In today’s Wall Street Journal, in an article about the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, Peggy Noonan asked this question:
Why did the White House think the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was the right date for a pullout? What picture of America do they carry in their heads that told them that would be symbolically satisfying? It is as if they are governed by symbols with no understanding of what the symbols mean.
It occurs to me that the question — “What picture of America do they carry in their heads…?” — is much broader than the context of our policy in Afghanistan. It is, in fact, the question at the heart of nearly all the cultural and political divisions rending America these days.
The right asks that question of the left. The left asks that question of the right. And both left and right — and the vast middle that both left and right disdain and ignore — fear and despise the answer that they think and feel — or, all too often, imagine — the other side would offer if it was ever to be explicitly articulated.
That is, perhaps, the most important conversation of our generation: What picture of America do we carry in our heads? And can we come to some, if not consensus, then at least forbearance on what that picture looks like?
If not, we are truly lost…
Part 2 of a 2-part sequence on different aspects of how American society deals with risk:
It seems that government policy – and social convention, and cultural aspiration, and the tyranny of public opinion expressed through social media mobs – is now all too often fashioned by a destructively self-reinforcing partnership between those, on the one hand, who have lost all trust in their fellow citizens and who want so badly to be protected from risk, and even from discomfort, that they will trade away almost any freedom for a promise of a bit more security; and those, on the other hand, whose innate and fervent proclivity is to tell everyone else, with great piety and self-assurance, how to organize and operate their lives.
The more we have come to – and the more we have been taught to – rely on government to regulate the behavior of others, the less we have come to rely on – and the less we have been taught or practiced – the virtue of regulating ourselves. The more success the solipsistic fringe – economic more than cultural on the “right”, cultural more than economic on the “left” – has had in attacking and emasculating the economic and religious and social and cultural mores that historically disciplined such self-control, the less able we are to count on self-regulation and the more pressure there is to empower government to impose yet more external regulation upon us.
We can no longer negotiate and compromise – we can no longer embrace a shared process for governance rather than seeking a raw power over others – because we no longer trust each other either to have empathy or, more importantly, to act in good faith. Why are we intolerant of risk? Because we feel a lack of control. Why do we feel a lack of control? Because we don’t trust each other to do the right thing, either as individuals or as a polity. In the absence of trust, even small risks loom large.
We will know we have achieved true equality not when a woman or a person of color is allowed to succeed on their own merits, but when they are allowed to fail on their own merits — without the reflexive urge to blame their failure on racism or sexism or some other kind of malicious bias.
What most mass murderers — and, for that matter, ordinary murderers — share is a form of solipsism, a mental landscape in which other people have no innate value but exist, rather, merely as props to facilitate the action in the murderer’s own self-scripted and self-focused drama.
That would appear to be the result of a moral disease, not a psychological one.
It is true that people — not only ignorant self-described “conservatives” but also many ignorant self-described “Socialists” — often throw the word “Socialism” around without seeming to understand what it means. But,it is also true (OK, it is at least my not-so-humble opinion) that the many articles published recently trying to explain why various brands of “liberalism” are not actually the same as “Socialism” have been overly narrow and parochial in their view of what Socialism is and entails, limiting their argument to the simplistic (and flawed) formulation that it can’t really be Socialism if the government doesn’t “own” the means of production.
But, if that isn’t the defining nature of “Socialism”, then what is? For that matter, what is the defining nature of “Capitalism”? And how do either interact, for better or worse, with the moral premises and practical structures of our Liberal Republic?
In six parts:
That is why America is more risk tolerant than other countries and societies in the world: because to guarantee security you must always sacrifice some amount of liberty; and, in assessing that sacrifice, Americans have traditionally factored liberty higher in the equation than have most other peoples.
I don’t like the current administration and its boosters any more than you do, but really? In what country are you living where they control “nearly every element of our government and society?”
It seems to me — and much to their obvious chagrin — that there are vast swaths of society — and even significant portions of government — over which they exercise very little control at all…
Since I gave Greg Weiner a shout-out for his New York Times piece about what it means to be an American liberal — and since the topic is dear to my heart — I’ll give David Brooks’ take on what it means to be an American conservative equal treatment. It’s worth reading.
For my part, anyone paying attention will know that I made my choice — conservative over Republican — many years and many presidents ago…
The uproar over President Obama making a speech to school kids is ludicrous and, once again, undermines efforts to steer the liberals away from their most harmful and anti-liberty projects by making the conservatives, by association with such paranoia, look like idiots. The response, even to well-reasoned and principled opposition, is now the general-purpose dismissal, “Oh, it’s just those crazies again”; and a Republican party (and any Republican office-holder or aspirant) that wants to reclaim any moral authority and/or intellectual integrity should be up front in telling those people, “Get over yourselves! And stop claiming to speak for me!”
But I have to ask: Wasn’t the root of this paranoia established by the left during the Bush years?
The wingnuts complaining about Obama’s speech are failing to distinguish between the Office of the President and the man who occupies it. They so dislike and distrust the man that they can’t accept any action of the Office, no matter how proper and reasonable.
But wasn’t that precedent set by those leftist nutters who utterly refused to accept George W. Bush’s legitimacy — “He’ll never be my President!” — and who did everything in their power to undermine anything and everything he did just because he did it, even if it undermined the nation in the process? Did they not create the template of contempt for the Office that we are now seeing? Did they not set the pattern of refusal to respect the Office because they did not respect the man? And, if we are honest about it, was that not, in itself, a continuation of the pattern they set during the administrations of Nixon and Reagan (and, to be fair, embraced by the right during the Clinton years)?
Those born to the lower class that are now living by upper class values and norms have made a conscious choice to do so. In a sense, they have repudiated their roots, declared by their actions that the way they live now is better than the way they lived then. And believe me, those on the other side of that divide are aware of the choice and feel it as a challenge. When you’ve actively chosen one way over another, it’s hard to make the argument, even to yourself, that the choice was merely between two equivalents rather than between a better and a worse.