October 5th, 2010

I know, I know, it's Thomas Friedman

If there's a guy out there who can be relied upon to say something irredeemably silly with a completely straight face, Friedman is that guy.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/opinion/03friedman.html

It's pretty easy to read an article like this and go, really? You think that's _silly_?! What's _wrong_ with you!

Here's what's wrong with me.

I was raised by some creepy JW's who really and truly believe (and believed then) that the end of the world was coming Real Soon Now and everyone but the JWs were going to be killed by God. Then there was going to be a long Paradise on Earth while people from the past were resurrected and then there was going to be a period of persecution when Satan was let loose again and, well, whatever.

DOOOOOOOMMMMM! Don't get attached to the things of this world. Don't put your faith in princes. Etc.

Also, they were big believers in beating their kids.

This combination (end of the world, corporal punishment, not a lot of love, no emotional support, blah, blah, bleeping, blah) often produces an adult who sees bad things as a sign that things are going to hell, and good things as worrisome because they'll end soon and then it'll be back to the bad things as things move along towards hell. Depression. Suicidal ideation. Violence. Hostility. Aggression. Difficulty maintaining interpersonal relationships.

Also, a tendency to think that no matter _what_ is happening, it's solid evidence that the world today has strong parallels with the end of an empire, generally, the Roman Empire.

I _recognize_ the impulse that led Thomas Friedman to write this article, because I often feel this impulse myself. I have been feeling this impulse since I was in high school (at the latest). About ten years ago, give or take, I started to recognize the impulse as basically silly. Not necessarily harmful, because you can do productive things with this impulse (stock up an emergency kit including food, water, blankets, etc.; focus on important things like one's relationships with family and friends).

Friedman is so compulsively trend-following and sociable, however, that he went somewhere else entirely. He went to Silicon Valley and talked to a bunch of very, very, very rich nerds and concluded that a third party was a real possibility. I don't think a third party is a real possibility; the tilt in our socio-governmental structure to a two party system is really pervasive. However, I _do_ think that what the Republican party has chosen to do for a while now, and doubled down on in this midterm, has the potential to permanently destroy the Republican party. We _have_ gone down to a one party system on more than one occasion in the past, and, fairly quickly, a new second party arose. (In fact, that's how the Republican party came into existence: parties kept cratering over the issue of Abolition.)

There's a paragraph quoting Larry Diamond that is breathtaking:

"“We basically have two bankrupt parties bankrupting the country,” said the Stanford University political scientist Larry Diamond. Indeed, our two-party system is ossified; it lacks integrity and creativity and any sense of courage or high-aspiration in confronting our problems. We simply will not be able to do the things we need to do as a country to move forward “with all the vested interests that have accrued around these two parties,” added Diamond. “They cannot think about the overall public good and the longer term anymore because both parties are trapped in short-term, zero-sum calculations,” where each one’s gains are seen as the other’s losses."

I'm not sure what Diamond and/or Friedman think politics can be like, but generally speaking, integrity, creativity, courage and high-aspiration are not uniformly associated with positive outcomes in politics. They are sometimes associated with lemming like rushes off the cliff. I'm thinking specifically of the Republicans and Prohibition. I recognize this is an insult to lemmings.

As dippy as that paragraph was, however, this one is sillier:

"a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far left; energy and climate reform, without worrying about offending the far right and coal-state Democrats; and proper health care reform, without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies."

Basically, a third party that will stick its fingers in its ears and go la-la-la-la. Yeah, because we _need_ another one of those.

If we are indeed an empire in decline, and that is a bad thing (I concede neither proposition), this is definitely not the way to reverse course.