Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Post-nation nation

Carol A. Burch at Decidedly (a week old; I'm still working on my new blogging schedule):
Success of one's people in those countries [Russia and Asia] is honored, appreciated and focused upon by each individual far more than in the United States, where emphasis is on the individual and individual achievement.

We can see the effect of individual vs. collective consciousness as we look at the shifts in centers of economic and political power in the world today.

Corporations and individuals in the U.S., as is their right in a free society, made decisions that inured to their individual benefit. Production and manufacturing (and the economic and political strengths that are associated with those endeavors) went elsewhere. Certainly, the image of a collective exodus of almost the entire manufacturing base from the nation was probably not part of each individual decision. Yet, cumulatively, over time, this happened. This is the effect of the lack of a collective consciousness. Now, with diminished economic health and clout to influence the world's direction, we, as a country, are less formidable, and are viewed primarily as a voracious consumer society.

Economic strength now centers in the countries that took on the manufacturing. Of note is the fact that these countries operate culturally with a high level of collective consciousness,with a collectively understood and embraced long-term vision of a future in which they will continue to dominate. It is unlikely that the mistakes we made will be repeated there.
Very true. We derided the old Five-Year-Plans of the Soviet Union and China, confusing execution with concept. Then we saw India and China actually plan for the future, focusing resources on growth fields like engineering and computer science. (Keep in mind this didn't constitute a huge risk, these were already well-established as fields of the future by the time these countries got around to supporting them.)

At the same time, the U.S. decided that laissez faire worked so well for economics that it could be applied to anything that even had the slightest economic component. CSI is a hit TV show, of course we'll see students flock to forensics programs despite the reality that budgets will never go up as much as enrollment did. I wonder what all those budding Gil Grissoms are doing now.

One thing that interests me is how this idea was sold to the American people, not that they needed much convincing. There were two large ideas, I think, with which we deluded ourselves that "collective consciousness" was something that could be transcended.

The first was what I call the "lottery mentality," with an added shot of altruism. If we allow everyone to pursue their own aims, each person will maximize their potential, get rich, and then be able to do more for the collective than they ever could just going out and living their lives. What lottery winner fails to say that he'll do more for his church, or for his children, or for his community? We created a virtue out of going out and scrabbling for whatever bucks were there, because, sometime in the future, more will be created for the larger group.

Much of this, of course, was simply mindless claptrap. A lottery is a massive tax and redistribution scheme, but it's hard to see how society profits from it. Much of business works the same way - some aspects of what is done is truly innovative, and betters the lot of humanity, but a great deal more is a way to take money from someone and give it to someone else. [I'm not talking here about the normal business of business, in which customers pay less for something than it's worth to them, but some of the less publicized activities, such as lobbyist-induced tax breaks and offshoring, things for which we never quite figure out the true cost.]

The second "big idea" was one that didn't require us to give up our sense of the collective good, but to expand it. This was what I refer to as the "post-nation" concept, the idea that we uniquely had a responsibility to the world, that even if some of our practices were negative in effect to the U.S., that they benefited the world far more.

We see this in some of the commentary the past few days about Iran, from those thinkers who believe we "must" get involved. That we would undoubtedly pay a price in lives and money to install a president who doesn't have all that much power who might be little better than the one they have is of little consequence; we must interfere because that's what America does.

We also see it in discussions of offshoring in which we blow by the very real negative effects on American workers and move to wondrous tales of how our work is helping the downtrodden of China and India. Whatever we used to call national interest gets subsumed to a utopian ideal of effortless foreign aid.

I guess my point is that the United States has never really lost its sense of the collective unconsciousness, we've just allowed it to be perverted from the straightforward sense of nation that we used to have to some pretty indirect, even strange, concepts. It's not that we've lost sight of the greater good, just that we've allowed it to be twisted into ideas that are so obscure that the true costs and benefits have been lost.

Perhaps these new ideas are, ultimately, better for the world as a whole and we should pursue them, but I don't believe the case is so clear-cut that we shouldn't at least be discussing them. And I'm sure it's just coincidence that they are pushed most ardently by the folks who have the most to gain from their acceptance.


Anonymous said...

Do you ever sit down and count how many people are employed by the software industry? And how impossible our pace of innovation would be if we never went global? No, you never do this math. Yet far you benefit from it every day. - mcfnord

Red Oak said...

And I'm sure it's just coincidence that they are pushed most ardently by the folks who have the most to gain from their acceptance.

Ha - yes, we as a nation are distinguished by people who are remarkably altruistic about sacrificing other citizens for the good of mankind. (Economists these days have become more entertaining than late-night televangelists. Mencken, thou shouldst be living in this hour.)

The thing about a "post-nation" nation is that it cannot survive - not in a world where other groups know who they are and have a clear understanding of their interests. The tragedy of Americans is that most of them still believe they have a nation, a delusion which may explain the perplexing passivity with which most of them are responding to current conditions, in which they are subsidizing the gutting of their "nation" and the destruction of their descendants' opportunity and security. (Though eventually a growling stomach may do more to enlighten them about the nature of the world than a thousand pious lectures to turn off the idiot box and wake up.)

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