I think the reason our public discourse is so impoverished is that it fails to engage with larger questions of meaning and moral purpose. Including questions about how to value goods In how to value the social goods embodied in practices from health, to education to the environment to civic life. Michael Sandel: The Moral Limits of Markets
What is it in our political and social intercourse these days that creates barriers and inhibits moving forward on critical issues that are vital to human survival? Issues that addresses climate change, income disparity and a seriously broken health care system. To me it all boils down to the mindset of people who we used to disregard as narrow-minded and bigoted. People who remained on the fringes of society because their ideas were not part of mainstream thought where a strong middle class once existed and society was coming out of the global turmoil of WW II that saw what such extremes could create if let loose again.
But time and efforts by various special interests have undermined much of what gave birth to an income-secure working class. The public resolve has become weakened and made more susceptible to the neurosis of people who want to replicate a past where self-serving ideals dominated our politics and our economic structure. The shallow, mean-spirited ideals of the fringe groups once scoffed at began to take on an air of plausibility by many who felt there was no way left to turn.
Capitalism’s hidden failures and exploitations have been concealed and in their place come virtues that exist only in the minds of people who, out of frustration, think that parts of our past were more pure and promising than history will allow. Orthodox religious views have resurfaced to satisfy the needs of people who feel they have lost much and thus need a scapegoat like homosexuals and “promiscuous” sexual behavior to blame for this loss.
Not all ideas and ideals qualify for serious consideration yet this hasn’t stopped what were once the venerable institutions that prevented their entry into the mainstream like the media, traditional politics and conventional religion. The emergence of extremists views as palatable matter for consideration has inhibited social progress though not completely stalled it. Energy and expense has been lost to dismissing the silly notions of 2nd amendment zealots, Islamophobes, white supremacists and misogynists rather than being focused on setting a course of action that serves 21st century interests for all people.
Radical ideology exists outside of reality. It imagines a world that is appealing and wraps everything around it that supports the fantasy.
Benjamin Bratton cites two classic examples of this in his Guardian piece “We Need to Talk About TED”
Communism in theory is an egalitarian utopia.
Actually existing communism meant ecological devastation, government spying, crappy cars and gulags.
Capitalism in theory is rocket ships, nanomedicine, and Bono saving Africa.
Actually existing capitalism means Walmart jobs, McMansions, people living in the sewers under Las Vegas, Ryan Seacrest … plus – ecological devastation, government spying, crappy public transportation and for-profit prisons.
Radical ideologues refuse to associate with thinkers and thinkers find it difficult to interact with these ideologues who refuse to consider alternatives and options. Thinkers have an appreciation of and respect for ugly details and expanding knowledge. Ideologues view any details and knowledge apart from what only they value as suspicious and contaminating.
Again, from Benjamin Braxton:
If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation.
Humanity progresses when it evolves along the lines of natural dynamics, not when it becomes locked into man-made conventions. Traditions are a way of defining where we came from. They should not be seen as a map for our future. This is what concerns ideologues the most. That thinking outside their barricaded beliefs may force them to face the prospects of changing. Change is uncomfortable and scary, and it can lead to a status shift for some. You know, like the first shall become last and visa versa.
We no longer seem to elect leaders with a vision for the future; just those who claim they do only to discover too late that their promises offer very little if any deviation from the status quo. Fear-mongering, not problem solving is the tool by which votes are parlayed.
We need a new Renaissance. A movement to push us past the stale ideals and practices that inhibit real growth and inclusiveness of all cultures, creeds and gender. We have stood at this threshold before when everyday citizens supported FDR’s bold ideas that overcame the failed practices of Wall Street which gave us the Great Depression. Public support helped Kennedy and Johnson move us beyond the racism that still kept millions of African-Americans exploited by white states rights advocates in the South. And it was the courage and conviction of people like Daniel Ellsberg and the thousands of anti-war protestors who closed the sad chapter on America’s involvement in Vietnam.
While we wait for new leadership to appear it behooves us all to decide if we want to continue to be led by ideologues. Who do we look towards to set goals on achieving human progress? With people who appear to have been transplanted from the 18th and 19th centuries? Do we seriously believe that only people of wealth should have access to quality education and health care? Do we agree with the notion that the government has the right to decide if a rape victim should carry an unwanted pregnancy to full term? If we are going to prop up large financial institutions and corporations when their profits fail to sustain them, why can’t we prop up workers who lose their jobs during extended periods of economic hardship? And do we want to take the word of people who profit from burning fossil fuels that what they do is no real threat to our planet?
It shouldn’t take too much thought to act accordingly. It is the thinking however, especially critical thinking, that powerful, well-healed people don’t want the rest of us to do. Their worse nightmares are about being part of a democratic process where people who vote are well-informed, empathetic and fair-minded.
Let George Carlin sum it all up for you in only the way Carlin can