And now we fight.
Not with each other-- though that's what some of these anti-trump protests suggest that we'd really like to do-- but to find our niche. I don't mean to overstate what Trump's election means; surviving and succeeding in any society, liberal or conservative, has always meant finding a way to acquire food and resources. And since we've culturally and technologically evolved from a time when we all went out and acquired food and resources for ourselves, ‘surviving and succeeding’ has meant 'making money'. Well, to ‘make money’ we've always had to employ whatever skills we've been graced with towards providing society some good or service, which we’re then compensated for with money, which we then use to pay others for the goods and services they provide- it's all a very nice circle, and it's a law of existence, that you have to fight for it, regardless of politics, economic system, or species.
The election of a Republican president gives birth to a more primal sense of that, though. This audiobook isn't meant to characterize my feelings about Trump's victory directly-- it’s not even meant as a response to the Trump phenomena in any way-- but the campaign season artfully and sometimes violently struck at my core beliefs. I grew up a republican and didn’t experienced misgivings about it until late in my 20s. It was only after years of studying cultures as an undergrad, graduate student, and then as a teacher that I began to believe in a collective society as the highest goal- something achievable and something we've been meandering our way back to, as a species, since we moved on from our more ancient, communal ways. It was collective might, after all, that allowed such a slow, weak species to take the planet. Not the instinctual hive mind sometimes seen in the more ‘animal’ world, but a thoughtful, willful collective at great scales; communicating, collaborating, and coordinating. But I still had to ask myself to what extent does the 21st century government need to be the administrator of such collectivization? Is the world just inherently more intertwined and interconnected than ever and it’s unnecessary/counterproductive to empower the government in that way, or does the forcible forging of populations into collective societies through the creation of institutions and economic mechanisms provide such value that they must be the species’ next great tool?
Because at the heart of my shift to ‘the left’ is the recognition that though the Republican ideology might be best for economic growth as we are now, 1) economic growth cannot be the only consideration, needs to be more stable for the majority even as that sacrifices economic combustibility, and should be more equally distributed, and 2) any study of natural or cultural history will show that, relative to the amount of time natural selection and mutation take to evolve other species, humans aren’t stuck with what we are. We aren’t static. We can aspire, and we can create cultural and technological innovations that change us as so many have before- inventions and innovations that actually mutate us, evolve us.
To what end, in the creation of those new cultural and structural innovations and inventions, do we sacrifice maximum productivity and benefit for the sake of the advancement of the species, of collective society, of a new balance between cooperation and competition?
How much value would we lose in sacrificing the benefits that come from the weight of competition, though? In the art of war, Sun Tzu describes the value of putting an army into a position in which death is at their backs. Cortez burned his ships when he and his conquistadors were upon Mexico- there was but one way forward, and it was through the Aztecs. Surely, in man's war to make himself his very best and to survive and succeed to the full extent that he's capable, he's not alone-- he has friends and family and faith, perhaps-- but at the institutional scale, from government, from the collected resources of those who've succeeded around him? No, in that quest wouldn't it make sense for him to be left to his devices and his guile- knowing that those things and those things only, fully developed and mobilized, with not even an ounce spared, with 'death at his back', would propel him?
The compromise is going to require that we understand human nature, and understand how to harness the best of that nature for the sake of ourselves and our neighbors.
Still Human: Leftward Bound but dragging a paw
It seems obvious that there are certain fundamental truths to all forms of life: we aren’t equally endowed; either as groups or individuals we will fight over important resources; and failure means suffering, death, or extinction. Humans persistently mirror the natural world in our relations with each other- including at the inter-state level. We fight wars, we hoard wealth and resources, and we instinctually and understandably care about ourselves and our own above all else, particularly in times of crisis. We fail, too, but the image of our failure isn’t extinction so much as it is suffering, poverty, and the challenges of raising a family with a mid to low income job. Humans are different than animals, however, in that we aren’t subject to a static disposition. We can materially and culturally evolve as we advance ourselves through the invention of tools. Our tools, then, have always been the meeting point where ‘what we need to survive’ and ‘what we aspire for survival to be like’ come together. Even our social networking skills- our capacity to exist in groupings- are an ancient invention to aid in survival amidst a landscape which we weren’t equipped to defeat otherwise. Who leads the group-- who makes decisions regarding resources-- has always been a challenge for us. One of the most critical strings of invention for our species, therefore, has been the institutions which we’ve empowered to make decisions for the group; further, as society has grown more complex, we’ve invented a string of policies and mechanisms to manage larger and larger conglomerations efficiently, safely, and for maximum productivity. Amidst this theme of our species as animals which have free will, which compete, and which can fail (or succeed less than others, owing to whatever circumstances), to what extent should our empowered officials attempt to distribute the settlement’s resources across its population? Essentially, that’s what the conservative v. liberal argument is about: do we need tools to distribute wealth? Similarly, if the two sides of the spectrum can at least agree that people who need help should get help (and it seems most people do), then what are the tools for providing aid? And who should be in charge of those tools: the government, some institution, non profits, churches, or just the compassionate citizen? Interestingly, in international affairs, conservatives and liberals carry a different mind-set, to be general, to the global system as well. The former tend to be realists, seeing a zero-sum, anarchic environment with winners and losers, and the state as a singularly important entity. The latter can be more idealistic about competition, threats, and the capacity for non-state entities to have a powerful affect on a global system they see inter-connected by so many threads that borders and the state can become immaterial.
Regardless of the viewpoint of conservatives and liberals, historically, both domestically and in the international environment, our settlements have trended towards the gravitational pull of a pursuit of wealth and conflict that inevitably comes as a consequence of competing pursuits. And why should our instincts be any different? We aren’t that different than the animals, except in what we create. Except in that we want to be. The beginning of my transformation to the left, then, was seeing everything through the prism of the grand narrative of life, and asking the question ‘how do we advance as a species’? How do we get what we want: happiness, safety, and stability for all.
Everything alive on the planet has evolved by a process of competition and experimental mutation. Nature is, at all times, producing mutations. Though they occur in small quantities, when the mutation is effective, survival is more assured and the mutant’s offspring inherits the genes. The story is obvious to us. We evolved from a hominid, which came from an earlier primate species, which came from an early mammal, which had, in some extremely distant time, transitioned from swimming in the seas. Likewise for the kingdoms around us-by nature’s fascinating process, over a span of time which escapes even our impressive imagination- species capitalized on their specific competitive advantages to derive energy from the environment. Tracing back to a common ancestor, species diverged with new adaptations that either worked or didn’t; the branches that failed are gone. Species don’t have to directly compete, however. Where there is sufficient space, and/or resources are plentiful and varied, the natural world can coexist in an interdependent, interconnected equilibrium- avoiding niche overlap and territoriality. As conditions are subject to change, the nature of that balance will be regained through conflict, contest, and/or exile. Animals use their present kit, subject to random mutations and natural selection: claws, teeth, size, camouflage, speed, poison and an endless list of other attributes to succeed in that conflict- to win. Others, by being migratory and/or opportunistic are able to survive, are able to not go extinct. The general result is a hierarchy descending downward from the pinnacle of a pyramid- from a tiny percentage of apex predators to a slightly larger field of secondary consumers and into a vast lot of producers who together constitute the majority of species within an ecosystem. The apex predator is a dominant force in their devouring of energy from lower levels of the hierarchy, and in controlling resources-thereby forcing other species to find innovative ways of procuring needed resources, or forcing those secondary species to operate on the fringes or to simply migrate. If they don't find a source of energy for themselves, they fail and they die. If a species fails, it goes extinct.
By that same evolutionary process, as mentioned, and as is obvious, man came to be. Indeed, both individually and collectively, humans share many characteristics representative of the natural world. More adaptive than most species, our ability to walk upright and other physical, cultural, and technological advances led to a migration out of Africa and the populating of an entire planet. As we marched that path, we took advantage of our two greatest abilities-tool making and collectivization-to develop methods of survival befitting our new environments. Whereas animals use the static kit they’ve developed over extreme lengths of time and are subject solely to the transformative powers of random mutation and natural selection, man’s ability to make and use tools began a long string of devices, physical and cultural, by the force of which we transcended our most natural allotment of gifts. Though humans, too, were carried to their initial disposition by the same natural process-developing opposable thumbs, the ability to walk upright, and a larger brain- we reached a threshold where we could create our own mutations by the ability to aspire- designing advances that advanced us in turn. Man made fire because he was cold and aspired to be warm, couldn’t see as well in the dark and aspired to be able to see his companions at night, or knew that animals crept into camp at night and aspired to have that not be so, but fire also meant he could cook his food. Cooking his food meant that it required less to digest that food and afforded energy for the growth of his brain, which in turn led to even greater inventions, which—well, of course the story is clear. The skills necessary to create flames had stemmed from incremental advances over time, but like the earliest tools which changed the necessity of having a more physically powerful body, changed our makeup and capacities.
We get to consistently address our circumstances with mutations and instruments that we see as being constructive towards what we all want. The power to mutate ourselves and the world around us has made us a force of nature unto ourselves- to the extent that we’ve constructed an artificial landscape such that over the last century or so of cultural and technological innovation, we’ve become something less natural than the natural world.
Perhaps the greatest example of our ability to do just that was the Neolithic Revolution. After the exodus from Africa carried us to the furthest reaches of the planet, regional characteristics took form, our set of tools grew more complex, ideas were diffused over great distances, and our groupings grew larger. When we started farming on a large-scale, or in other places where a year’s worth of fish or game could be stored from a single season, a surplus of food meant we could stay in one place. In places like the Fertile Crescent, along the Nile in Egypt, in the Indus River Valley, in China’s heartland, and in the Americas, some of us could begin specializing in jobs not related to directly deriving energy from the environment.
Because like the animal world, we too derive our energy from the environment. For that we have currency, an artificial construct which represents purchasing power. Our original currency in those earliest civilizations was food. Farming meant a food surplus just as it meant that somebody needed to defend fertile land , domestication too meant a stable food supply just as it meant that somebody needed to watch over the herds at night, so the managers of that food surplus provided food to those who’d work as defenders. From that accord was born a legion of other occupations-all based on that most essential ‘currency’: food.
Some of us began building permanent shelters, crafting clothes or jewelry, making better tools, etc. Each new specialization contributed to the survival and health of larger and larger populations- which meant an increased field of laborers, some of whom occupied themselves with agriculture, gathering, hunting, fishing, domestication of herds, or other tasks associated with building/maintaining the surplus. Others enhanced our tool kits, as staying in one place meant we could fashion heavier and/or more complex/permanent designs- since we wouldn’t have to worry about carrying them from place to place or re-making them too often. A better tool kit meant more yield, as did the experimentations of farmers who found newer and better methods- and so our surplus swelled, and the new system mightily persevered over all others.
Cyrus and the tremendous Persian empire were not possible until the Assyrians had brought the multitude of peoples populating Mesopotamia under sway, which had only been possible in itself because of the layers that had come before., Babylon and Hammurabi’s foundational code of law, Akkadians under Sargon developing a trade language, or the initial advent of cuneiform and other essential ingredients in general
And all of these things had to grow in a world for which there had been little need or appetite for them- until there was. Until there was because they'd been changed by what they'd built- by things that had happened and people that had come about because of what they'd built. All of it was only possible because people could suddenly permanently stay in one place, and that was unimaginable except for places where hunting or fishing was so prolific that it allowed for sufficient abundance and preservation. Farming was the tool that allowed it, and in some places even farming was fought against by people's wishing to preserve the cultural identity- mythologies from the Algonquian in the north east reflect the sadness that came with abandoning their way of being.
As it evolved, we came to have coins and paper money which we earned in exchange for whichever occupation we’d come to be specialized in-- echoes of that original accord-- and which we used to pay for goods and services necessary for our survival. Except, for humans, survival no longer meant what it had meant before. We’d left the age of merely surviving amidst a powerful landscape, and had entered the age of changing our landscape to suit our needs, eventually sauntering into the era of creating artificial environments and constructs for ourselves. We had evolved as the animals had-- many traditional mythologies even reflect a sense that man and animal had once shared an equal level of sentience and position within the landscape--but ‘civilization’ was a new era wherein we no longer ‘survived amidst the landscape’, but changed it to suit the species’ needs. We dug canals, cleared forests, selected the most profitable crops and the most subdued breeds of animal, built roads, and shaped the environment more than ever before.
With his role in society more specialized, his social hierarchy and formal leadership more realized, his religion more defined and organized, and his sense of himself in relation to the environment altered, deriving enough energy from the environment or not deriving enough energy from the environment was no longer an equation whose balance meant extinction or propagation, but now was the determinant of happiness; specialization, as fields evolved to be more complex, but also by the very nature of our own differing aptitudes, deigned some people more important to society than others, more valuable than others, and therefore, more compensated than others. Social classes and nobility were born- a dramatic departure from the egalitarian nomad or the communal tribe.
A new definition of failure was born in that world, and its been further amplified as it carried forward into our modern age. Then, as now, ‘to fail’ meant to be impoverished, unhappy, unimportant, and unsatisfied- it means you get less luxurious things, eat less luxurious food, get less medical comforts, and your kids will be at a disadvantage. Man is hyper-aware of his lot-relative to others, though, and with a more complex psychological makeup that shapes an entirely different definition of happiness, the species’ has difficulty accepting the ‘lesser’ than station, which leads to unrest and aggression. Similar to the 'natural' world's more instinctive dispersal of species into niche methods of survival, like water seeping and crawling outward from a growing pool, some can avoid that brand of failure by not directly competing. By finding opportunistic ways of making money, by being migratory, by being constantly inventive and operating on the fringes of any human economic ecosystem, even the less advantaged can win ‘energy’ from their environment. Still, though, like the natural world, a hierarchy is formed. It is typically a different form of violence than what might be found in a nature documentary, but there are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ all the same. Do our richest not collect wealth and employ mechanisms to aid in their capturing of ever increasing shares? Or take measures to protect and preserve their privileged access to wealth? Does our top 1% not own the majority of ‘energy’ and dominate consumption? Are the core economies not dominant in man’s global ecosystem? They impose their will on lesser states, subjugate their systems, depend on them for production, and manipulate their political institutions. The top consumers in the human ecosystem, like the natural world, hoard ‘energy’, dominate the nutrient flow, and necessarily represent a tiny fraction of the populace.
In the context of competition amongst ourselves, or in our earliest days, amongst all species, our relationships are governed by the same fundamentals: competition, opportunism, migration, territoriality, apex predators, fringe species, coexistence and equilibrium, and failure. Our violence is more often indirect, but it is a form of contest that, by mechanisms and manipulation, sees the subjugation of lesser classes and sees the hoarding of 'energy' by the top consumers
The American pursuit of happiness might be defined by its chase of security, but security might be defined as such sufficient wealth that a person can weather the conflagrations of a free economy-to say nothing of those who seek material values as an end in itself. But like the inter-state stage, our pursuit of happiness suffers from our innate sense of what it means to lose. That humans can anticipate/imagine-a positive throughout the theme of this work-augments our fear of failure and brings about an often irrational set of behaviors-relative to competition with our fellows. To not create institutions for the distribution of resources is to allow for open competition. To allow for open competition is to allow the contests to play out like the animal world- they’ll trend towards violence and stratification. We aren’t so inclined to allow the natural world’s process of determining winners and losers-an openly violent and horrific one-to play out at the human level. Whereas we don’t want to hoist up segments of the population who might take advantage of safety nets, and whereas we recognize the arguable benefits that stem from competition and competition alone (innovation), the rewards and corruptive powers of success are too great, and the consequences of failure too great. Our tools, then, must serve to bring us forward towards a balance- towards coordination of industries, efficient management, and greater potential for success for all with the necessity of allowing for a brand of competition that drives our species-as a collective whole-and our sub-species-as individuals-to be its best (to chase rewards)-something which at our current state, and maybe always, demands the allure of worthwhile reward. To create an artificial, equitable distribution of resources is to challenge our nature and would work to hinder innovation, adaptation, and evolution. Policy must address the balance between the two, but also between what we are predisposed towards and what we want to achieve as a species. Any steps forward towards becoming a version of ourselves that we want to be has to begin with a recognition of that basic truth, of our innate disposition to mirror the natural world. It is in our biology, and it is what Confucius referred to when he spoke of our ‘primary nature’. We can introduce a second nature-a new kit from incremental constructs that construct us in turn.
In America, where capitalism allows for the nearly unfettered competition between individuals, small businesses, and conglomerate corporations, an equilibrium has settled. Like the more 'natural' world, an apex group of predators sits atop the informal hierarchy and dominates consumption of energy. Unlike the more 'natural' world, man has created an artificial construct-currency-to represent the power to purchase those energies essential to the species-food, water, etc-but also to purchase services (a construct of man to aid in comfortable survival) and luxuries. Some 1%, the apex predators, harbor 80% of the energy (currency) available in the ecosystem.
We can’t rely on an open market because that empowers individuals to first be accountable to their own family’s welfare, which opens them to the possibility that others are competing to capture resources from them, which drives efforts to hoard resources, accrue maximum profit, and be less accountable to the long-term health of others, of other species, and of subsequent generations.
Sustainability, as a concept for resource use, refers to a system of land use, resource procurement, and disposition towards the health of affected ecosystems which will allow for the sustained use of the planet- afforded to humans, non-human life forms/processes, and subsequent generations of each, ‘sustainability’ also speaks to the persistence of culture; as cultural norms and the structure of human civilization rests on the availability of certain materials and spaces, the loss of those materials and spaces would force horizontal shifts to those that are abundantly available. Historically, entire social systems have crumbled as traditional sustenance methods, shelters, and forms of decision making were no longer equal to the circumstances- to say nothing for those non-human life forms whose populations were lost to environmental degradation or change. As the industrial revolution forever altered the form of energy our settlements and movement require, the production of harmful waste and the production of new technology has upset many of the natural systems which stabilize the planet's environments, land forms, and general health. Further, as our economic systems have evolved alongside an explosive population growth, the corporation has been born. Escaping the control of domestic governments because those governments need the employment and growth they provide, and transcending state borders as the multinational corporation grew to take advantage of globalization, the actions of these bodies are largely profit-driven and inherently unsustainable. Globalization- the shrinking of transport times, the increase in speed and availability pfo communication and the development of ever sense, ever expanding settlement- has also heightened the incidence of conflict; more specifically, conflict over marine and land resource rights, as well as conflict over access to valuable geographic advantages such as natural harbors, inland waterways, and mountainous buffer zones from invasion.
Massive cultural shifts, as a species, come in slow increments that stem from the invention of some initial tool. Not all of the advances that come with such a tide are entirely beneficial. From farming came social classes, environmental harm, and a need to defend a plot of land more ferociously as the new method of subsistence necessarily made some land more valuable than others. It made us more vulnerable to the forces of nature as our settlements became permanent and inflexible, even as it protected us from the dangers of storms and the risk posed by wild animals. Great floods in those earliest river valley civilizations could wipe out hundred of thousands- our coastal development today could see a similar catastrophe. The greatest problems, however have been social and economic equality, and the challenges of governing large populations.
Across time and space, our two most vexing and enduring challenges have been equality and conflict. We enter stages of unrest, often cyclically, as counter responses to difficult times, when, in the face of so much proof to the contrary, we challenge whether we’ve actually made any progress along those aims. That wave of crests and troughs, though, has brought us here-to a special age in the history of the species. We have all new technology. The enlightenment gave us the capacity to build on each other’s ideas, test theories, and take leaps beyond the incremental. It is in this age that we are most challenged to find the best of ourselves from the best of our aspirations. We must forge the future with new institutional tools. With an increase in job specialization, how do we find equality? In an increasingly connected world, with catastrophic weaponry, how do we slow down cycles of conflict? By creating mechanisms that can enhance deliberation, and therefore, rational /apprehensive behavior? It will be our tools, like the ability to make fire, that will advance us as they echo our current state and create waves that reverberate in ways that make us something new.
We need new tools to bridge the gap between what we are and what we aspire to be. In a long winded sort of way, I believe the left wants those tools; I believe the right places too much faith in individuals being their best, en masse. Our best tools for the purpose are our institutions, and our best institutions are the ones democratically empowered to facilitate peace, cooperation, communication, and to an extent, distribution of energy. We aren’t ready yet for the freedoms of an unregulated economy, society, culture, etc. The laws of nature prove a predictable outcome. But perhaps we can create tools which will lead us there. In that grand pursuit for equality and attenuation of conflict, perhaps the government should have a far different role than I’ve ever before envisioned. Perhaps inclusionary policies which drive the formation of ever more threads between us, our businesses, our communities, our towns, our states, our countries, and our planets (one day?) is our only hope for less severe inequality and for peace.
Growing up, I asked myself what the role of government was. The obvious answer was ‘to keep us safe’. Under the umbrella of that protection, I considered America exceptional because it gave the individual free reign to make himself great or find himself in ruin. There are obvious points in American history when the fusion of government leadership and individual excellence reaped reward for the nation, and I found the threshold for ‘government leadership’ to be somewhere around ‘minimal’. As I’ve considered it further, though, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided that a more empowered government, as an umbrella under which we invent institutional tools which evolve us in turn, reaps such benefit to the individual and the group that the loss of economic combustibility- the type created by an open market- is worth giving up.
The same fundamental questions which challenge domestic policy and governance apply to the international stage as well. International collectivization should be appreciated by the individual as it does the most to serve their interests, but as it expands outward the psychology of self sees the loss of national sovereignty as they do the lack of total personal autonomy and independence from others.
Something else happened in those early river valley civilizations: the soldier, as tool, was born.
There was an obvious advantage to devising ranged weaponry in man’s early quest to survive. Being able to project power from a distance meant less risk to the hunter’s safety, and when protecting the group from predators, less vulnerability in the face of an animal’s superior armory, strength and speed. We conquered the world because we have the unchallenged ability to collect, invent, and in that way, transcend our relative physical limitations. When our ability to discover and invent provided us the food surplus necessary to more permanently settled into advantageous locations, populations grew and the radius of settlements’ influence and control expanded outward. When the sphere came into contest with the sphere of another settlement, when other groups came to desire the bounty of a plentiful but occupied location, when nomads and hunters saw in the stores of those settlements the chance to survive, settlements needed to defend themselves. In all cases, even when defense was required for the protection of the herds from predators, the institution of defense- for the sake of efficiency- evolved into a specialized occupation. Naturally, defense turned to offense. We projected the power of our settlements with our newest tool- the soldier- to secure the landscape from potential dangers.
The need for collective defense led to the need for collective offense, as a means of protecting resources and interests, and of assuring the safety of the community by pre-emptively securing the landscape. As cities attracted new members, and as adjacent cities saw their spheres overlap, conflicts turned to wars, war-time leaders transformed into kings, wars turned to conquest and the seeds of empire were sown. Settlements, city walls, riches, food, comforts, and far flung trade–civilization. But outside of ‘civilization’ were those aforementioned nomads who recognized in the traders and caravans a new kind of prey. Our settlements would need to provide protection along trade routes, too- it seemed. The miles between point A and B would be best monitored by controlling both point A and point B, and why not point C for good measure; powerful settlements expanded their umbrella, by force or mutual consent, over other settlements. As complex economic relationships developed, we needed tools to protect distant trade, defend important allies and partners, and acquire additional resources to fuel our settlements’ growth. Empire was soon after born; the newest offspring would need to use its soldiers to stabilize distant lands, assert influence abroad, and bring new locales under the fold while also securing itself from external dangers and internal destabilization. Which brings us back to the hunter turned farmer turned soldier, and the tools he’s fitted for his evolving role. Invention and necessity. The necessity to face the least possible risk of sustaining losses in combat. The power to invent the means to kill from farther and farther away- clubs, spears, arrows, the professional soldier, swords, guns, cannons, fighter jets, drones, Iron Man...
Even professional soldiers, alliances between cities, war, empire, and other fundamental structures upholding the ancient world were themselves further examples of our ability to forge tools to serve our advance as a species. Not that competition in itself was an invention of man, of course, but his ideas for its uses as a method of resource acquisition, unification and the pursuit of ego certainly were.
The 20th century saw humanity’s capacity to succumb to some of the darkest elements of its nature, but it also saw our species attempts to recognize that folly and forge a collectivity that might better our chances of progressing towards what we want to be as a people. The wreckage, chaos, frivolity, dark passions, bitter rivalries, greedy clasping, brutality, and loneliness recorded in our several thousand years of documented history owes its recurring redemption to the acts of kindness, compassion, sacrifice, and-probably more than anything else-unqualified love which have dotted our historical landscape and inspired a belief that we can be more, will be more, and stand for more. If as individuals we can see ourselves so clearly-the darkest depths and brightest triumphs-why have the manifestations of our collective nature so often tended towards the dark? Why, as a group, are we so vulnerable to the corruptive powers of the worst of us? I do not espouse a negative view towards humanity. I believe in the best of us. I try to fight for the best within myself, and I think that nations similarly trend towards the future better than they were in the past. I only recognize the patterns and common threads so apparent from even a cursory glance at the history of our deeds. So, then, the question posed remains: why?
The answer is twofold: one, we are not and cannot be as a collective unit what we are as individuals. Altruism is an individual act undertaken and committed to for the sake of those we love. Altruism cannot be a product of collective might because we do not possess a collective emotional state-except, of course, in times when a group can collectively sense danger, or feel fear, anger, and pride. What we most commonly experience as a collective group, then, are those undermining emotions which lend themselves to the worst of our actions. That, logically, leads to the second of our two answers: two, the Earth has resources. They are finite (or are perceived to be). We cannot truly collect together while we have the sense of an us and a them, while we have the sense of ethnic histories and attachment to past wrongdoings, and while we instinctively understand that this planet is, and has always been, a battleground between the competing species for the resources on hand.
Coupled together, those truths translate to realpolitiks. The United States may serve as an ideal example of the corruptive power inherent in our collective inner nature at the state level. America is insulated by two massive oceans, rich with resources and interior waterways, protected by a naval force which cannot be matched by an alliance of all of its enemies, armed with the most mobile and powerful military in human history, and burdened only by a marginal military power to the north and a preoccupied, if not also marginal, neighbor to the south. Beyond its military prowess, the United States also, ideologically, prides itself as a champion of freedom, human rights, justice, social equality, and as a symbol of the species’ progression. And yet, despite those attributes, perhaps paradoxically, the United States has been embroiled in war for the majority of its existence-a truth which either requires us to reconcile self-image with objective perspective, or to recognize the ‘necessities’ (such that they are) of American behavior. The U.S has fought wars to expand its territory, wars to destabilize regions, wars for control of resources, wars to halt the spread of a competing ideology, wars to oust leaders, systemic wars in Europe, and has waged a constant effort to maintain hegemony over the sea lanes that course our oceans. American foreign policy, despite its apparent inconsistencies, theological fluctuations, and outward blunders, has always pursued those paths which enable it to achieve three goals: 1) control the resources it possesses; 2) control trade routes so that it may gain resources; 3) control the rise of regional powers so that they may not rise to a stature that they can challenge America’s first two goals. The common thread in America’s goals is resources. Just as a lion, a bear, a monitor lizard, or an a-type personality on the playground might, nation-states reflect an almost animalistic personality which drives them to instinctively see the world as a limited pool of resources that they must capture and control-lest they become subject to the will of others or die out altogether. America, as advanced as it may be, and as inspired as its citizens can be by human rights issues and social equality, is still a playground adolescent at the collective/national level.
If America wasn’t the pre-eminent force, there would be another; there always has been. The most powerful empires in history have taken similar arcs to the apex of their prestige, using similar methods and pursuing similar goals-all related to resource acquisition, maintenance, or personal ambition (just another form of a resource acquisition). In the 19th century a number of powerful empires rose to compete for resources. They colonized, sailed the seas, got swept up in their own power, and saw the convergence of those efforts culminate in the departure of over 100 million souls. After the world wars of the 20th century, the weary minds of our fighters, diplomats, and leaders had suffered enough to know that they must pay whatever the cost may be to prevent our human story from becoming just another sad narrative about the inevitable fall of progress. So those men tried. They created a league of nations, they created a United Nations, and they made promises to themselves regarding the future of the world. Then the United States and the Soviet Union were the two towering protagonists, each in their own mind, with Europe as the pivot. The United Nations, and the minds that saw the end of the 2nd world war, wished to prevent things like the Vietnam War, and the Korean War, and Russia’s war in Afghanistan, but of course they couldn’t. Those collective bodies, designed with the hope of superseding nation vs. nation contests for control, derived their power from the constituting members within. How could members of the United Nations, themselves just human and, though representing the best and brightest from each of the planet’s nation-states, themselves just reflecting those aforementioned collective sentiments of their homes: fear, anger, pride, hunger. What power did they have to stand up to the United States or the Soviet Union? What reason did they have to subject themselves to the consequences? Again, this isn’t to paint a picture of the United States as an animalistic evil, or to paint a picture of the species as weak and doomed. It is, though, intended to paint a realistic picture of the nature of what we have been. It’s intended to affirm that despite humanity’s progression from the moment we raised our heads to see over the tall grass to the moment the United States handed the reigns over to a war-torn Afghanistan, we are still human. We are still an organism, and organisms, by the force of their unrelenting will to survive, compete. So long as humanity perceives the planet as a finite pool of resources, we will set up our nests and fight each other for those resources-despite our own advances as individuals within the species and the residual effect that has on our collective personality.
I’d like to proffer that there are, historically and henceforth, four keys to having a successful civilization/state/empire: one, self-sufficiency-in earlier times, this refers to a civilization’s ability to produce food for itself, but in modern times the tenet could be expanded to include energy and other such necessities; two, insulation from invasion and disturbance. Some of the greatest civilizations of all time have been those which have enjoyed deserts, mountains, and/or oceans as prohibitive attributes against neighboring states. Insulation could also refer to a state’s ability to withstand disaster, economic turmoil, or any other external force which may disturb the harmony/security of the civilization; three, unification-a civilization needs its people to be unified in trade, purpose, direction, under a common law, and with sufficient infrastructure. The most successful civilizations have been those that are rich in waterways and navigable terrain, those whose people have either found common ethnic identity or common understanding of what their civilization means, and those which have seen cities become economically and politically interconnected by trade; and four, leadership-successful civilizations require leadership in the sense that some founding leader(s) must have brought together previously disconnected groups and capable leaders must continue to maintain the state, restore the state in times of toil, or foresee future dangers and steer the state towards safety and relative prosperity. The four keys are decisive fundamentals towards determining whether a civilization can find long-term, stable success.
The problem with the structure of modern international relations is that most states do not possess all four of the keys. Those states, therefore, seek to invade/annex neighboring peoples to create for themselves some semblance of insulation (Russia’s attempts to reacquire its former soviet border and satellite states in an effort to secure Western Europe’s navigable invasion routes into its heartland). Those states, therefore, seek to force cohesion amongst the socio-economic groupings and heritages, and obedience to the state, where it otherwise wouldn’t be through censorship and a restrictive grip (China). Those states, therefore, rest the fate of their state on the willingness of other states to provide energy or food-in the process losing a great deal of their independence, and insulation in the event of war (Ukraine, much of Europe, some South American states). Those states, also therefore, seek to force stability, sometimes through military action, sometimes through covert action, and find short-term answers for the keys they lack. Further, the people who commonly win office or seize control are those people for whom power and ambition have driven them to such an end. Leadership in many states, therefore, is often corrupt and/or not representative of the best and brightest.
Since the twofold answer to our earlier question of ‘why, when we collect together, are we so vulnerable to the worst of us?’, offers the conclusion that humanity is, as currently constituted in its national groupings, incapable of collective altruism (that being the realm of the individual), that we are prone to the subversive powers of collective anger, pride, hunger, and other negative emotions, and that humanity instinctively recognizes (as all species do) the finite nature of its resources, it’s fair to imagine a continuous pattern of those nations competing to acquire/protect the four necessary keys for their long term stability. But what if humanity’s perspective gets fundamentally altered? What if an extragalactic civilization makes official contact with humanity? As our species comes to recognize the entire universe as a battleground over a finite pool of resources (albeit an impossibly vast finite pool), and comes to recognize that the extragalactic species we’ve come in contact with is interested in our planet, or that the extragalactic species is part of an inter-stellar galactic alliance-replete with civilizations-it won’t matter whether the aliens have made peaceful contact or if their contact was hostile. It may be that humanity’s salvation rests in the discovery of extra-galactic counterparts. The four keys would no longer apply solely to Earth’s nation-states, it would apply to humanity as a collective species. In terms of attaining self-sufficiency, human’s would have to begin the transformation towards considering its energy reserves, food, water, metals, and other vital resources as necessities for the species’ very survival/prosperity/wealth/inter-stellar status. Humans would slowly create organizations that more effectively collect our nation-states for the purposes of inter-stellar representation and the control of earth’s resources, states, and economics.
Like the Americas at the dawn of its discovery by Europeans, Earth is devoid of insulation. As powerful as the Aztecs and Incans were, they didn’t control their oceans. Europeans were able to establish island bases from which they could launch their relentless tide of explorers, settlers, soldiers, and missionaries. Earthlings have no control of space, relative to the terms we are referring to, and have no ability to prevent extragalactic civilizations from setting up bases in space. When states lack insulation, they must compensate with military power. Humans will re-structure existing international military organizations to reflect their new need. States will participate in the sharing of technology, joint military exercises, and a general shift away from the state-centric power plays. As for leadership, along with the previously mentioned changes, more executive power will need to be granted to supranational structures for diplomacy, military needs, economic decisions, and resource management. As the new executive positions evolve, its powers will be expanded to take control of issues related to global climate change, ethnic violence, civil war, and poverty.
Extra-galactic contact would transform humanity over a longer time-scale than I’ve intimated, but the gradual changes would reflect Earth’s new needs as they present themselves. Interstellar relations will raise dramatic fears and emotions in the early stages, but humanity would be likely to regress to something we’d recognize as the swell of such a momentous occasion subsided. Changes would come, though. My overarching point throughout this piece has been that human nature, just as the nature of any organism, is so intrinsically invariable at the collective level that we can be expected to continue the patterns that have been so fundamental to our history-regardless of technological advancement, rising social awareness, or other factors; our saving grace has always been the power of individual altruism and labor. Were we to make contact with an extra-galactic civilization, particularly If that civilization was part of a larger amalgamated alliance of species, our focus on earth’s limited resources would shift to a focus on the resources available to us throughout the galaxy-or more importantly, we’d come to recognize that our resources are more vulnerable and sought after than ever imagined. Maybe we will no longer be each other’s enemy. Maybe in the face of whatever lies out there, we will see a common fear which shifts us into a collective state such that we’ve never been-and possibly never could be without such intervention. In the animal world, a lion may lose out to an invasive cat species because in the competition for resources it may have a competitive disadvantage, but the lion isn’t sentient enough to recognize that and collect its might with the might of lion comrades. We have that ability. Our biological imperative to survive would compel degrees of collectivity.
It may be that we never need that intervention. Just as humans advance throughout their lives as individuals-constantly messing up, perhaps, but learning from those mistakes and growing into their best selves-humanity has advanced. We have continually fought wars, but hopefully the incarnations of those wars, or at least the actions we take afterwards, like the United Nations, represent our small steps forward and our capacity for growth.
I’ve always dismissed the United Nations as ineffective, but I’ve been misreading its function. It is not the Galactic Republic or Empire of a galaxy far far away, nor does it have something akin to the Jedi order. States aren’t ready to release their sovereignty. Cultures aren’t ready to absolve their differences. People aren’t ready to equate survival and prosperity of 'them' with 'us' or 'me'; that isn’t in the instinctual nature of any organism. While there's an intimate social pact between hyenas, it doesn’t extend to the pride of lions against which they compete for territory and meat. What the UN represents is an evolution of human intentions, and as an institution it is continually evolving, being constructed, alongside the inter-subjective understandings of its constituent members.
In his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, President Obama presented to the world not just his vision for our species’ achieving peace but a vision for that peace which accommodates for the realities inherent in our nature. But just because something is an inherent reality in nature doesn’t mean it has to persist. Organisms have evolved over time and space. Humans can choose to evolve, to mutate, by creating ideas, practices, and institutions. Indeed, in his speech, Obama called for the gradual evolution of existing mechanisms as well as the creation of new ones. The President called for the UN to capture its inaugural purpose of preventing war, but to also win true peace by fighting for equality and justice everywhere-even through war when necessary. It’s easy to fight when our interests are threatened-for that we need our high-minded institutions and mechanisms to stop us-but it’s also too easy to not fight when the cause isn’t a personal threat; for those causes, too, we need our high-minded structures.
Like Polar Bears fighting over a whale carcass, states fear not having control of resources sufficient for their own prosperous survival and that of their charges. It is the basic instinct of life-forms. The Polar Bears could share the whale to ensure that the other Polar Bear families can survive, but they don’t have the capacity for collaboration or reason. Despite sharing the baser instincts, humans can be enlightened, and from that enlightenment the species has forged transnational, collective efforts-not to usurp the authority of the Polar Bear, figuratively, but to serve five essential functions.
1-builds a new world culture of international conflict/cooperation
2-mitigates cycles of conflict
3-platform for collaborative discussion
4-slows decision making process of sovereign states
5-mediator for bilateral relations
The problem with its role as a mediator is in the dispositions of the parties being mediated. As a third party mediator, the UN can help to break the escalation of bilateral confrontation or stagnation in resolving disputes. For mediation to work, though, the overarching want for each party needs to be a harmonious relationship that is mutually beneficial and respectful of the needs of both parties. When a couple goes to a third party for mediation/counseling, they both want the mediation to work. They both want to find a way to continue in their loving relationship. Love isn’t a zero-sum game. Pride and personal concerns are obstacles, not road-blocks. For states, the overarching want is inherently self-centered. As an entity, states won’t sacrifice needs, or be giving for their competitor. That is where the mediation structure of the UN fails. The structure needs executive authority to enforce the needs of the collective good. For now, the UN’s existence, just out of a slowly built global custom, serves to slow the decision making process of two states that are headed towards war by their feeling pressure to meet the standards of the international community and adhere to international law-if they want to be respected members of the international order, if they want to avoid sanctions, if they want perceptions to be such that they can continue with good trade relations.
Those are the functions that the UN serves now, but as an idea, it can evolve. It was that evolution that Obama rested humanity’s hope. There are three chief ways the UN might evolve.
3-disaster management; incremental or radical
In the event of an extragalactic species making official contact with Earth, it might begin a psychological shift for how we perceive resources on our planet vs resources at-large, and shift our focus to common defense of our planet-or at least common representation. Fear might be a powerful driving force in collaboration. Likewise, in the event of another global war (as happened after world war 1 with the creation of the league of nations, after world war II with the UN, an improved incarnation of the League), we will probably see the next iteration-built on the failures of the UN, and with more capacity for cooperation in order to stave off a repeat of what had just been the most disastrous conflict in human history. Lastly, and probably most likely, is an expanded role for the UN earned from its gaining trust in the management of disasters. That could happen incrementally, if the UN manages events like the Ebola outbreak with such excellence that states perceive a benefit in abdicating more of their sovereignty to the UN, or it could happen radically/drastically-a massive volcano eruption that cripples an important region, or a dramatic climate change/ice age that demands coordination/coalescence. In all events, change will come as a tide that sweeps even the most reluctant and powerful monuments of state power.
To have a truly collaborative world society will require that the UN, or whatever future institution exists for the purpose, evolves to form three new powers (perhaps the central, coordinating collective institution could empower regional organizations to efficiently manage their spheres):
1-power to intervene when fear and disconnect keep us inactive
2-power to enforce
3-power to redistribute resources
Essentially, the UN would need to grow to include something like a Jedi Order to objectively and righteously serve peace, free from the intrusions and interventions of political agency, guided by a perception of a common indispensable good but respecting the relativism of morality, fit with the enlightened personnel such that they could mediate and preserve/restore peace but armed with the indisputable authority of a force-backed saber. With Its power derived from, and so easily nullified by political institutions, the UN may actually have been unfit to prevent the conflict which inspired its very existence-World War II. When the next world war is over, we will sit atop the ruins and empower the future guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy- hopefully armed with structural mechanisms that are more intuitively modeled to pacify the errant nature of man and carry us forward with an institution capable of our evolving it to the tasks of the moment, and if the force is with us, capable of helping us evolve all the like.
Obviously, we don’t have the force. Also obviously, states won’t be willing to commit their troops to a global police force that supersedes state sovereignty. I believe the key to be regional empowerment. But, having redefined for myself what the role of the UN is meant to be, I see it as a functional body. I haven’t yet touched on the UN as a platform for collaborative discussion, though. The General Assembly gives voice to states, causes, and people. Whatever the cause-climate change, genocide, women’s rights, ISIS, etc-the UN is a medium which enhances mindfulness, the construction of new shared ideas, and a platform for cooperation on a systemic level that transcends state to state relations.
If the United Nations, and what I’d see become of it, can serve as a model for what I think domestic policy needs to look like, it’s in the enhanced role of an authority. Only the government can coordinate at the highest level. We need to rethink the government’s dynamic role in its balance with individual innovation, initiative, and drive. We know what the faults of a bloated bureaucracy are and we know what happens to a country when you remove incentive, so I’m not calling for the end of the individual by any stretch- nor has my shift resulted in my calling for the end of wealth accumulation. But we can take the ridiculous edge off of it, and we can recalibrate by distributing the energy. All of society benefits from a healthier, more educated, better fed populace. That’s a more gifted population. It’s a mistake to view security on the world-stage as an isolated condition just as it’s a mistake for the individual. We are part of a fabric. As much as I can make myself and my family happy by getting an education, making smart decisions, saving my money, not walking down dangerous alleyways, not driving through a landscape at night when I know that landscape to be one riddled with UFO sightings, etc, we will still be vulnerable to larger forces outside of our control: an outbreak of disease in a foreign land; the growth of a new terrorist organization which actively seeks the means to kill me; the fluctuations of the international market which cause me to be laid off; or a group of robbers breaking into my house at night because they’ve decided stealing is the only way to feed their family, compete, or otherwise afford luxuries they don’t have. Obviously, there are less liberal solutions to those challenges, respectively: get constant medical care to ensure my family is as healthy as possible and be financially secure enough that we can afford access to top tier medical advances; push my government to aggressively stomp out the terrorist organization using whatever means are necessary; have enough in savings that I’m insulated from the full effects of job loss and be qualified, experienced, and thought of highly enough that I can earn new employment relatively quickly; and stash a gun next to my bed so that I might ‘Yosemite Sam’ anyone who enters my home uninvited (let this serve as a not too subtle warning to any of my friends who’ve been stopping by uninvited). Those are solutions worth trying, but they aren’t assured to work or to be available to me, and resting on those solutions isn’t the best foundation for success or safety. The best way to engineer a bridge isn’t to short-change the structure but install a safety net to hopefully catch falling cars, should it all fail.
The history of man is one of increasing complexity. There have always been those who have what they need to survive and those who haven’t, and there has always been conflict as the two groups engage and calibrate throughout the environment. Distribution of resources was often won through war, if it couldn’t be managed through a more peaceful cultural mechanism. As we’ve moved along, ‘those who have’ progressively have enjoyed not just the means to feed and keep safe their families and populations but also the means to enjoy all the medical advances, technological wonders, entertainment, educational opportunities, and privileges of our more complex civilization. A life lived without those things, when measured against a life lived with those things, feels to some to be so less-than that it’s unconscionable. Worse, the ability of the ‘have-nots’ to fund a dignified existence for their family, in many cases, requires more than one job and/or a synthesized, challenging family effort- and where in there is a time for them to fully experience family. For myself, I’m in love, I have a loving family, I eat good enough food, I am fairly well educated, I have the means to enjoy hobbies, I live somewhere comfortable, and I’m happy. I don’t need much more than this. But I know I was born with luxuries and advantages others didn’t necessarily have. I have active, caring parents, I’m healthy, I’m decently gifted, and I have a support system (financially and emotionally) if anything were to go wrong. Obviously, not everyone does. Qualitatively, emotionally, spiritually, it’s hard to accept a lesser happiness for others and their own loved ones.
There is another example in the natural world: the forest. More completely stated, the ‘Wood-Wide Web’. We can find optimism in that nature provides a counterexample to the instinctive reflex for competition found in most animal species. Some tree and plant communities are known to share resources through an underground fungus and root network to support the growth of young trees and plants, to warn of pestilence, and to provide common defense against danger. Perhaps we don’t have to be what we are simply because we are a natural species.
As much as war, illness, and bad luck are eternal factors experienced across the spectrum of life forms, humans have always had the ability to invent tools which insulate us from the natural worlds effects, to an extent, and make us something different than we were before that tool.But which policies do we choose? The ones which provide ourselves, as individuals, the maximum flexibility to live and die by our own choices, skills, and luck? Do we see ourselves that way, somehow isolated, independent, and exclusive? Maybe it’s unavoidable. Maybe we will remain forever locked to the fate of men jostling with one another to find their success. Or maybe we can begin by recognizing ourselves for what we can inherently be when at our worst, what we often are, particularly when in groups, and for what we want to be.
Across that expansive spectrum of geography and time, America was supposed to be different- a new kind of collaboration and cohesion, a place of opportunity for the individual; not a place where a king, god-king, priest, or warlord makes the decisions, but a place where the group does, together. But in so many ways, the individual has been rendered powerless by the growth of corporations and financial institutions. That’s especially true when you consider that the degradation of our political system can be partially, if not fully, attributed to the poisonous influence of big money.
Which prompts us to readdress our current situation: Trump’s election and my leftward shift.
1) My biggest issue for the future is campaign finance reform. Trump is publicly against the control corporations have had over the election process and I think there's a chance he tries to create that legislation. 2) Trump knows how businesses think. He's used the same loopholes and takes advantage of the system the same way. He knows why corporations leave the country and he knows which expenditures are keeping companies from expanding. 3) he will repeal Obamacare. Republicans own congress too, so there's nothing to stop him.
This might be an overly philosophical response, but it's where I am with this. Obamacare is symbolic of a lot of liberal programs in that it's a great idea on the surface, endeavors to forge a collective sense of health and happiness, tries to push society towards something better and less animal. But these programs rarely meet reality very well. Society isn't collective here the way it is in mountainous countries with less than 100 million people; people here have a heightened sense of themselves and a greater willingness to use the system for their own advantage. Bill Clinton has said Obamacare is bad because it's caused middle class families to see their insurance premiums skyrocket while costing the country way too much and providing people insufficient care. That's probably because of malpractice costs, pharmaceutical companies pushing the price of medicines for the sake of profit, free insurance for the poor and the immigrant, and unpaid hospital bills which all come together to result in high premiums even as the program is meant to lower premiums by having more people contributing to the pot. So you get this dilemma that I think really reflects the party lines; when high minded ideas fail in reality, democrats believe we must continue shaping them until they work. Democrats believe that all of human history is about the creation of better tools and better methods, and that those tools have a way of evolving us culturally in turn. So Obamacare is symbolic in that it's meant to be a seed which can grow into something better, something responsive and effective as people mold it and shape it. At all turns, democrats think we should push towards a utopian sort of future with tools and plans that, while they may not work in the short term, move us away from a more animal existence where some individuals flourish and others fail- because whereas in the animal kingdom that failure means death or adaptation, for humans it means poverty, suffering, and the perpetuation of those things as children suffer in those environments
Those types of thinkers believe they can tax the rich and corporations to pay for those programs and the long process of revising those programs until society is more 'equal'. That's not the way it works tho because businesses- and therefore employment and the prosperity of the whole system- suffer or simply move their operations to another country. Globalization means that's ridiculously easy to do.
Conservatives on the other hand overly connect with the animal instinct at humanity's core. They argue that things are a certain way, in reality, and that the jungle, while being a place of failure for some, produces tremendous innovations, adaptations, and greatness. And that the system, as a whole, is harmonious. It's up to the species to find their niche. So that's what we are left to do now: find our niche as trump adjusts the country's economic climate.
My perspective from studying the history of this stuff, and teaching it, is that the system trends towards an ugly version of the animal kingdom. In the animal kingdom, a small percentage of species- the dominant predators- consume the majority of the system's energy. Primary energy into an ecosystem is sun light, right? Whether it's algae or plankton or grass or plants or whatever, there's a primary source of food for the majority of the species, and then the predators eat those species, and when everything dies it all gets processed into the soil which then results in the growth of new primary food sources. All of that is to say that it's perfectly natural in any society- animal or human- for some super small percentage to be at the top of the pyramid and devouring most of that system's energy. The problem that's evolved since the 1800s and the growth of giant corporate monopolies after the completion of the transcontinental railroad is that the predators, the corporations, have been able to exert tremendous control over our institutions and our government to the end that the jungle isn't operating the way it should. And that speaks to the power behind the Bernie sanders movement and all this liberal stuff: even if the jungle were working exactly as it should, and even if you accept that it's perfectly natural for the predators to control all the energy in the ecosystem, at the most basic level is the idea that we aren't animals- that the squirrel doesn't have the ability to consider its plight and it's quality of life compared to that enjoyed by their species. It's instinctual. Many of the animals are operating on instinct. There's emotion and spirit there too, but it's not like with humans where the middle class and poor have such a profound sense of all the things the rich get to enjoy, when the non-rich know they don't have equal access to the political system, to the best education, to medical care, etc etc. humans aren't okay with suffering some of the conditions that the lower levels of the animal kingdom suffer.
We don't want to be animals but we are. One party values doing everything it can to provide equal living conditions for all humans, at the expense of economic prosperity, the other party thinks it's ok to tolerate corporate greed and rich people controlling the political system because it's a system which provides the greatest amount of energy (money), and it's up to the species (all the humans in that society) to figure out how to gain as much of that energy for themselves and their family as possible
Republicans don't want to simply ignore the suffering of people who for whatever reason don't succeed or suffer setbacks, but they believe that charities and churches and individual compassion are the things that should provide that care because they believe humans to be caring souls and believe that people will use some of the energy they've captured for themselves to help others.
The ecosystem is global now. Theoretically, Trump knows how to contain as much of the energy within the United States as possible, while not sacrificing the advantages- the supply of foreign energy (money) that comes from globalization. He's spent his life exploiting the system to his advantage and its possible he'll be able to do the same for the United States as he also fixes some of the problems he'd previously exploited and fixes some of the policies which stifle economic growth here. If he's right and if he can grow into the job, then the United States, as a species in an international jungle, will probably benefit. The problem is that a country also needs to be insulated from danger and unified internally in order to be prosperous.
The problem with Trump is that he's probably going to cause internal unrest between races, classes, genders, religions, and a nation-state can't flourish when suffering such disunity. Maybe worse, the presidency is disproportionately powerful in international relations when measured against the other two branches. He says inflammatory things and his ego could be a major problem. Certainly worse, his attitude about aerial bombardment is extremely dangerous and his attitude towards resolving the terror problem is a bit blind to the true causes of Islamic radicalism. Even if his economic programs work, and they might not, he might be a source of internal and external conflict the likes of which this country hasn't suffered in a long time. But that's what I mean about him growing into the position. He had a moment last night reading a speech from the Teleprompter when he said "bind the wounds of division" but immediately glanced at the camera to ad lib something like "meaning to get along" or something. Not wrong necessarily to speak in simpler language there, but eloquent language is valuable towards inspiring people. More than that, id hope he doesn't continue amending the words he's been written because they're often going to be diplomatic and careful, and he needs to trust them.
Our political system, regardless of your leanings, presents us with a Republican Party, on one hand, that largely sees its solutions as the common sense, reality- driven approach to addressing the country’s problems and needs. To them, ‘collectivization’ and liberalism-- idealism-- wouldn’t work because such utopian ideas don’t survive economic or psychological realities. The Democrats, on the other hand, see their solutions as imperfect measures meant to respond to the inequities and challenges of modern society, and see the government as the chief purveyor of compassion. When President Obama’s health care program didn’t produce cheaper premiums or greater care, their response-- that it meant only that the program needed to be improved, not scrapped-- was symbolic in its encapsulation of the heart of their viewpoint: that the wreckage human progress has left in its wake is a field of inventions which required perfection before they worked; that the bow, the chariot, the telephone, computers, and flight all required a willfull re-designing until they worked, and that the value they have brought to human life has made all of the failures and energy worth the cost.
The election exposed what has long been the fundamental flaw in America’s political climate: the two parties, and their respective platforms, have engulfed the debate to an extent that the narrative on each issue is no longer informed by objective meditation, but embroiled in accusation and inflammatory verbiage. What is essential has been lost, and association with a party, consistent with a line-by-line dedication to its doctrine, has superseded the ultimate value of the discussion. Once a member of the Republican Party, I now count myself amongst the disenfranchised mass of Americans who’ve abandoned-formally or by emotional detachment-their affiliation to either of our two most powerful and destructive machines. Of course that recognition carried me into contest with my former fellows, and I began asking myself why party affiliation must compel us to complete obedience to an elaborate set of stances; it seems unnatural for free people to be so tied to mob-thought. I wondered whether being Republican or Democrat was akin to being in a gang, and whether my comrades expected me to be devoid of reflection and objectivity. Because I believe in a low tax rate, I must also support the death penalty, or be pro-life, or argue against the concept of global warming? I’m not divulging my personal opinions on those issues because I don’t think my opinion matters in this larger sense. I think what’s important is that people can build bonds with one another and constructively come together under a common cause, free to disagree while still united by those overarching aims, and free to strive to improve the lot of others, their nation, and their own conditions.
The great dismissive criticism of the republicans, that they lack compassion, is false. Republicans believe that, for the most part, human beings are fundamentally good. They believe that people should keep the great majority of their income, with which they will make decisions on healthcare, education, and savings for the future/the unexpected. Republicans believe that human nature is altruistic, and that people, corporations, and spiritual institutions should be the sources and mediums by which compassion is delivered to those in need-and that government bureaucracy, by its nature, is unfit to efficiently or heart-fully do so. Casting aside conservative minded Americans as rapacious, selfish capitalists is as damning for the state as is the perception of democrats as irresponsible and lazy. Whereas Republicans believe the empowerment of individuals to be our best hope for greatness, democrats believe our best hope is to come together, to collect our resources and wealth, for the government to distribute and direct accordingly. Democrats aren’t irresponsible, they believe that people are ultimately responsible for one another, and that together we can be better.
The debate isn’t over which side is evil, but rather over human nature and which measures, or compromise of measures will best allow us to reach our potential as a state and a species. Both parties are right. It’s a fundamental challenge we face in our personal lives, balancing working with ‘what is’ and working towards ‘what we’d like it to be’, so why shouldn’t we similarly suffer with that problem as a group? Sweeping cultural changes need to be carried to some threshold by the tides, but how to welcome the tides? Particularly when so many benefit from there being no tide? Republicans must realize that some of the criticisms of capitalism and the consequences of individual empowerment over collective good are founded on a recognition that the worst of us can be selfish, greedy, and uncaring. Conversely, the Democrats must realize that their concept of community collectiveness requires that some pay for others to do nothing. There are those who take advantage of a distribution of wealth. Further, the incentive to work harder and innovate for the sake of your family in the future and present is more powerful and true to what we are then the incentive to work harder and innovate for people you don’t know and out of a sense of making the world a better place.
So in my personal convictions, I'm leftward bound. For the sake of the species, I believe in cooperation and collectivization, and I believe in liberalism’s abilities to forge new tools and institutions which carry us into something new. But I understand the value of fiscal conservatism- its fundamental ideas on human psychology and economic health; it's fundamental ideas on man as animal. I am leftward bound, but dragging a paw- that animal nature that wants to think only of the energy available to my family, and sees value in fighting for it. And again I circle back to the question that began my shift:
To what end do we sacrifice maximum productivity and benefit for the sake of the advancement of the species, of collective society, of a new balance between combustibility and stability, for the development of tools and institutions which might, as they develop, as so many have before, evolve us in turn?