothing. Kansas is the way Kansas has always been. We are just more aware of it now than ever before.
So why did I pick the topic of consensus for this blog ? Because it’s the one thing we in this country never really had. It was simply not possible to have a majority opinion in this country because until recently it was not possible to really know what the opinion of anyone outside our own community was. Nobody really told us and it would have been very difficult, if not impossible to find out what it was. The country was just too big.
In a sense our current technology has become our Babble Fish. It has broken down the last barriers of communication with the expected results. We are finding out where we agree and most importantly where we disagree as a nation for the first time. How this will eventually end up though, is anybodies guess.