Monday, November 02, 2009

America Trapped In Dogma Cycle

As a progressive it is easy to agree with the thrust of filmmaker Michael Moore’s stand on the many issues he addresses. The problem is not the issues but the dogged styles which allows no dialogue, simply polarizing and driving a wedge through society. I guess, as an Australian, that is easy to say as our governance is far more progressive; robust, but open to discourse.

Not to say Australia is devoid of debate, but arguments tend to be tribal (partisan) rather than substantive. Even the most contentious issues, such as the current climate change debate, are to a great degree about point scoring with just a conservative rump fully opposed to any remedial legislation.

Barack Obama, Year 1: Reality takes its toll on 'Yes We Can' optimism

We hear, outside America, much comment on that countries disappointment with the performance of President Obama, commentary encouraged by the likes of Moore: Michael Moore On Charlie Rose Gives Obama a Deadline for Fulfilling His ... Certainly I agree that there is urgent need for reforms on many fronts, but Obama never promised o one man miracle set; rather he made it clear that he needed the active cooperation of the American people.

It seems the old divisive ways, coupled with impatience and an unwillingness to engage is more likely to derail any real and immediate reforms. However politics, it is often said, is the art of compromise and certainly should include wide social engagement. Those standing in the way of the Obama plan only do so because they are allowed to by the American people.

Moore’s approach seems to create more discontent rather than galvanizing action, perhaps consistent with the way things are done in America. But taking a firm line on any issue, particularly an aggressive line which precludes dialogue is rarely helpful. Moore himself confesses to frustration at the lack of action, yet his method appears to encourage it.

I speak here from a long and curious background. I regard myself as a moderate, middle of the road sort of person, able to listen and discuss issues. Indeed, in North America I was accused of being a socialist, but regard that charge as a linguistic failing rather than a political reality. For some frustrating reason I’ve always found myself bonding more with people on the right of the political spectrum, even when I am arguing against their position.

Perhaps it just comes down to a mutual respect for those who are willing to discuss with opponents rather than simply attack and berate. If we are going to effect change for good in any society, mutual respect must be the firm foundation. Obama has shown that ability and it seems destructive to attack him for it after the fact. He can only succeed in starting on the road to change with the support of a significant number of voters.

The first step is learning to play the ball rather than the man. Give some respect to anyone who holds an opinion, and be ready to argue alternatives without demonizing the person. It is a gradual approach, but in reality society only changes for the better in gradual steps. In Australia, those who hold onto extreme and negative approaches in politics soon become the butt of humour. Better to laugh at the enemy than adopt their methods.

If Americans truly want change then it must happen at the level of individual. Not so much in activism as attitude or sentiment. Because like it’s sibling economics politics is driven by sentiment and dogma is the real enemy.


D.K. Raed said...

I see your point, but find it too difficult to engage in debate or even listen respectfully to people who let their misperceptions guide their every word and deed. How to argue a point with those who are blind to any rational thought? Sorry, but that is the way I see the dogma of the unyielding right wing here in the US. When their biggest objection to any action is that if Obama is for it, they are against it, then I don't see any way to reason with them.

Perhaps our next election will reveal those willfully ignorant reactionary right wingers to be, as you suggest, curious butts of humor ... perhaps Obama's efforts will be understood as a bridge that repubs & indies as well as the more progressive liberals can easily cross ... but somehow I get the feeling we will be right back to a 50/50 split in voters. When it comes to the crunch, repubs won't vote dem, so both parties heavily woo the independents, hoping to eke out a victory. Indies don't like the socialism word any more than repubs and most dems, so tarring Obama as a socialist has been very effective.

I think Michael Moore's films tap into the american progressive mind, which even though it feels good & is fun to watch, is mostly preaching to the choir. That said, whatever few indies he can sway is all good!

Cartledge said...

Hey D.K. surely it is my responsibility to show the map for the hard road. But Obama still needs all you supporters to have a go at changing a losing paradigm and he never said it would be easy. Maybe you need to practice on soft targets first.
Apart from that you did articulate the problem quite eloquently. Thank you

lindsaylobe said...

Everyone has a philosophy, even if we feign not to acknowledge our philosophical roots, except it seems in politics where ethical standards can hide behind a party line that epitomizes an inflexible doctrine.

I would argue it is blight on our civilized state that we even have to debate such things as fresh regulatory response to a prior global financial crisis. But even so, as I watched for hours on Bloomberg to those house questions to Timothy Geitner recently on intended legislative for improved regularly measures I was disappointed at the paucity of knowledge generally about proposals and even the effects of current existing measures.

As far as I can gather I think Americans are still angry about what has happened to their country but after the first year under Obama from my perspective I do see some patchy tentative progress.

As far I can see the cash for clunkers and first home buyer’s grants appears to have accounted for about half of the last quarter’s encouraging yet anemic 1.5 % positive GDP growth numbers, so now is good time to make a more comprehensive start.

Despite 115 banks failing the larger banks are stabilized and have resumed funding inverstments; but given the massive assistance they have received that is not so reassuring. I was disappointed to see that the derivative trading that was largely responsible for the prior GFC was not made more transparent and separated out from their banking licenses.

The smaller banks are struggling to give credit to small and medium sized businesses and need assistance or encouragement to make available more credit for investments to assist the recovery of small to medium sized businesses.

It was reported by Geitner, that the White House has not decided how to reduce the deficit, as they remain focused instead on trying to kick start growth again, but I see no reason why a bold action plan could not be presented to sell it as it is to Americans and the rest of the world – with various scenarios aimed at reducing the massive deficits over the next 3 years, slowly winding down stimulus measures, providing more credit for the smaller regional banks, finalizing Healthcare, increasing taxation in line with the rest of the world, seriously looking at options for less military spending, reduced subsidies, improved regulation and so on.

I’m not sure as to how many of these measures even require house approval – but in any event aren’t they all part of the agony of politics that goes along with ecstasy of being elected?

Best wishes

Cartledge said...

Lindsay, I would not disagree on any of your thoughtful points, however would qualify “Everyone has a philosophy, even if we feign not to acknowledge our philosophical roots”. Often the personal philosophies are grounded in intuitive cognitive biases but can and do change when we allow ourselves to critically weigh up information.
For my part I would point out my strong objection to gradualism, over many years. Yet gradually have become aware that this reality is probably essential to the process of orderly change and development. Quite often political/economic dynamics are far too tangled to allow for easy rapid change.
We are also seeing so remarkable philosophical transformations n the Australian scene, made all the more visible by some notably dogged displays of inflexible dogmas. Here I would point to several issues:
While Rudd does not articulate a post-partisan approach he clearly practices it, much to chagrin of former Labor PM Keating. Keating is rooted in an intuitive tribal mentality which vehemently rejects cross party appointments, regardless of the clear value of the skills those appointees might bring to the national mix. That serves to remind us why the inflexible Keating is no longer a leader.
Equally the emotion driven argument over boat people throws up some remarkable transformations. While Rudd’s policies, never clearly articulated, are undoubtedly fraught with issues of a complex international agenda, they are generating some strange shifts among some former Howard ministers. Perhaps the strangest is former Howard attack dog, Tony Abbot, who appears to be shifting to a more thoughtful and perhaps more compassionate approach.
Even Whitlam and Fraser became philosophically aligned over time, a radical shift on both sides. Rudd’s reticence to articulate complex policy is understandable, but I suspect open to change. Keating, with nothing to gain or lose has no need to shift from his apparently intuitive cognitive biases. Abbot, perhaps with a realization that he has real leadership potential, appears to be in the process a fundamental philosophical shift.
I would argue that each of these people is trapped in a largely intuitive dynamic, each responding to ‘sentiment’ while some are also applying the critical analysis which allows for a shift in basic philosophy. Most of us do it, it is a gradual process but more effective if we are aware of what is occurring.
Americans, and I am generalizing, have been trapped by dogma and impetuous responses since the revolution, often to their national cost. Many historians agree that if America had shown patience rather than launching the 1812 attempt at territorial expansion Canada would have fallen under their control organically and without fuss. I expect the impetuosity did Canadians a favour at least.
Still, it seems to me that dynamic is still in play now, again to that nations detriment. Obama set the scene for change, the national philosophy needs to adjust to that vision or just accept the consequences of a dysfunctional society. Sure the required change is full of personal challenges, but there is nothing ‘great’ about shrinking into a comfort zone. That might be the dominant sentiment, but it is a losing game in the end.