It’s a little after 8pm and I’m already pretty sad. I guess I have taken a sea change in the Congress as a given. I might come back later and write a coda. I usually watch the ABC national news with Diane Sawyer who made a couple of comments today and yesterday I take issue with.
Yesterday, she announced that ABC would be focusing on China shortly using words close to “to understand what it takes to stay ahead of them,” Today she made a gratuitous remark about watching democracy in action today. I would rather call today an example of plutocracy in action. Certainly there were serious differences at play, but the obscene amount of money being spent to influence voters, mostly with empty promises, misleading “facts,” or nasty things about mostly good people overwhelms the ability of candidates to be responsive to their local electorates. The local news station showed images of previous elections, each of which was the nastiest in history, going back to Jefferson’s era. But at no time has the power of the media been able to blast these messages at a decibel level and frequency such as they can today. Right now, the only good thing that has happened is that I am spared the need to listen to all these ads if I want to watch the news.
Both Sawyer’s comments are relevant to my favorite topic, sustainability. Economics and political science, one with the central notion of allocating scarcity, and the other with its focus on hegemony and power, but usually related to the protection of access to scarce goods needs, to be completely rethought in a world where scarcity is real and material, not merely a measure of the gap between what people want and how much is available. Competition on a small scale may be good for the economy and for innovation, but it is deadly on the global scale. We know it leads to the destruction ofwar, and as the Earth’s resources become materially scarce this potential looms ever larger. Our fellow species on the Planet know—it’s in their genes—that unfettered competition leads to extinction.
Discosure: I am a life-long Democrat as well as a life-long democrat. But my inherent partisanship is not the issue that is nagging at me tonight. The campaign rhetoric overwhelmingly reduces issues that have arisen out of complexity to almost idiotic, simplistic complaints and putative solutions. Without appreciating and responding to the complexity of the modern world, physically, socially, and economically, nothing, either red or blue or green, is going to make life much better. Rather, we are likely to see all the things people believe they are going to get from our democratically elected representatives fail to materialize.
Justice O. W. Holmes is reputed to have said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” Not only for civilized behavior, of which there seems to be less all the time, but for the public resources that any civilization inevitably rests upon. It’s not the taxes that have brought such discomfort to our country, it’s a plutocratic economic system that has enriched so few at the expense of so many. We can always do better in the fairness and productivity of our taxation schemes, but not when so many powerful interests reach their hand into the pot. Those who believe that no taxes, the ultimate libertarian goal, will bring them freedom are sorely mistaken. Again, perhaps this seemed to be true when the Earth was empty and there was always another place to move to.
Kenneth Boulding coined the phrase “Spaceship Earth.” Tonight his words seem more relevant than ever before. Everything is indeed interconnected. We cannot hope to “win” an economic competition with China. We have not learned how to make the rich richer without impoverishing so many others. People do need one another. No man is indeed an island.
Sorry for the rant, but I truly believe that there are no winners today in the US. We are all the worse for the dumbing down of critical issues. There is much work to be done on many fronts. No one has the right answers. There are no such right answers in a complex world. Neither in blue or in red states or in any one party or another. We can move forward only by trying new ways, certainly not falling back on governance schemes that have already failed, and that will take cooperation, not competition or ideological opposition. Sustainability, the possibility of flourishing, did not fare well today.