• Posted: Dec 11, 2010 13:50:24
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Only a few weeks ago we watched leaves turn colors, curl up, dry out, and fall from trees. The event coincided with a political face-off between the disillusioned and the angry. In many quarters, the angry won. The result is that we now have a more equal balance between the two major parties within Congress. My prediction at the time was that "During the next two years the castle we all live in will crumble further because ideologues of all flavors decline to roll up their sleeves and get busy with even a compromise solution to the problems we face." And just this week we have begun to witness each side digging into a zero-sum game stance on nearly every issue. In limbo is a resolution on tax issues, gays in the military, judicial appointments, immigration and the "Dream Act", an extension of unemployment benefits, trade agreements, funding for healthcare reform, a Nuclear Arms Treaty, and funding for both the government and the military. Without a doubt, each side will be able to brag to constituents no vote was cast that compromised campaign promises. And similarly, each side will be able to point to the other and insist it was the other's fault nothing got done. All of us, in the end, will have gotten just what we voted for, stalemate. In the meantime, developing economies all around us will have forged ahead and in some cases passed us by. Our so called "exceptionalism" will have been proven to be nothing but bluster and stupidity to an exceptional degree.
New poll results released this week sought to explore the thinking of the electorate on issues and possible solutions confronting our Congressional representatives. In nearly unanimous voice the electorate insists something needs to be done. But at the same time, almost every possible choice for solution was universally disapproved of. In other words, the average person on the street is as bound up with contradictions inside his or her own head as Congress as a whole looks to be in Washington. Everybody wants the other guy to take the hit, not themselves. The zero-sum game mentality is rampant. In very few minds do the words community and country, fairness and inclusiveness, foresight and disciplined determination echo. Instead, the prevailing attitude is that no one wants to end up being the schmuck who gets taken.
Social scientists note a phenomenon they call "regression toward the mean". In other words, within a group a few individuals will excel, prove truly exceptional. But over time, instead of the group as a whole feeling inspired to become more like those few who are exceptional, those few who are exceptional will tend toward the rest of us while the characteristics of the group as a whole will remain largely unchanged. That's a depressing thought, because it means that if the U.S. ever was exceptional in any sense of the word, the net affect over time will be that perhaps a few amongst our surrounding nations will be inspired toward their own brand of exceptionalism, but our nation as a whole will eventually regress toward the unexceptional.
There is nothing exceptional about trying not to be a schmuck. On the other hand, what would be truly heroic is accepting the political risks involved in trying to inclusively raise the mean. That would be my choice, anyway.
How would you choose?
Monday, November 1st, 2010
7.4 mm 35 mm