Thursday, August 2, 2012

Romney's "Culture" And Things Worth Keeping In Mind

Oh messy politics. Here we've been going, constantly. It's an unpleasant business, the American political landscape and all that's tied to it. I really dislike it. I wish it were cleaner and more positive. I'd prefer we all fall into our respective camps of belief, follow the credo invoked by many a Republican of an individual's right to personal liberty -- although that seems to be not without a few caveats regardless of the political persuasion of whoever's invoking the term.

Ostensibly, if you're a stereotypical Republican you believe "personal liberty" refers to one's right to own as many firearms as you choose to (and as much ammo to power those arms as you choose, likewise), freedom of Christian religion to be plastered everywhere you deem it's needed (i.e. everywhere), and freedom to hate the poor for choosing poverty (and gays for choosing to be gay). That, rather glibly, sums them up, right?

Conversely, if you're a stereotypical Democrat you believe in "personal liberty" to the extent that it doesn't offend others (and frankly, I get that and agree; but Steve Carell didn't just invent Michael Scott from nothing, the character came from alarmingly real source material; some people just don't understand how what they say is offensive, a consortium that -- like it or not, free and considerate speech advocates -- will always be part of the discourse). And Democrats will retain their right to be offended, sometimes adequately in proportion and sometimes less than adequately (Republicans often resort to the very same, in cases that usually begin with a Republican saying something offensive and not liking the response). The point is, Democrats dislike and often react poorly to a bigot's invocation of personal liberty. Democrats are also often guilty of hubris -- of being the know it all that thinks (s)he knows it all, but nobody does. And they could absolutely learn somethings from their Republican counterparts if they would likewise learn about them, and why Republicans see the country in the terms they do.

(If you haven't yet guessed, I'm more sympathetic to Democrats than Republicans. And when I cite each party affiliation I'm referring primarily to the people, the masses, who claim them as their ideologies of choice and not the politicians, who are usually far more similar than they are different.)

The problem consistently becomes one of unwillingness (or perhaps outright inability) to even attempt to understand another person's perspective. I try to imagine the notion of culture as, perhaps, Mitt Romney intended when he made the rather glaring mistake of identifying the difference between Israel and Palestine as one of "culture." I've seen the closeness of tight-knit rural communities firsthand. People in these places would bend over backwards for those whom they love and believe they can trust. And what's the best way to delineate whom you can trust from whom you cannot? How alike are they to you? Difference, just as an evolutionary consideration, can mean danger, can mean harmful, can upset a balanced ecosystem. It doesn't change the fact that by and large, in this day and age, we have little to fear from that historical Other. People are people, some are not ones with whom you'd like to be close, and others are. But there simply is no superficial set of criteria on which to base this decision. Romney couldn't have failed to notice the general differences between the average Palestinian and the average Israeli. Certainly, even if distinction by skin color isn't quite so easy in the Middle East as it was in the Jim Crow South, there are other superficial means. Though it wasn't always true, Americans are much more comfortable with Orthodox Jewish dress than they are typically with, say, an Orthodox Muslim's. You can see how someone of Romney's unarguably insulated background would find it easier to identify points of common interest among a largely Jewish population than a largely Muslim population, and that's without even addressing all the weight of generations of socio-political distinction between the two closely linked nation states (although one is not recognized as a sovereignty by the United States; I'll let you guess which one).

Fareed Zakaria is correct. At its most simplistic, the difference between these two regions is capitalism. Moreover, we must understand the distinction between Israelis and Palestinians is simply far more complex and far more monetarily attributable than some dubious notion of superior "culture" -- a term which to me might as well be referring to superior race. Culture has become the new, veiled term for previous and more overt labels.

What is it about human nature that on the one hand aspires to achieve so much and on the other lazily attempts to categorize self from others by facile determination? Blacks are intellectually inferior for some reason that was (and still is) conveniently and most enthusiastically put forth by White people. Why not let people become who they can become, before deciding that ahead of time? Plainly put, why do we aspire to achieve so much but constantly resort to some lazy, simplistic analysis of our fellow people? And why not understand that more often than not individual success is the product of community? Community on a wider scale could have a tremendously positive effect. That infrastructure is a good thing. That the poorest members of society should be protected from oligarchs. But don't take my word for it, as Adam Gopnik over at the New Yorker has extensively delved into, what were capitalism's preeminent founder Adam Smith's thoughts on the nature of labor and employer? How about this from Smith's seminal work, The Wealth of Nations:
He [the laborer] supplies them [the employer] abundantly with what they have occasion for, and they accommodate him as amply with what he has occasion for, and a general plenty diffuses itself through all the different ranks of society. 

I anticipate I might get comments about how government impedes this relationship, that it's the government and high rates of taxation that prevent employers from being more equable with wages. But how can we believe that, at this point? And what's more, even if you consider that the rate of corporate profit has finally begun to decline, for the first time since 2008!, they're still at a "paltry" 6.4 billion. The NY Times article further notes that the downturn has more to do with foreign markets than with domestic ones, something worthwhile to keep in mind.

I mean, isn't having a solid infrastructure across all strata of society desirable? For everyone?

No comments:

Post a Comment