For those who haven’t figured it out yet, I believe that we live in a fundamentally systemic reality, that increasing both our understanding of the nature of those systems and our application of that understanding to the challenges and opportunities we face, in service to reason and goodwill, is what defines, or should define, the collective human endeavor. If all human beings, or all Americans, or all Coloradans, agreed with this simple proposition today, the enormity of the challenge would still loom before us like a mountain to be scaled, but one we would be able to scale, to our immense benefit. But in a world in which so many people are so irrationally, or self-interestedly, resistent even to getting to this starting point, that mountain recedes beyond moats and fortified walls, hordes of armed and angry sentries attacking those who even gesture toward, much less try to approach, those heights or our potential.
We not only need to analyze the interactions of our social institutions, technologies, and natural systems in the pursuit of an ever-more robust, sustainable, and equitable production and distribution of human welfare, but we also have to analyze the nature of the human obstinance and ignorance that stands between those of us committed to addressing these inherent challenges, and our collective ability to do so. And we need to discern the strategies for circumventing that obstruction.
Politics, which should be the execution of the process we’ve created for acting collectively to our collective benefit, has devolved instead into a shouting match over whether there is any collective benefit to be pursued, and whether the process is one which is meant to bind us together at all. It has been hijacked completely, not by competing views of which analytical tools to employ, or which balance of interests to favor, but rather by those loud and angry mobs that insist we should not engage in the challenge at all, that there is no need, that since (in their view) it was not the will of those who designed our system of self-governance that we govern ourselves, any attempt to do so is an affront to the immutable authority of the ideologues’ misinterpretation of the will of people who died two centuries ago.
On one level, this is nothing new or exceptional. Politics has long, if not always, been held hostage by the need to trade in raw power, to manipulate masses by mobilizing resources. There have always been those, perhaps always a majority of those actively involved, who have not asked “what best serves the public interest?” but rather only “what best serves my interests?” Those who ask the former have always been trapped in the battle against those who ask the latter, while the latter have been trapped in battle against one another. The form of systems analysis that evolves in this context is the one that addresses itself to political victory rather than to social problem solving. It has thus far been an inherent dilemma.
But there are times and places when this perennial dysfunctionality is eclipsed by a deeper incarnation of its underlying logic, both a response to it and a culmination of that logic. In such circumstances, the political morass is no longer defined by a battle of competing self-interests and commitments to the public welfare. Instead, it is defined by a combination of competing self-interests and a battle between those who fight for the public interest, on the one hand, and an uneasy alliance of self-interested power and misguided ignorance, on the other.
We are in such a condition now, in this country. Despite the erosion in recent decades of social institutions which have served the interests of the many and diminished the distance between their welfare and the welfare of the most privileged few, a robust populist movement exists in America which mistakenly believes that that erosion was to their benefit, that it’s continuation and acceleration serves the greatest good, that it facilitates some mystical function or value that is absolutely inviolable.
The alliance of self-interested power and misguided ignorance is an uneasy one because the populist movement in question (The Tea Party) is not a reliable partner. In its fanatical commitment to a clear, simplistic ideal divorced from analysis, from any cause-and-effect considerations, it threatens not only to undermine the ability of the many to continue to refine our social institutional framework to increase equality and social justice, but also undermines the basic functionality of our political economy altogether, promising to decrease the wealth and welfare of rich and poor alike. The politically self-interested wealthy (those who seek policies which protect their wealth) try to co-opt this movement, but also try to recover their party from its clutches, unable to do either effectively
The most pressing systemic challenge we face in this country today is the one imposed by this mass delusion, one which not only undermines the interests of those who fall prey to it, but also the interests of those who don’t. The great, overwhelming frustration of human existence is the recognition that we are capable of doing so much better, if only we all agreed to, if not join in the effort to do so, at least refrain from obstructing those who do.