THE SADNESS OF OUR CHOICES: JUVENILES ON PARADE
About ten minutes into the recent presidential debate, I had one of those weird flashes of thought, that seemed frighteningly real. I was convinced that Oliver Stone had co-opted the debate; substituted actors for Trump and Biden; and was filming a brutal satire of political debates. It was an awful thought; almost as awful as the debate itself. I have never seen, in all my recollection, an abysmal and appalling display of regressive and neurotic behavior. Middle school kids could have been more centered and informative. Trump was doing his best imitation of a cross between Don Quixote and Wonder Woman, fighting off dumb and fact-less accusations; and Biden seemed trapped in a time warp, incessantly mouthing cliches from the 60’s and 70’s. At one point, it felt like I’d been transported to the Denver airport, and was surrounded by kiosks overloaded with flower children tee shirts and paraphernalia. Neither Trump, nor Biden listened to a word either one said, and there was an astounding lack of anything resembling socio-economic policy.
Years ago I made a decision to never vote for people; only for policies. And this “debate” solidified my decision. What’s really sad is that there are real consequential choices of political philosophy and implementation at stake in this election. The choice, as I see it, is between Statism and Individualism. Statism is the political philosophy that believes that the public sector, represented by multiple forms of government, can do the best job of creating a culture that serves the needs of the majority of its citizens. Individualism is the political philosophy that believes that the private sector, represented by multiple forms of individual initiative, can do the best job of creating a culture that serves the needs of the majority of its citizens. The advocates of both philosophies have sufficiently idealized their positions, that it’s so confusing and complex, as to make a clear choice almost impossible. In fact, both philosophies have strengths and weaknesses, and when fully and comprehensively understood, would give us a clear choice, as to the advantages and liabilities of each position.
Let’s look at the balance sheet. The advantages of Statism are: The ability to coordinate comprehensive planning for the utilization of national resources, devoid (ideally) of short-term, partisan efforts to control outcomes. The ability to protect the interests of groups, under-represented in main stream policies and programs.
The disadvantages of Statism are: The tendency to resolve important cultural problems and dilemmas by applying broad-stroke solutions that represent the lowest common denominator. The tendency to tolerate and accommodate mediocrity and incompetence in its workforce and representatives.
The advantages of Individualism are: The ability to create opportunities for relatively unlimited success, for people who have no de facto credibility (e.g. education, specialized training, credentials, etc.). The ability to quickly and effectively adapt to rapid change.
The disadvantages of Individualism are: The tendency to seek short-term gains at the expense of building platforms for long-term sustainability. The tendency to allow enlightened self-interest to become subsumed by a voracious, greedy narcissism.
So, where does this all leave us? It leaves us with a real choice as to the kind of nation and world we want ourselves and our progeny, to live in. It allows us to move beyond political neurosis and commit to a vision for our culture that is clear, if imperfect. We should, then, have one simple question for our candidates: “Do you believe in the State, or the Individual? That’s all I want to know.