The following is an essay by blog member William:
It is in the nature of humans to search for answers and meaning. Ideally, this is a good thing. An apple falls off a tree and hits the ground, and we want to know why it went down rather than up. We want to know why it is light outside at some times, and dark at others. And of course the things we want to know about extend beyond those which the “hard sciences” study. We want to know why we are attracted to some people and not to others; or why we prefer one piece of music to another. We don’t have to know the answers to those things, but we want to learn about them, because we are naturally curious, and because we think that we might learn important lessons about ourselves, or even change various behaviors.
But in the search for answers, it is often too tempting for people to look for the easy answer. It is difficult to undertake complex analysis. And it leaves us with a vaguely dissatisfied sense of incompleteness. We realize that we are not sure; that we are concluding certain things without all the information. We might want to learn more, read more, discuss all the aspects. Or sometimes we have to make a decision fairly quickly and so we are frustrated by uncertainty. This is an understandable thing, but it is also potentially dangerous.
In my opinion, which I admit is somewhat intellectually elitist, the capacity to reason seems to be in decline. Maybe not so much in the hard sciences, but certainly in the soft sciences, and in aesthetics. The internet gives us plenty of information of varying validity, but most of the people who write the essays and articles don’t seem to be able to realize their logical fallacies; or how in their rush to support their position, they are ignoring important data, current or historical. But more and more of this facile analysis goes on. We are getting to a place where everyone has an opinion, which in general is a good thing; but not when so many of the opinions are based on nothing more than emotional reaction. Emotional reactions are fine in certain aspects of our lives, but not nearly so much in making important decisions about whom to vote for, or our own political or social philosophy. Those who do not much enjoy the difficulty of reasoning, or who want to sell you something, are apt to extol the value of “going with your feelings, or your “gut.” Sometimes that is worthwhile, but very often it is wrong and full of risk.
We are facing a world which is so unsettling and frustrating. And I think that the internet, even with the various things of value it may present, tends to accentuate these feelings. One can feel envious, impotent, angry, because of things that one reads about. On a social and political level, people are unhappy about the way things are. Most of them do not read any history, and disdained the schools and books where they could have learned some of it. So to them there are no long-term antecedents to anything; everything is a tabula rasa upon which they impatiently impose their gut feelings about the things which perplex or frustrate them.
So we have seen the rise of the so-called “Tea Party” movement, at least ostensibly born by the collapse of banks and Wall Street, and the bailout. This purports to be a populist movement, representing “the little guy” against the monoliths. But of course it contains aspects of racism, sexism, hatred of all liberal government social programs. I do not even quite know how the anger at the economic meltdown turns into a blaming of liberals, who were not in control when it happened, but there is no real logic behind this, except the logic of righteous anger. They are going to make someone pay for this. Most of them will end up voting for right-wing corporate candidates who will actually cause more of the same. . But these voters can’t figure that out.
On the Left, we have various radicals, would-be anarchists, who hate the prevailing order. They think that no Democrat ever went far enough to cure the social and economic inequalities. They are looking for someone to ride in and reverse centuries of history, by somehow getting us back to some imagined blissful agrarian communal age. Or sometimes they haven’t thought this out, but just want more money or a better job for themselves, but under the rubric of revolution.
We see from the polls that most of Americans are angry. Very angry. They are unhappy; they hate our leaders; they hate the President; they hate the Congress; they hate the political parties. They want it fixed, now! And such people are so susceptible to the blandishments of hucksters, con artists, incipient fascist dictators. In Europe, after World War I, with millions of people unemployed and starving, and inflation ravaging economies, people turned to a series of evil people who promised order. Some turned to radicals who promised revolution. But as is usually the case, the fascist dictators eliminated most of the revolutionary types, and took over complete control.
You can call that the Scylla and Charybdis which loom up when there is frustration, discontent, and too few people who look for a moderate path, or intelligently thought out solutions. Some want revolution and chaos; some want a leader to clamp down, and take control. And they fall for simplistic and hateful explanations as to how things went wrong for them. In Europe,”the Jews are responsible” was of course the myth purveyed by the fascists in a variety of countries. Not, “the stupidity and willfulness of the various royal families of the 19th and 20th Centuries led to that horrible war and the misery it caused.” The royal families were mostly gone; much easier to kill as many Jewish people as possible to assuage the sense of impotent outrage the masses felt. And of course revel in nationalistic fervor, and end up starting another World War.
In this country, we are not suffering the deprivations of Europe in 1920. But it is true that real wages have been stagnant for decades; and that while the unemployment rate has declined, many of those jobs are not good ones. So people, unmoored from security, want some kind of quick answer and solution. Trump and Sanders tell them that it is because of bad trade deals. Sanders says it is because too many companies go overseas for jobs. Trump says it is because the companies are taxed too much. Both of them have no real plan to fix this, except that Trump will belligerently demand that other countries accede to our wishes on trade–or something dire will happen to them. Sanders says we need a revolution to unseat the banks and bankers, and give the money out to the average citizens. Sanders says that Wall Street was the cause of the crash, and that people must be sent to jail. Trump says that the cause of the stagnant economy is liberal policies of one sort or another.
One could of course go on and on with this. It appears that the voting masses are very attracted to the anger evoked by the arguments and declamations of Trump and Sanders. Poll after poll shows that vast numbers of the electorate, on both sides, are very angry at the government, and think that we are on “the wrong track.” What the right track is, they are much less understanding of. The Right hates gridlock in Washington, even though it is their own side that is causing the gridlock, to the extent of threatening to shut down the government every other month, and filibustering every bill they don’t like; or refusing to hold hearings on judges and Supreme Court Justices they disfavor. The Left loved Obama, the fantasy projective candidate of “hope and change,” but he disappointed them; so now they search for another fantasy projective candidate who says, “we need a revolution,” and they have another one waiting in the wings in case this one lets them down as well.
What the supporters of both Trump and Sanders either can’t understand, or are unwilling to, is that they are being sold a bill of goods. Trump will not fix the economy, he will make it infinitely worse, as all free marketers have done throughout our history. And he would be a fascist leader who is capable of starting wars out of his bellicosity, or taking away civil rights en masse. Sanders would not get one of his proposals even to the floor of Congress, much less through it. And he does not tell people that his policies would massively raise tax rates on middle class people in order to reward young people for fueling his movement, by giving them free college tuition.
Hillary Clinton, who does not call for a revolution, or offer simplistic answers, is not appealing to young voters who apparently have no idea what came before them, or what American history can teach us. She is criticized for sounding careful, not “authentic” in the way that the radical Socialist Sanders or the Fascist Trump do. Hitler and Mussolini were “authentic”; so were the anarchists who put bombs everywhere. Zealots always sound authentic. Rational moderates often do not, by comparison. How does one compete with people who sound sure about everything, and angrily call for some sort of war against those who disagree with them?
Yes, there are things wrong with our economy, and have always been. We absolutely need to try to fix them, even though intelligent people will realize that some of the institutional forces are not just going away, and that we must work around them, or even at times with them. I know that this is not satisfying to people who have learned to seek the quickest and most facile answers.They want a wizard to wave his wand and make everything return to some wholly imagined American Pastoral. But the most famous wizard, the Wizard of Oz, was of course a charlatan, relying on special effects and credulous people to fear and revere him. The lure of the person with the simple explanations and answers, has plagued humans for thousands of years. The disdain of those who try to speak to people as if they are intelligent and nuanced enough to understand that complex problems require complex solutions, is also a human tendency, a very foolish and potentially destructive one.
Filed under: Uncategorized