It’s the culture…

Recent elections in the US indicate a radicalization. People are frustrated that the political system does not seem to make any progress. These things tend to take off on their own dynamic, of course. Radicals make it difficult to get anything done, which increases frustration with politics, which leads to more radicalization. Moreover, radicals on either side use the other side’s craziness to increase their own following. The edge people declare that they are the only ones strong enough and brave enough to defeat the wild ones on the other side. We’re already hearing this kind of rhetoric from both sides in the US. No one would be surprised now to see fistfights between supporters of far-right and far-left. Fistfights, brawls, riots… eventually, both sides start saying that they would impose peace but the system of laws keeps getting in their way. We’ve been hearing this too… “our system is broken…” and so forth.

(It’s always worth recalling that the American system was built broken, on purpose. Checks and balances and all that. It’s not supposed to be efficient. Efficient government can be dangerous in the wrong hands.)

People are frustrated that politicians are not solving the problems we have, but the problems we have are almost impossible to solve with public policy. Our politics is no more broken than it ever was, but our culture has changed dramatically since 1960. You can’t solve cultural problems with politics. I can’t think of a reasonable public policy approach to the problem of Detroit, Michigan. I can’t think of anything that a government could do, that would actually move the needle. Detroit needs something that public policies can’t provide. It needs a good, healthy culture.

We are increasingly trying to perform society without the little institutions that have always been the bedrock: Family, village, temple. We have things that bear those labels, but they don’t perform the roles they way they used to. Not with the same power. There’s an awful lot of good that comes of the weakening of these little institutions, lots of freedom, but bad stuff too. I’m worried that the good stuff, the freedoms, came all at once at the beginning – yay! – but bad stuff accumulates over time. Maybe the bad has built up now to the point where we can’t recover. There’s no America out there to restore. It’s become a territory dotted with camps of mutual mistrust.