With the rise of the Internet, and particularly Social Media, it’s difficult to avoid what I call the “soundbite syndrome”, the tendency to “discuss” issues in brief flurries of a sentence or two. Events seem to come at us so quickly as to be overwhelming. Before we can thoroughly marshal our thoughts on one issue, we find three more clamoring for our attention. I sometimes try to take a step back and get a long view of the situation. This is one such attempt.
Dunbar’s Number is a somewhat arbitrary quantity of people, – 150-300, depending on circumstances – who can maintain a particular pattern of relating to one another. It was based on primate brain sizes and social group sizes. Dunbar hypothesized a limit to how large a group can be such that all members have personal relationships with all other members and everyone knows how they all interact. Among other things, this means that what anyone does effects everyone else in the group. It also implies members behave differently with other members than they do with non-members. Certainly, we all interact differently with family and friends than we do with total strangers. Basically, we’re nice to people in our group because we all know and depend on one other and being the group asshole would achieve Instant Karma. (Even tribal societies sometimes have to kick out a non-cooperating member).
One aspect of this “group membership” that should never be forgotten it that the underlying culture and mindset of the group doesn’t matter much. You’re either part of the group or you’re not. This holds true whatever the views, policies, beliefs, prejudices, ethos and outlook of each particular group happens to be. The behavior of any person depends on that person’s self-identity, which in turn depends on the group identity. People rarely examine the mores and beliefs of the group they’re born and brought up in. If it’s tolerant, they’re tolerant; it it’s racist, they’re racist. The American glorification of The Individual is bullshit 99% of the time. Tell me what your group believes and I will know what you believe.
While interactions within a group are generally smooth, the modern world makes it impossible to limit our interactions to just our group, and there’s the rub. Without the mutual dependency and consideration, the group restraints which moderate interpersonal relationships are not present.
Politics may be defined as the mechanism for interaction among groups when the total number of people exceeds Dunbar’s Number. Politics is therefore by definition a restrictive force, an attempt to create on a society-wide or even world-wide scale, the behavior found within small, homogeneous groups.
Since, in addition to mutual dependency, the teen-age rebellious stance of “You’re not the bossa me!” seems to be equally universal, politics has always had a dichotomy, one side basing its policies on an optimistic view of human nature and trying to assure cooperation; the other side basing its policies on a pessimistic view of human nature and trying to assure compliance with authority. Both are attempts to keep personal interactions orderly.
Libertarians and the Right in general tend to look at human progress as a survival of the fittest issue, with competition being the driver of civilization, whereas Leftists tend to value cooperation over competition.
When this country was founded, the same two mindsets were present and manifested in our politics – authoritarian (aka Federalist) vs cooperative (Jeffersonian yeomanry).
Our political parties have come and gone, morphed into variations, but we still have those two distinct mindsets. One reason is because the Right/Authoritarian mindset requires – big surprise – authoritarians: someone to administer authority. And, guess what? When endowed with the power of authority, that group has disproportionately used its power to its own benefit, leaving the the other party to try to act for the benefit of the rest.
Despite some burps and lots of argument over the years, that arrangement by and large worked. One party would get control and advance its agenda, then the other would do the same. The Right was largely financed (and thereby controlled) by those who were already wealthy and powerful. The Left was often under-financed and controlled by the most pressing needs of their constituency. However, by the time St. Ronnie arrived to lead the Republican Party, much of the Democratic Party “mainstream” politicians had sold out their base for a share of the loot. For those of great wealth, giving $50,000 to a GOP campaign and $20,000 to the Dem campaign made sense. They preferred the GOP but no matter who won, the donor would have some political clout. And the Dem “professionals” were now indebted – aka controlled – by Big $$$.
The last Democrat President we’ve had was Jimmy Carter, whose effectiveness was limited by not having the full support of his party. The last effective Dem President was LBJ.
While politics is a a way to manage disparate groups of people, it is also a way to manage the Common. The Left sees the Common as the property of all the people, shared equitably. The Right sees the Common as the property of whoever can control it.
So, here we are today, with a Democratic party, significantly compromised, versus a Republican party which is unapologetically advocating full-blown Fascism. Whether the Dems can ever recover their base, I frankly don’t know. But I do know that the first step in that direction is to destroy the GOP – root and branch, utterly and forever. And the first step of that is to flush the Orange Turd in November. And as many of the GOP Establishment as possible. Only then will it be possible to rebuild the damaged “personnel infrastructure” of the Executive branch to restart the proper administration of the government by removing the flunkies and appointing/re-appointing competent and honorable public servants, as well as enacting/re-enacting laws to reestablish the Legislative function. And hopefully make the Judicial a bit more even-handed.
Once Trump and Trumpism are gone, I would expect mainstream Dems to occupy approximately the political position of the GOP circa 1950s. The Progressive bloc of Dems can then occupy the position of the Dems circa 1930s-1950s. Whether the two groups formally split into separate parties, I cannot say. I hope they can/do – I’m not a fan of single-party politics. But if there can Only Be One – at least for the time being – I surely don’t want it to be Orange Fascism. If it comes to that, it will mean the American Experiment has failed.