Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Something For Everyone

There is, as I understand it, a subset of Utopian thinking, that centers around the idea that in a truly better world everyone gets something better than what they have now. This gets something of a bad rap. Which is unfortunate, because we could use more of it, especially in politics. There are people, on either side of the political spectrum who work to advance their chosen ideology out of a sincere belief that if the world was run their way, everyone would be better off. Now, you could debate that point with them, and if you happened to rest a different point along the continuum, you likely would, but you could still come away from the discussion with an understanding that, misguided or not, this person has everyone's best interests at heart. The flip side of this Utopian understanding of politics seems to be a steadily growing punitive approach - where one of the desired, (if not necessary) goals is the direct injury of those who disagree.

Again, this is not limited to any one ideology - both Liberals and Conservatives have fallen into the trap of wishing ill of those who have the temerity to not think like them. Of course, this isn't a new idea - the idea that one's political outlook is an objective truth, rather than a subjective understanding, has long bred the idea that there is no such thing as honest disagreement. And once you come to the conclusion that the people who are voting against you are acting out of ill intent, it's only a short step away from one's sense of fairness (also a concept that perhaps too many of us see as objective) demanding retribution.

But, as they say, down that road lies madness. As economic, social and other difficulties encourage Americans to turn on each other, the very unity of purpose which would be our greatest asset in solving those same problems erodes, and risks sparking a vicious cycle. To be sure, Americans have rarely been as unified as we like to think we are. It's difficult enough for a homogeneous nation to avoid division and factionalism - in a heterogeneous one, it's effectively impossible. But even with that, it's possible to understand that we're all in this together, and that hanging together is very much preferable to hanging separately.

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