My last post here was November of 2011. Ouch. On February 25, 2013 my friend jan finder died of cancer. That rather dampened my interest in writing more blog posts that would push his writing back a bit. Time has passed and I’m feeling a need to write something longer than 140 characters again.
My little New England town had its town meeting last Monday and will have its next town election on Saturday, May 17th of 2014. This is the spring season for lawn signs extolling the names of local candidates for school committee, selectman, town clerk, and other elected positions. The candidates and their supporters are very vocal. Conversations about supporting one candidate or another are mostly emotional with no factual content. Being somebody who can be swayed with a well presented fact or two, I never cease to be amazed at how people do (or don’t in most cases) vote.
The divisiveness of the two national parties is mirrored locally. As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” That phrase means more to me as the years go by. All politics is emotional. Local and emotional go together. We care about local. Locally “party” means less than the individual positions taken and results delivered. Still, it’s no surprise that our local elections heat up as much as they do. The same mudslinging and behind the scenes manipulation would appear to function on all political/human interaction levels.
As a side note, the reason marketing holds my interest is that it involves psychology and biology. Conveying a message and having somebody else accept it requires either an incredible instinct for human nature or a studied, systematic approach to presentation. (I’m not working on the best, most persuasive way to present this information. I’m just ruminating.) I’m fascinated by the state of American politics today. It is no different than it ever was, I suppose. It’s about power, control, money and sex. At least nobody has been shot or run through with a sword in the Congressional halls in recent years.
There are multiple types of intelligence if you buy into Howard Gardner’s model in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. One of those types of intelligence is interpersonal. The folks who score high in that area are considered charismatic and are often leaders. Of course, they can also be good scam artists, but we’ll let that go for the moment. Or not. Again, the human appeal is emotional. That’s what drives us. It’s interesting to think we are electing people with interpersonal intelligence but possibly not as much intellectual ability as we might prefer.
This is on my mind because recent conversations with people I like and respect are sometimes strange. People can hold strong negative convictions about elected officials who I have never known to be anything but kind, honest, hardworking, and competent. How good people can come to opposite emotional convictions is fascinating. Facts are gathered or made up or stretched, perhaps, to coincide with an emotional position. I’ve heard people make strong claims about politicians from local up through the POTUS where there isn’t a single measurable fact to be found. Just a feeling on somebody’s part that “these people” are (insert negative term of your choice).
In my town I’ve observed that the most powerful voting block is the parents of school age children. They appear at town meetings where a school department article is to be voted, they vote, then they leave. When I was younger I was less interested in being active in politics because my time was committed to my job and my family. As the family matures, you and your significant other may feel a pull to become more politically active. (Or not!) You have the time to volunteer and the experience which is valuable to town committees and boards. At different ages, our interest in, and time for, political activity changes. So why were young people so politically active in the 60′s and 70′s? How about because the Vietnam War focused the attention of a whole generation on survival? We fight for what’s important to us. I had hoped that more would come of the Occupy movement in view of the serious threat the mishandling of the American financial industry was causing worldwide. But it was not to be.
So. Is it age and time availability or self interest or a mix of the two that make us politically active? Some 40 years ago more than one third of all workers in the US private sector were unionized and in 2014 less than 7% belong to a union. History tells us that unionization generally involves broken bones, blood in the street, and the use of words like goons and scabs. Labor is always at a physical disadvantage… until it isn’t. Why we don’t see more unionization today I do not understand. Leadership is not exactly encouraged in the 99% by the 1% which control the US economy. Why are all the good people in this country allowing the financial system, healthcare, manufacturing, the environment, and heaven knows what else… to deteriorate?
I keep coming back to income inequality as a root of our differences and our problems. Yes, people have a right to be rich. And, as the Bible says, “The poor are always with us.” But there’s a matter of degree today which seems unsustainable in a healthy society. I’ve always been a fan of Bill Joy, a tech giant from years ago. I can’t find the quote, but he was talking to a reporter once about all the money he made from Sun Microsystems, and he pointed out that he plays hockey so now and then he buys a $15 hockey stick, but other than that he doesn’t need much. Living in Silicon Valley has never been cheap, but I appreciated his point that money, after a certain level, isn’t buying you a better life. The 1% in the US are living a gilded, privileged life, but they could live that same life on 10% or less of the pile of cash they can access. So the vast wealth of this nation is really sitting idle when it could be driving a better quality of life for more people.
The world has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. It has changed dramatically every few decades over the history of the human race, too, so my point here is about looking forward to what kind of world we want to leave to posterity. I believe Americans should not face a life burdened with heavy debt to pay for their education. I believe that a certain level of healthcare is a right. I believe people should be able to do, think, and say whatever they like as long as they don’t hurt anyone else. I believe we can learn from Europe that dense cities surrounded by agricultural land with public transportation between cities is a good thing. Eating up our agricultural land with suburban housing developments has been a poor decision. And I believe that the wealthiest people in the country are more than welcome to 20 to 50 times what the poorest people have, but not 300 to 1000 times. By freeing more people from physical and economic stress we can have a more productive, peaceful, creative and happy world. Isn’t that what we claim this country is about? It isn’t about giving people a guaranteed plush existence, it’s about giving people an opportunity to earn their living, making the most of their skills in service to their community. Isn’t that what this country is about? Or is it about “I’ve got mine,” and that’s pretty much the end of it, which I see too much of today.
Just ruminating. Wondering how we got where we are today and whether it is possible to improve the lot of people as a whole in this world.