Monday, September 13, 2004

Reader Viewpoint 

Occasionally, I get an especially insightful letter from a reader. This one is from "hightor":

I really enjoyed reading the two latest essays on your page and the linked articles. Liked this quote from Churchill: "Cultured people are merely the glittering scum which floats upon the deep river of production." Wow. I think the reaction against liberalism goes back further than '64 -- as you say, it could almost be a part of human nature, the two poles of innovation and self-interest. The Great Regression has been, perhaps, given its ideological direction and political vocabulary by the Neo-Cons, but certainly the right had long been actively opposed to the manifestations of the New Deal. The Soviets provided the ideal foil, with their rhetoric based on humanism and their actions grounded firmly in despotism. If the Commies said "Up with workers", that was all the reason we needed to shout "Down with Unions". The famous Marxian social contract, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" was effectively co-opted by a byzantine notion of "entitlement" -- the poor were relegated to demonstrating their "ability" by being forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops, and it was business whose "needs" were satisfied, as meager cash payouts were quickly spent on food and cigarettes. A truly "liberal" approach to poverty would involve education, access to job training and actual "jobs" -- even of the "make work" variety. Instead, a managed underclass begins to form, nourished by the incessant display of goodies on TV and billboards which substitute disneyfied cultural images for personal dreams of a truly fulfilling life.

Oh Violet, nature lover that I am, I do hate to see the regressive inclination disparagingly referred to as "animal". To me, it is as profoundly human as altruism. When our ancestors were ranging over the savanna, life was a short, questionable enterprise, where a broken arm or a bad case of indigestion could leave one helpless and at the mercy of competing bands of apes. As "strongmen" emerged, and the beginnings of political leadership began to develop, these characters tapped into various evolutionary mechanisms to enhance their power and control. One of these mechanisms was "tradition", an aspect of caution, through which new generations were taught the collected knowledge of which roots and berries to eat and which to avoid. It wasn't difficult for the strongmen to transform this sense from the physical realm to the cultural, and to paint the competing mechanism of "curiosity" as a danger to the tribe. I think that our bifurcated minds, developed to face the danger of imminent extinction, now slop lazily around in a sea of relative security, and are easily molded by tastemakers and demagogues. The innovators now work in areas far removed from typical experience, curiosity's evolutionary function displaced by the institutionalization of research as product development.

Should Bush win -- and that is quite likely -- I will be very interested in seeing how long it will take for a countering force to develop and what shape it will take. Somehow, I don't feel that marching in the streets is going to do it this time around.

The regressive inclination is as profoundly human as our animal nature. The progressive inclination is what makes us different from other animals. As we developed the qualities that are uniquely human, the balance of control between the two inclinations shifted to the progressive side. Eventually, the progressive inclination will establish permanent control; when that happens, humanity will unleash its potential.

Somehow, I have a feeling that we're living through a pivotal epoch in our evolution: the battle between inclinations on a global scale. It's obvious that we still have a long way to go.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?