Join Date: Mar 2004
Nature abhors a vacuum
The main point at issue this election year is how one sustains a fair and stable society. One can't have stability without fairness and one can't have fairness without stability. A long time ago, unless you were in love with anarchy and the violence and killing that comes with it, you would be grateful if the fickle luck of an occasional lawgiver who'd hearken after justice gave you some respite (Enmetena, Hammurabi, Moses, etc.); then, when the horrors and instability attendant on the shifting vagaries of despotic rule by whim grew too intolerable, some frail religious institution or other might take up the slack; then, when too many such institutions grew hopelessly cruel and corrupt, the inevitable mass exodus from these institutions created a vacuum.
Now, nature abhors a vacuum. So it's hardly awful when the government spends more during an economic crisis. While I'm with Proxmire when he calls for fiscal prudence in times of prosperity, I'm with FDR when he calls for spending during a crisis. Go study the '30s and '40s. Yes, the war spending proved the most effective way up. But the '30s still shows that priming the pump is more effective during crisis than laissez-faire. And Obama is really FDR lite. That's the biggest irony here. FDR practically took over the banks; and his social spending makes O a virtual Thatcher! Yet some call O the socialist! What a joke.
The level of spending should be openly acknowledged and actually trumpeted and the full reasons for it shown. FDR did that because he was ready to treat the people as fellow comrades-in-arms during an emergency, not hold them at an austere distance. The biggest mistake O made was to hold the people at arms' length, implicitly seeming to downplay the gravity of the economic crisis. Maybe he didn't mean to do that, but that's what he effectively did. Oh sure, he talks about avoiding the "edge of a cliff" now, but he didn't at the time. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Instead, he should have had open, unvetted, Town Halls across the country, openly sharing the nature of the crisis with everyone and engaging the people in an honest dialogue, letting the chips fall as they may. More varied ideas to tackle the emergency would then have emerged as well, without the huge degree of disaffection and helplessness that culminated in 2010. The country would have been energized and relatively more hopeful -- with a more pro-active response to the crisis itself.
Ultimately, responses of that sort are all approximation anyway: How does one come closest to a community that leaves no one out? One can come fairly close, but nothing can truly be ideal. Does that make such an effort pointless? NO! There's no higher calling than the alleviation of suffering.
Ironically, many people don't realize that Marx came very late, and very ignorant, and very crude, to that party. Some here make jokes about reformers going way back to ancient Sumeria already grappling with the endemic problem of how to avoid a dysfunctional society: for one thing, the sheer numbers of people crushed by debt left whole families in virtual slavery! Things were at a breaking point, and an occasional reformer like Enmetena would realize that, and some sort of corrective action would be taken, sometimes sheer muddling, sometimes constructive.
Solon in Greece did the same thing. Read your Plutarch.
Of course, most ancient cultures had despots -- and often corrupt despots until the occasional reformer would come along -- to attend to the problem. So centralized policies for society worked spottily after a fashion in its time -- 4,000 years ago. Twenty-first-century America is different.
I start with the fact that for hundreds of years, whenever government would step away from sustaining some sort of half-baked safety net, religious entities geared more closely to local efforts would step into the breach. Such entities were welcome within a certain radius. And when there were enough of them, fewer unfortunates fell into the cracks. And when virtually everyone attended some religious institution or other, fewer would be entirely neglected. It wasn't ideal. Nothing is, and that's what I mean by approximation. But it kept suffering to a "dull roar" rather than a destabilizing crippling threat to a functioning society. And when one has a country that abides by "we the people" as its byword, like 19th- and early 20th-century America, these religious entities -- and the occasional soup kitchens, etc., affiliated with them -- are essentially the "only game in town". All-powerful lawgivers needn't apply -- for there are none.
But something elemental took over the world in the wake of World War I. Cynicism grew rampant and church attendance plummeted, and why not, given the corruption and cruelty of institutional religion. More and more people drifted away from its security blanket. Not immediately devastating, but devastating long-term. Lest we forget, the 20s Depression was world-wide, not just national. The whole world felt this same panic of just hanging out there to starve in the wake of fewer institutions with long outreach. Too many people would have nothing to do with such cruel religions, so naturally such institutions shrank. And so panic was the result as more and more of the "left out" were really left out!
Remember, nature abhors a vacuum. And when the Depression hit the whole globe, all sorts of mechanisms swooped in, mostly state-oriented, to fill the vacuum left in the wake of eviscerated community nets. You have iconic moments like the "trains running on time" in Mussolini's Italy, you have Roosevelt's New Deal, you have Leninist and then Stalinist Communism in Russia -- and you have the momentary resurgence of some degree of economic stability under Hitler........................
Is it just possible that those community nets from the 19th century fell apart because of plummeting religious credibility culminating during World War I?
So, is there a solution today?
Should one just let anarchy and mob rule take over when too many people fall through the net (Rand)?
Should one instead co-opt those feeling panic and have the government share in the net alongside local entities (FDR)?
Should one attempt to force church attendance instead in the face of the entropy of growing cynicism (Khomeini)?
Should one expunge religion by force and make the state omnipresent (Stalin)?
Is there some altogether different mode of strengthening community that we don't even have a glimpse of today that will forestall huge depressions like 1929 and 2008? One that involves neither religion nor government? I can't think of one. But maybe there'll just have to be one, of a sort we can't even guess at today. Maybe there'll just have to be one because ......... nature abhors a vacuum.
But what will it look like? Or will no newer mechanism surface at all, making humanity really grow extinct in this century through sheer reckless abandonment to mutual bloodlust on a global scale?
I imagine I may have more of a grudging respect for both religion and/or government than some of you may have: both, on occasion, were welcome at different times, however inadequate, even counter-productive, they can sometimes be today.
Anyone, show me some alternate to religion and/or government, and I'll show you a way out of this impasse that may very well have started in the welter of post-World-War-1 disillusion.
Is government the best way out of that impasse then and now, or just as transitory a stopgap as religion and compromised by just as many lies? That's not a rhetorical question; it's a serious one. We're staring down the barrel of our inevitable extinction this very century.