Monday, August 13, 2012


Driving to work this morning, the radio was filled with examinations of Paul Ryan's budget proposals.  His focus on individualism and his disdain for any kind of meaningful social support systems struck me as fundamentally inhumane, in the broadest sense.  I'm not offering any lengthy discussion here, but Ryan's fairy tale vision of a nation brimming with little  Horatio Algers being held back by taxes and regulation makes me sick.

Like most anthropologists, I agree that anything close to what could be called "human nature" is always dependent on the particular context in which a group of humans find themselves.  However, one thing I'm very confident saying is that the core of being human is social and to deny that primacy eschews human compassion, potential and, yes, our basic nature.

Presidential elections don't change as much as we often think they will.  Like many liberally-minded folks, I've been disappointed by many aspects of Obama's time in office.  However, now, the prospects of US fiscal policy being even more shaped by Ryan's socioeconomic ideology has tempered my disappointment.  I'm in a pessimistic mood this morning.  Building a society that only supports Ryan and Ayn Rand's Atlas seems destined to leave a lot of suffering in its wake.

In a recent post, Robert Reich voices the same fears. Because it so nicely sums up what I'm trying to say, I'll quote the end of his post in which he discusses the rejection of 19th century Social Darwinism (despite any denials, that's what Paul Ryan espouses) and the real social progress that came in the mid-20th century:

The social Darwinism of that era also undermined all efforts to build a more broadly based prosperity and rescue our democracy from the tight grip of a very few at the top. It was used by the privileged and powerful to convince everyone else that government shouldn’t do much of anything.

Not until the twentieth century did America reject social Darwinism. We created a large middle class that became the engine of our economy and our democracy. We built safety nets to catch Americans who fell downward, often through no fault of their own.

We designed regulations to protect against the inevitable excesses of free-market greed. We taxed the rich and invested in public goods – public schools, public universities, public transportation, public parks, public health – that made us all better off.

In short, we rejected the notion that each of us is on our own in a competitive contest for survival.

But choosing Ryan, Romney has raised for the nation the starkest of choices: Do we want to return to that earlier time, or are we willing and able to move forward — toward a democracy and an economy that works for us all?

Looking at the vast swath of human existence, as a species, humans have done well precisely because we have relied on one another and haven't gone it alone.

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