Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What now? Americans and the rest of the world

The American election is a very complicated event to analyze, but on the whole I feel a little relieved.  It seemed that some dark forces would overcome some progressive efforts.  This election was the most expensive ever in absolute terms.  Also one candidate played around with the truth to an unusual degree.

In order to get the nomination Mitt Romney tried to outdo a lot of very hard core conservatives and then realizing the national voters were a bit scared of some of his statements modified and twisted them considerably.  There was a lot of deception that apparently some people took seriously.  If the Republicans had succeeded it would have led to the Democrats doing more of the same.

Over a century ago Alexis De Tocqueville pointed out that in a democracy the poor will vote for their own interests.  That is true and dangerous, but it needs to be balanced against a natural tendency for elites to concentrate their power.

The Republicans have long realized that their economic policies favoring the wealthy establishment were not well received by the masses and so have married their strategy to a lot of social concerns that for significant population segments overwhelmed their own economic self interest.

 Race was one social concern and it was visible.  Barrack Obama was pictured as a Muslim, as an angry black man and as not one of us (for instance when Sarah Palin suggested "real America" is where she felt most comfortable).  Although many white people resented a black man at the top they were also concerned that other minorities were changing their culture, especially Latinos.

Gay rights is another area that some are adamantly opposed to.  My own education is perhaps typical of my generation.  Once it was a joking matter that hid fears of not being masculine enough or of being a prey.  Most likely I encountered lots of gays without realizing it because in my youth it was something hidden away.  Later when I actually met some I realized they are not a whole lot different or less deserving.  Now more gays are being open and you realize they have made and want to make contributions to society.  By denying them their share of happiness it affects all of us.

Abortion is still another concern that motivates voting choices.  It can be very emotional, but not more so than for those confronted directly with it.  I agree that the idea is repulsive, however as a male I am not intimately exposed to it and feel I have no right to impose my feelings on someone who has a life decision with grave consequences.  The Democrats don't applaud abortion either and have articulated that it should be legal, safe and rare.  To me two of the most practical ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies and thus abortions are sex education and contraception, two areas that are opposed by the most extreme anti-abortionists.  My suspicion is that they are against promiscuity and feel that pre-marital sex should be punished.  Life is precious and there are other ways to respect it than reflexively opposing abortion in all contexts.

The hard core conservatives felt they had earned their right to the rewards of a prosperous society and were not going to let lazy inferior beings take anything away.  They dismiss their advantages and forget the element of luck that worked in their favour.  Letting their own greed take over they plot to control the rest of us trying to go about our lives.  Most of us believe in rewards based on merit, but admit that some people get more than their share.

The Democrats did not really win as the Republicans still retain control of the House of Representatives  who can continue to frustrate progressive measures not approved of by the wealthy or conservatives.  They could block all sorts of efforts to improve the American economy and freedom.  They will be watched more closely this time.

Some things going against the Republican strategy include minorities are becoming the majority on a daily basis.  Immigration will need to increase to fill the vacuum left by us baby boomers.  The health care program, although far from perfect will become increasingly popular as it has everywhere else in the world.  If inequality increases, more Americans will realize that the Republicans are the ones most responsible for diminishing the American Dream even as they proclaim they are its champions.  Something will have to give.

There will be a lot of soul searching amongst the Republicans.  You can't accomplish much if you can't get elected.  Hard core conservatism is diminishing in appeal.  Social media assures that candidates will not always be able to mislead people against their own self interest.

The whole electoral system creates a lot of unhealthy things.  The campaign goes far too long.  With new Supreme Court rulings money is playing way too big a role.  The electoral college assures small states have disproportionate power. Because some states are too entrenched in their voting patterns the candidates of the two main parties emphasize too much time and effort courting those who are in "swing" states.  The American primary system encourages promises to early states to build momentum.

The long range problems that Americans and the rest of the world need to tackle require immediate attention. Climate change, inequality, joblessness, overpopulation, pollution and democracy need to be priorities.  Americans still have the idea that they are the centre of the world.  That is changing and part of that is their own fault.

They are only a tiny fraction of the world's population yet gobble up disproportionate resources.  Although they tout the wonders of freedom they (I include myself in this) are not nearly as willing to work hard as much of the rest of the world.  Much of the third world is resentful of American attitudes while at the same time craving the perks of living in America.  Americans have been bullies and have allied themselves with foreign power abusers.  The world won't change overnight, but if we cultivate healthy attitudes the world will be better for all.  Obviously this will be very difficult, and the benefits will be a long time coming.

The future presents a lot of challenges to the world's population.  Most of us are only vaguely aware of the forces that could tear us apart.  Overpopulation may not be the threat it once was, but is still a major concern.  As industrializaton, urbanization and education (all tied together with greater power for women) birth rates have been declining everywhere.  We still need to be concerned about the pressure on our resources such as water, food and energy.

Climate change is known to be true by most scientists who have studied it and is felt to have some truth by increasing numbers of people who are affected by it.  It suggests we need to rely on fossil fuels a lot less just when many of us are tied into it tighter than ever.  Apparently meat eating is another luxury that contributes.  We need to understand our planet's climate better and start taking more serious steps to mitigate the bad trends.  We can't all wait for others to take the first step.

Joblessness doesn't have to be a problem, but the way we are organized it takes fewer and fewer people to supply the needs of the rest of us.  Agriculture is one example in that at one time most of our ancestors were engaged in farming, but today only a relatively small number of people are required to feed the rest of us.  In third world countries people are moving off the farms and taking on low wage jobs.   In first world nations technology is performing more tasks that used to be done by humans.

Unions fought hard to get decent wages for an 8 hour day and indirectly almost everyone benefits in the sense that there are more customers for more goods.  Conservative governments have succeeded in limiting the power of unions dramatically.  Unions still have some power and like others with power try to maintain their own status quo.  All people will need co-operation between employers and employees to optimize resources and opportunities.  Opportunities will come with expanded leisure time.  We have steadily been moving towards a service economy and that can continue as more people enjoy recreation, education and healthcare opportunities.  The entrenched establishment will oppose trends they see as diminishing their power.  We all benefit when each person gets a fair chance.

Bureaucracy may become a challenge.  There may be a danger that in our zealousness we create more inspectors, and regulators that stifle entreprenurial efforts instead of just controlling dangerous habits. Some people can be employed in cleaning up pollution and other messy problems.  Organic farming is more labour intensive.  In general although being big has advantages, small can also be beautiful.

No comments:

Post a Comment