no trees were harmed in the making of this blog
I suppose when it comes to politics I am a bit of a mixed bag. I think ideally moving away from a large federal state, a massive coporate economy and toward a localized, self-determining economy and lifestyle and government would be a good thing. I think practically this is very difficult and probably not very likely. While I have been, and remain, a critic of globalism, liberalism, free trade, and capitalism, I’m also aware that these are not necessarily bad nor are they going anywhere any time soon.
Along those lines, I’m also aware that there are really, really good things that have come from modernity, from liberalism, from good, healthy trade. Ideally, if all the theories panned out the way they were supposed to, these returns (in wealth, peace, prosperity) would all be more apparent than they are, but nevertheless, good has come from them all. This good is tangible. The fact that I have a venue like this to ramble with – that blogging even exists – is a testament to the remarkable technology that modern science has produced. That the internet is also largely responsible for the demise of the newspapers, is one of the costs attributed with rapid technological advancement. While I mourn the loss of the newspapers, I also realize the wonderful benefits of the internet as a medium for news and information. As well as for me, for that matter. It’s even good for the trees, since we at the League can honestly say that no trees were harmed in the making of this blog.
Then again it does sap my time. I often think I should be reading books instead, trees be damned! But there are no handy links to click, no Youtube videos, no wikis….just words, words, words….
Trade-offs abound. Such is the world.
Liberalism at large has had many amazing benefits as well. As Freddie points out:
it is not merely the arc of humanity that seemingly increases those who deserve the protection of human rights, but the arc of liberalism, and I think that a not entirely useless definition of American liberalism is the project of more fully, equitably and charitably ensuring these rights.
Now, Freddie was discussing an issue which I won’t touch on in this post, but I think this notion of liberalism and gradually broadening (if sometimes conflicting) human rights is a good point, and certainly necessary to bring up in the face of anyone advocating a return to some sort of pre-modern way of doing things. Pre-modern advocates are oftentimes romantics, and they look at the world through the lens of materialism and individualism and I think in some way miss a world they never knew, a fantasy world where everything was meaningful and exceptional, where the struggle was less existential and more tangible. I fall into this trap from time to time. As a child I loathed the very notion of cars. I wanted to do away with them altogether. I would wind up depressed when I came to the realization that essentially whatever direction I might set out in, if I walked far enough I’d come to a road. There were no more empty places. This was tragic to a boy immersed in Tolkien and Lewis and the myriad Arthurian legends I devoured.
This sense of longing for a time we never knew, infused greatly with history and fantasy, and now drenched in the failures of modern economic theory is a perfect recipe for disillusionment with the status quo. It’s easy to forget all the good things – like human rights – that modernity has brought upon its back. But just because there is no realistic way to rewind to some forgotten era where we all lived off the land, off our hands and toil, in villages where we all knew (and liked!) our neighbors doesn’t mean we can’t find wisdom in the past. I don’t mean in the folktales, but in the actual ways of doing business. You see all sorts of movements toward this, from Crunchy Cons to Front Porch Republics to, quite frankly, the hippies that play drums down in the park outside the library every afternoon.
At one point in time capitalism was built upon the notion of real goods. I’d make something, sell it to you, you’d use it to sustain you while you produced something else to sell to my sister-in-law who in turn would use it to make into something else and sell it and so on and so forth. There is simply good, sturdy wisdom in moving our economy back into the realm of real markets. And I think there is also a case to be made for emphasis on the domestic market over the global market. Once upon a time in this nation, it didn’t matter that all our kids weren’t graduating high school or that they didn’t all attend college, because there were good jobs to be had here – jobs that you could be proud of and that could sustain you and your family. These jobs are wiped out by the global market, but graduation rates aren’t rising. And even if everyone was graduating high school, I haven’t yet seen a job market strong enough to employ every college grad in a high-paying service job. So can we look to this part of the 1950’s and find wisdom while at the same time rejecting the rampant inequities and racial divisions that existed socially at the time?
Sometimes trade-offs are necessary. A few newspapers must die because that’s what human progress has staked out. Companies do fail, which is one reason we should never allow them to become too big to fail. Then again, a lot of small newspapers will die too, and yet perhaps there’s just not that much news to report in a small town anyways. Perhaps a local newspaper could be run perfectly well by one or two people running a website and doing interviews with local businessmen and politicians. Maybe this is actually even more grassroots than the alternative: local papers as branches in much larger organizations. In this sense I see technology and modernity actually working toward perhaps less profit but even more localized control, as it has in the music industry. You lose some jobs, to be sure, and what to replace them with is beyond me. Therein lies the rub, I think. The trade-off is never clean or easy. That’s the real appeal of free trade, too. If we really submit to the will of the invisible hand, we’ll all be taken care of without the burden of determining whether or not something is good or whether or not a compromise should be made. Faith in the market sets us free.
I’ll take the good with the bad, and do my best to nudge the direction of things to come in ways I believe to be the best. I think there is room for protection and freedom in trade if we choose to actually govern and not throw everything to the whim of the markets, which are too easily manipulated by the greedy, or ever put too much faith in the state, which is stifling. I think there is room for the state to grow and to shrink, and the same goes for many corporations. I think there is a time and place to “spread the wealth around” lest the entire edifice of wealth in this nation should crumble in upon itself.
There are never any great options. That’s why compromises have to be made. We can never have the fairy tale past we imagine existed somewhere long ago back because we’d miss running water and the right to vote and the equality of women and so forth too much. We’d be perturbed by pre-modern people as they would by us. But that also doesn’t mean we need to accept every damn thing that modernity kicks our way, either. Compromise can be bad, too. It can represent the will of the powerful over the will of the weak. And that’s just the tricky thing about it. It’s case by case.
Update. And as I wrote this Scott had just put together this piece touching on some of the same issues but in a very different way. Go read it, too…
There is a sense of place and time that only comes from truly living somewhere, from placing down roots and feeling that place as home in your bones. However, there is also a sense of being in the world writ large as it evolves, of being open to that wide lens of shifts and changes and understanding that what happens half way across the world does have an impact you and yours.
Now that’s compromise we can believe in…