Saturday, March 02, 2013

On Being Mean...

An old classmate of mine posted a clever description of how they had woken last night to discover the world had ended due to Sequestration, and were relieved to discover this morning that it had not, in fact, ended.  It was smart, but mean.  You might argue that it was clever satire, and I can see that perspective, but there was something about it that still felt mean.

And I had no idea how to respond.

The problem for me with politics is that there are so many parallel value systems happening simultaneously that it can be very difficult to overcome one system even if you happen to be largely in agreement in another.

For instance, the writer above, I'll call him Al, clearly has a strong sense of anger toward our current President and the Democratic party.  I understand this as I felt the same way about the Bush administration and the current Republican party.  They make me angry.  Obama makes Al angry.

What is puzzling to me, and what I struggle with, is that Al is a nice guy.  A good Christian.  He and his wife bring needy children into their homes and I imagine they provide a nurturing and kind environment for them.  I don't think Al would turn away someone in need.

Parallel Values:

Government is the Problem vs. Government Provides Solutions
People Deserve Help vs. People Need to Be Self-Sufficient
Individual vs. Collective

This is so much more complicated than I can communicate effectively, but somehow this morning I feel a need to try.

So, when I look at Al, I see a guy who believes that People Deserve Help, but who probably believes that Government is The Problem.

An underlying this belief about government is ambivalence about the Individual and the Collective.  This isn't rocket science, you can find thousands of books about the topic; however, it is interesting how it can play out in our current politics.

Al wants folks to get help, but he wants to be able to control how that help is distributed and to what extent he provides it.  Government, despite being representative in nature, is perceived as outside of his control and, therefore, not good.  Consequently, the political party whose goal is to limit government is more desirable.

What I'm trying to wrap my head around is that while Al wants to eliminate inefficient big government, what he doesn't seem to be able to see is that in doing so the people most likely to experience more pain and more loss are the very people whom he is most likely to want to help when he looks at the problem from his individual perspective.  Government may not be an efficient way to address the problems of poverty and oppression, but it is in fact the collective voice of the individuals in society for whom that is the goal.

Sequestration is a great example of this.  Yes, in the context of the overall budget it's a small amount, but when people talk about it being a disaster they mean it is going to be  disaster for INDIVIDUALS who are very vulnerable.  So often the victims of political war are those least able to influence the process.  The poor.  The, la, la, la, la....

To a great degree its a problem of size.  No doubt Al would be completely supportive of his church providing aid to the community, which is an example of government supported solutions to social challenges (ie the church is, in fact, a kind of government structure).  It becomes a question of size.

I was trying to make this point in a conversation last night.  My thought was that the problem with American democracy isn't its structure, but it's size.  I don't think you can really make government work effectively after a certain size is reached and it becomes impersonal.  There was a commentary on NPR about how Mayors generally don't pursue higher office because they are essentially non-partisan in their approach to politics...they are in office to solve problems, not to express partisan politics.  In order to move higher up in office, they need to assume partisan positions, and to at least some degree that means they are no longer in the business of solving problems.  Certainly there are mayors who do move up and on, but lots of mayors are just in it to do good, local work.

Size matters.

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