A Short Meditation on Politics and Creative Destruction

Watching the blockade in the US Congress over raising the budget deficit gave me pause to reflect on the nature of the progress of humanity. 

The dishonesty of the debates and their careless use of US solvency to give power to ideological positions made me wonder–briefly–whether it makes sense to believe in human progress at all. As a child of the 70’s, I hoped that the US had left such fundamentalism behind it for good–or at least been able to relegate it to the darker corners of its civilization.

Yet the politicians who put on the show are but the representatives of their constituencies. Taking sides (beyond having one’s own opinion and values on the issue) gets us nowhere. Both sides of the debate are bankrupt, empty of any ability to reach meaningful consensus on the big issues like finance on which our collective well-being depends. They mirror the emptiness of vision and ideas of the people, and of the monied interests who have power because the people lack the vitality to stop their self-serving actions and integrate them back into a healthy economy and body politic as useful citizens.

This is how paradigms shift, and empires fall.

Yet the conservatives have a special role in the drama, having committed themselves, for want of alternatives for action which could be consistent with their beliefs, to something which smells of a Mephistophelean nihilism:

I am the Spirit that denies!
And justly so: for all things, from the Void
Called forth, deserve to be destroyed:
‘Twere better, then, were naught created.
Thus, all which you as Sin have rated,–
Destruction,–aught with Evil blent,–
That is my proper element
(Gutenberg Edition of Faust, p. 153)

(Original:
Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint!
Und das mit Recht, denn alles, was entsteht,
Ist wert, daß es zugrunde geht;
Drum besser wär’s, daß nichts entstünde.
So ist denn alles, was ihr Sünde,
Zerstörung, kurz, das Böse nennt
Mein eigentliches Element. (Faust)

Just say no!

Obama’s adult reflectiveness has about as much of chance against a believer’s “no” as a snowflake in hell. Rationality is not the level on which the debates are being played out.

Where is the silver lining? How can a belief in progress be maintained? Here, I am beginning to believe, Schumpeterian destruction may be afoot on a cultural level. The structures of the mind–both on the left and on the right–which currently determine our responses to the various crises that are upon us are outdated, and have become more of a risk to our endeavors than part of the solution. They must go. But, as Keynes has already noted, “Our difficulty lies not so much in developing good ideas as in escaping from the old ones.”

In this sense, the American Republicans may be at the forefront of institutional innovation–just not in the way they think they are. Their ideas and collective will are hastening the downfall of the old order, even as they claim that they are trying to save it. Their stated goal of resurrecting a mythological 18th Century frontier version of minimal government has no hope of realization in the complex world of the 21st Century. But what they will achieve is to bring the edifice of their own beliefs crashing down along with the general destruction they help to bring about.

Though the experience will be painful, mostly in the US, but also far beyond its borders, it may yet be useful. Ideologies whose time has come must collapse from within, by exposing their true nature to the public in the stagelights of their own performance. Perhaps we must accept the inevitability of  the wreckage before the creative space is freed up sufficiently to start rebuilding with sane, sustainable ideas and solutions, made vital by the hard won knowledge of what does not work.

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