Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Romantic Ending

In order to see what Trump offers as beneficial, you need to have confidence in "the American dream." The ability to have that confidence, to truly believe that anyone can reach any level of success just by working hard enough with no consideration given to chance or starting conditions, is a privilege. It's not about how financial successful you are now, but how in control of your own fate you believe yourself to be.

People who grow up in parts of America or otherwise under conditions where they can't believe in that dream, where it's obvious that the "others" and "have-nots" are being forced to remain "others" and "have-nots," and where your starting conditions all but guarantee the path your life will take, they don't have the luxury of soothing their insecurities with the notion that everything will be OK if they just work hard enough.

But this isn't necessarily about Trump in particular or conservatives in general. The mentality that all you have to do to succeed is to put your mind & body to work in just the right way, to put your own interests first with the sincere belief that the result will be prosperity for everyone, to go through life actively making yourself oblivious to the day-to-day sufferings of the people just "over the hill" but displaying self-righteousness for your minuscule efforts to fix global, systemic problems that need an entirely different way of operating our economy...

These descriptions fit equally well for a lot of the left wing new agey types. The folks who wrote-in for Sanders rather than voting for Clinton to make a statement. The ones who deny vaccines for their children and yell at my wife to stay inside from the chemtrails when all she wanted to do was admire a beautiful sunset. The ones who assign orders of magnitude more value to instinct than to objective reality (especially when it comes to children).

America idolizes Romanticism (the philosophy, not the courtship rituals). When you start with the fundamental world views of conservatism (in-dependence is the path to prosperity, things are fine the way they are) and liberalism (inter-dependence is the path to prosperity, we should always be trying to change), Romanticism distorts them in ways that emphasize the differences and make it harder to reach a shared understanding.

Romanticism sets up expectations that are doomed to fail for the vast majority of people, much like the promises of multilevel marketing schemes (exponentials are a bitch). Also like MLM, the most insidious part of these expectations is the idea that you only have yourself to blame for failure. If only you had sold more, if only you worked faster, if only you could find the right words, if only you weren't such a loser. This clearly has a depressing effect on the overall mood of the country.

From an anthropological perspective, it sucks that entire ways of life are lost to the ages. From a personal perspective, it sucks more to have the world as you know it crumble around you, and even more when the folks from distant lands who control most of the water and all international commerce are making all the rules for you. And describe you "from an anthropological perspective."

But this nostalgia and attachment to the present/past is doing all manner of measurable harm up to and including killing people. Conservatism demands that we maintain bigotry. That we perceive all suggestions to change as threats (unless they roll back previous change). That the way things were is better than the way things are or the way things seem to be headed. That the world is too complicated for us to make any rational choices on a national/global level. Liberalism is much more open to change, but is vulnerable to similar failings from a different vantage point.

We need to have a sit down with our egos, take a nice big dose of reality, and realize that there's no way we're going to get through this without working together. Reality, nature, God, whatever you want to call it, has set up a game with all kinds of traps and pitfalls, Pandora's boxes, great rewards and great suffering. Contrary to much received "wisdom", that game's rules are consistent and generally predictable. By asking the right questions we can learn how the universe behaves in ways that Romantics believe we can't. By testing our assumptions and calling our beliefs into question, we can make changes that produce a measurable improvement to everyone's quality of life (not just the people with the cities). There's no way we can do that alone; we are too imperfect.

Us vs. The World gives us much better odds than Us vs. Each Other vs. The World. But you can't just sit there and expect everything to be OK without accepting change and relying on others.

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