Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why Our Politics Are So Toxic

Whenever we even think of telling the truth, we have to prepare for the argument that we're wrong. Recently, I've been reading economics blogs that are obsessed with protecting the anti-Keynesians who don't believe in fiscal stimulus to help lower unemployment and thus repair our economy. Further, these economists believe the problem is supply-side (so, let's help the producers), not demand-side (so, let's help the consumers). While examining their rationales, I discovered that not only are they disingenuous in their reasoning, this disingenuousness stems from an essential mean-spiritedness.

I don't want to go into a discussion of "freshwater" versus "saltwater" economic theory, though I recommend you study it for yourselves. However, our dividing lines politically, socially, economically, and philosophically in this country boil down to us versus them as opposed to us taking them into account. It's a central dichotomy for America.

The "us versus them" faction favor rugged individualism. The "us taking them into account" faction favor socialism. Rugged individualism stresses individual responsibility while socialism stresses shared responsibility.

These notions are not hard to grasp, and yet, because of toxic dialogue concocted by purposeful obfuscation, people can't have a reasoned discussion about the choices implied by this dichotomy. Why does this become toxic?

It's simply because there is a religious underpinning to the values involved. Where religion is involved, the passions of true believers get inflamed and because this underpinning is faith-based as opposed to reason-based, rational argument becomes difficult if not impossible.

Why were Americans able to coexist for the public good for so long without the toxicity of this debate? I'd say that though we've never gotten along perfectly and greed and self-interest have always held a certain sway, we've always, until the last few decades, had enough land and resources to "Go West, young man." Those days are over, and with shrinking resources and growing population, the worst traits of rugged individualism will come out and seek to fight against the public good.

Why would American society have as an essential part of its character an inclination to work against the public good? It's for the simple reason that for one individual to help a fellow individual there is at least the appearance that he has to give up something. That doesn't feel so individualistic, does it? Even if you examined this conflict from a theoretical sense and grant that an individual might actually believe that individualism is the best expression of personal responsibility, it would be hard to resist seeing this as simple, baldfaced, narcissistic self-interest.

I'm not that well-read, and sometimes I make assumptions. I've always assumed that Randian libertarianism comes down to rugged individualism writ large. That is, in the freest society I would be free to pursue my interests unfettered by outside forces. That this would lead to unmitigated violence and chaos seems not only obvious but historically demonstrated.

So, in a society that would somehow not descend into this violence and chaos, we'd need an ethical and moral system. In America, that system originated from Christianity. That's well and good, as far as it goes. The fault, as I see it, is in the Puritan nature of our religious heritage. It goes like this:
  1. I am good and moral and lead the Godly life.
  2. Because I am thus, I have been successful.
  3. So all can see I am a Chosen One of God.
  4. Since others are not Chosen, it is God's will.
  5. I am Chosen while others are not.
  6. That I am Chosen is demonstrated by the existence of the Unchosen.
  7. Therefore, the Unchosen need to exist to prove that I have been Chosen by God.
  8. As this is true, I'm not only allowed to think of the Unchosen as inferior, it is required by God that I do so.
  9. As they are my inferiors, I am allowed to discipline them as I see fit.
In TodaySpeak, there are winners and losers. That's the way it's supposed to be. I'm a winner, they're losers. Fuck 'em.

Of course you've noticed that the concept of Europe has become a bogeyman for the right. Why? It's because Europe epitomizes not simply socialism but the success of socialism. In fact, arguably the most socialistic of the European countries, Denmark, is also known to have the highest happiness rating in the world. So why demonize them?

It's classic Karl Rovian tactics. John Kerry is a decorated Vietnam veteran? Just swift-boat him and turn his war medals into scarlet letters instead. Socialist Europe leads us in multiple measures? Attack them for being "Old Europe," the epitome of decay. We're America! We're the superior new way! Who cares if this new way is based on superstition from Palestine two thousand years ago? We're the new fuckin' way!

(Parenthetically, Europe is currently under siege, as it has been in the past, by rightist forces who would undo the gains underwritten by socialism, now in the name of Austerity, for its own sake.)

Why is America so prone to such fear and loathing? It has been, as I've said, because of our Puritan heritage that requires winners and losers. And, as I've said, we're resistant because of this heritage to anything that would ameliorate the disadvantages of the disadvantaged class, would level the social and economic inequality. We need a "them" to be low to elevate "us."

Never in my life have I experienced a political shift so dramatic as the shift to the right that, though it's been going on for some thirty years, has so rapidly accelerated since Barack Obama was elected. What funny -- or sickening -- about this is that Obama is at his very core a moderate figure. It's hard to argue otherwise. So, there's got to be something else.

Oh, he's black. Did I mention that?

I almost don't have to. The Tea Party, along with the conventional Republican right, is dedicated to stopping a black man in his tracks. If they'd had their own self-interests at heart, they'd be supportive of his policies. Instead, their self-interests have been hijacked by the self-interests of the 1% because it fits the narrative, "They've earned it, so let them keep it. When I get mine, I'll keep it, too. And I certainly don't need any black man to help me."

That's why the top 20% have 85% of the wealth, and the bottom 80% have to share the 15% that's left.

What's it add up to? Our rapid swing to the extreme right has been fueled by our religious heritage that defines us as a nation of individuals who succeed if it's God will (which should never be trifled with), and an upswing in racism and personal greed.

In support of this shift -- and greatly responsible for it -- is a media-driven echo-chamber narrative that demonizes opponents, that makes clear no compromise is reasonable enough because we've already demonized the opposition, how could we even talk to them? They're the unclean. The other.

Of course, there are secular thinkers who nonetheless support this laissez-faire approach to a deregulated society, that seeks to suppress social welfare systems and replace them with private incentives, that wants market-based solutions to everything including healthcare (in spite of the fact that consumer choice in healthcare decisions is nonsensical), and these secular thinkers are today called freshwater, or neoclassical, economists.

And if you like a dog-eat-dog, winner-take-all, I've-got-mine-you-get-your-own world, then you'll love these freshwater guys, especially if you like models that haven't worked for years, you know, like supply-side, trickle-down, and so on.

C'mon, folks. There is a better way, and it doesn't have to be called socialism. It's called enlightened self-interest, where you realize that the healthier all of society is the better your own opportunities are. To me, it's a no-brainer. You don't even need to have a PhD in economics to figure it out.

No comments:

Post a Comment