Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Social Animal

Brooks with a very insightful piece about the intellectual, academic and moral bankruptcy of the Republican view of human nature:

Psychologists have shown that we are organized by our attachments. Sociologists have shown the power of social networks to affect individual behavior.

What emerges is not a picture of self-creating individuals gloriously free from one another, but of autonomous creatures deeply interconnected with one another. Recent Republican Party doctrine has emphasized the power of the individual, but underestimates the importance of connections, relationships, institutions and social filaments that organize personal choices and make individuals what they are.

This may seem like an airy-fairy thing. But it is the main impediment to Republican modernization. Over the past few weeks, Republicans have talked a lot about change, modernization and reform. Despite the talk, many of the old policy pillars are the same. We’re living in an age of fast-changing economic, information and social networks, but Republicans are still impeded by Goldwater’s mental guard-rails.

If there’s a thread running through the gravest current concerns, it is that people lack a secure environment in which they can lead their lives. Wild swings in global capital and energy markets buffet family budgets. Nobody is sure the health care system will be there when they need it. National productivity gains don’t seem to alleviate economic anxiety. Inequality strains national cohesion. In many communities, social norms do not encourage academic achievement, decent values or family stability. These problems straining the social fabric aren’t directly addressed by maximizing individual freedom.

And yet locked in the old framework, the Republican Party’s knee-jerk response to many problems is: “Throw a voucher at it.” Schools are bad. Throw a voucher. Health care system’s a mess. Replace it with federally funded individual choice. Economic anxiety? Lower some tax rate.

The latest example of the mismatch between ideology and reality is the housing crisis.

September 12, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

The Social Animal

Near the start of his book, “The Conscience of a Conservative,” Barry Goldwater wrote: “Every man, for his individual good and for the good of his society, is responsible for his own development. The choices that govern his life are choices that he must make; they cannot be made by any other human being.” The political implications of this are clear, Goldwater continued: “Conservatism’s first concern will always be: Are we maximizing freedom?”

Goldwater’s vision was highly individualistic and celebrated a certain sort of person — the stout pioneer crossing the West, the risk-taking entrepreneur with a vision, the stalwart hero fighting the collectivist foe.

The problem is, this individualist description of human nature seems to be wrong.


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