Thursday, October 2, 2008

Governments, Skepticism, and Campaign 2008

How important is this upcoming presidential election?

How important, in the big picture, is the President of the United States?

How important is the United States government?

How important are governments in general?

We know they can be important in negative ways. They can be violent and oppressive. They can use political power to destroy.

And we know they can be important as problem solving facilitators, as conduits for the will of the people. Governments that cooperate with the private and philanthropic sectors and enable social movements and technological advances are certainly preferable to governments that stifle grassroots innovation through ideological stubbornness and/or bureaucratic tangle.

But can governments create? Can they introduce positive change? Can they identify misguided or unproductive cultural tendencies and steer their people in more virtuous directions? And, if they can, what are some examples? And what were the political, economic, and war and peace conditions under which those changes were made?

One reason I ask these questions is that I'm feeling skeptical, and skepticism isn't far from cynicism, which isn't far from pessimism, and I don't want any part of any of that.

I have a tendency to doubt government creativity. Politicians in democracies seem far too concerned with re-election to ever meaningfully call their culture to task, and, similarly, authoritarian leaders seem far more focused on preserving their authoritarian perches than building better societies. But I wonder if I'm missing something,forgetting some inspiring historical moment, and I'm hoping that writing about this and hearing what other people think will help me angle my skepticism in a productive direction.

Another reason I ask is that I think it's important to ask. If governments have been positive creative forces, we ought to consider the circumstances under which that was possible and seek to re-create them.

And another reason is that I'm conflicted about the extent to which I should try to involve myself in this upcoming election. I mean I'll certainly vote. I read. I watch Saturday Night Live reenactments. And I share how I feel politically, explain myself, and try to find points of agreement and understanding with everyone I can.

But I'm wondering if I should be doing more. And that, to a certain extent anyway, depends on whether I believe a President Barack Obama will have creative power.

If, as president, by nature of that position, he'll be little but an extension of the American people's collective desire for cheap energy and easy access to money we haven't yet earned, then I think I ought to focus all my time and energy elsewhere.

But if he really is, underneath the ugly election season layer of political ridiculousness, an exceptionally thoughtful and motivated problem solver, and the constraints of government and politics won't prevent him from using his charm and lawmaking creativity to start extracting the poison of instant gratification economics* out of our culture, then maybe I need to figure out how I can help the man get elected.

I doubt I could be all that meaningfully helpful. And I'm not sure if I wouldn't be more helpful to the grand cosmic effort if I just kept as tight a focus as possible on The Carrot Project. But if this next month really is a potentially defining moment for the future of the world, then I think it'd be irresponsible not to do something.

*Note: In my opinion, one of the core problems the world faces is the fundamental difficulty we all have in considering the long term impacts of our desire for short term gain. I've referred to it in the past as
hit and run economics, a metaphor born on this blog, with partially celebratory reference, somewhat ironically, to Senator McCain's economic and environmental platform. Its the way of thinking that put us in this financial mess. It's the way of thinking that's causing climate change. It's the way of thinking that starts crazy wars. And it's a way of thinking with which The Carrot Project will always be battling.

Posted by email from Radical Transparency (posterous)


Brent said...

I wanna believe Obama will spill the beans once he's in office, turn into a dove and drop the lobbyists. I do believe he is conscious and coherent, which makes him the only option really... so tell everyone, get a bumper sticker, put up 2? signs(McCain/Palin seem to appear in 4's, but political signs aren't meant to be decorative). We should all be gathering in support as much as we can, Obama may not be perfect but he's the best option we've had for a long time.

steve goodman said...

Here's an article that might help frame your thinking, in regards to your note:

Jake de Grazia said...

@brent I'm with you. I hope you're right. And make me a stack of those recycled quick-biodegrade bumper stickers, and I'll paste them all over the place. Maybe make up a stack of Carrot Project stickers too...

@steve I liked that article a lot. Scary stuff. But maybe that's an importantly realistic way to look at the problem. I wish the man had another example of a long-lag problem. It'd be nice to have an analogy that didn't relate to societal or ecological collapse.

Maybe a sore knee? You can play through the pain, and chances are it wont affect you all that much, but you get increasingly vulnerable, and, once it really starts to hurt, rest and ice aren't going to do you any good anymore. You need a new ACL.


And I'm not sure what to make of the asteroid connection and predictions. I mean do we not have crisis enough in the world? Now we have to deal with an asteroid too? Man. Pain in the ass.