• Posted: Oct 21, 2012 11:32:50
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The U.S. political landscape is divided. And, that division is disturbing. It's disturbing because it suggests a partitioning crack in the intellectual/emotional basis for union. The questions must be asked: Are we on the brink of a new civil war? Are we on the precipice of once again seeing individual states initiate secession?
Assuming good people all around, how did we get to this state of adamant intransigence? And how will we ever get past it? Is the problem a matter of issues? Or, is something much deeper going on?
People long for freedom. Freedom is central to the American ideal, to the American experience. Both native born Americans and new immigrants rejoice in the ability to say to themselves, "I want my life to be like that, to include that thing that they have". Freedom implies being able to lust after things, material or not, unimpeded by restriction, by someone else telling you "no, you can't do that". And yet, by physical reality, market conditions, and democratic consensus there are plenty of things we cannot do or have. Distance, costs, rules, laws, time, and ignorance all separate us from realizing our aspirations. But, hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, persuasion, and cooperation can sometimes get us to our goals.
So far so good. But what separates us? What causes animosity to build between those who have succeeded in their aspirations and those who have not? Is it that those who have not yet succeeded begin to envy and hate those who have? Or, is it more the case that those who have succeeded begin to fear loss of what they have to those who have not?
In a way, it's neither and it's both. There are certainly numerous cases of people who have been wildly successful who then turn round and begin to give away their money and time for "good causes" with no thought to personal gain. And, there are also plenty of poor people who watch the rich pass by and say to themselves nothing other than "Wow, I'd like to be like that". No, where division and animosity seem to start is in the competition to get what and where we want to go. That game is not perceived as "everyone can play, everyone can win". Instead, it's perceived as "anyone can play, but only some can win".
It is the perception that membership at the top is limited that is creating the intense competitive animosity we now see amongst our citizenry. Convince us that life on the top rung is open to all comers and there will be no need to fight amongst ourselves trying to get there. In fact, innovators that we are, we'd probably figure new and better ways to cooperate with one another in getting to the top.
But is that true? Is there room at the top for all comers? Or, is life, in the final analysis, a zero-sum game, where all winners win at loser's expense?
The answer to that question is open to debate. Since the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth in 1972 many scientists, biologists, engineers, and social scientists have pondered that question. Sometimes their conclusions have been pessimistic and sometimes optimistic. All have pinned their conclusions on contingencies. In other words, if this happens, if we do that, if we don't do anything, etc., etc., there will be irreversible consequences, our choices will be forever altered and limited. It's that notion of consequence that has us currently befuddled. We want proof and a guarantee, a guarantee that if we all cooperate with one another the game will truly be open to all comers and so will the rewards. If not, at each other's throat seems the only rational way to go.
So, if you're looking for something to do with your life from here on, try helping to solve the nagging puzzle of whether or not there is a meaningful open future for all of us out there, or for only a lucky vicious few.
Saturday, August 25th, 2012