Monday, July 9, 2012

The great divide.

Political affinity would appear to have little to do with intelligence, education or any of many other standard measures used to analyze governing principles or human behavior. There are many highly intelligent and educated people who align themselves with either the Republican or the Democratic parties. Of course from the perspective of one or the other, the opposition always seems wrong-headed and either a bleeding-heart liberal, socialist or a self-absorbed Nazi. All of these derogatory terms superficially gloss over the essential differences underscoring political affinity.

If we can set aside (at least temporarily) the name-calling and sagaciously consider some differences, perhaps we can zero in on the problem(s) and thus identify some solutions that could bridge a widening gap between these two.

I’ll boldly go where angels fear to tread and suggest that what lies at the heart of this divide is a fundamental perspective regarding how we understand ourselves. Consider two perspectives:

Perspective number one: All people, while they may be created equal, are really very different when it comes to motivation, willingness to work hard and capacity to achieve their rightful rewards. What I earn is mine. What you earn (or don’t) belongs to you. There are makers (people who contribute to the wellbeing of the world) and there are takers (people who are leaches and suck off the productivity of the makers). Standards should be discerned, established, preserved and maintained by the makers and complied with by the takers. The wealth of the world should be provided for the benefit of the makers. There are winners and losers.

Perspective number two: All people are created equal although opportunities to prosper and realize one’s potential are inequitably distributed, passed on and preserved by the makers. The nature of life is far too complex to predict, anticipate and plan for changes that disrupt capacities. Everyone should earn as much as they can and recognize that nobody can truly earn anything by himself or herself. Cooperation, sharing and compassion are essential qualities upon which a civilized culture is based. Standards should be discerned, preserved and maintained by a willing consensus of workers and investors. The wealth of the world should be provided for the benefit of all people. There can’t be any long-term difference between winners and losers. Unless everyone wins, to some significant degree, instability and chaos will reign.

What accounts for these two perspectives? The answer should be self-evident. The first group is concerned with what they consider their just reward, whether or not it serves the larger good. They are motivated out of fear and preservation of the status quo, which is tilted in favor of concentrated wealth. This group is competitive and values winning at the expense of others. The second group dances to a very different tune. They are persuaded that cooperation must be the prevailing standard and believes that unless everyone is given an equal shot, imbalance will ensue and winning will be unjust, encouraging greed and discouraging incentives.

These are the two views considered by intelligent and educated people, both of whom remain convinced of their own perspectives. It is ludicrous to think that any such analysis, however sage, will suddenly result in one person or many adopting a different perspective, but in the heat of political spins leading to the coming elections it is a good thing to pause and appraise the spin according to this assessment. In the end it seems to boil down to a single issue: How we understand ourselves, either as an isolated individual or a member of a cooperative human race.
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