A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Who Are the People?

It is a conservative principle that the people’s rights should be protected.  It is a conservative principle that people should have the right to make choices in their own lives – and that they are responsible for the consequences of those choices whether the outcome is positive or negative.  It is a conservative principle that this is a nation of laws not of men and that the supreme law of the land is the Constitution of the United States.  The other founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and the other writings of the founders, serve to clarify intention such as that this is a nation of the people, by the people and for the people. 

Those who are called humanists, progressives or ‘liberals’ have no great difference of opinion on these principles (the original meanings of the term liberal have been carved up and the pieces spread around the various political poles).  The difference comes from what is meant by “the people.”  And by the political and economic methods used to support those ‘people’ that are considered to really count [1].

‘What’ matters is always a consequence of ‘who’ matters.  We create patterns of importance to control popular attitudes, beginning with the emotionally potent as a means of arriving at the politically potent: if “the life of the unborn” matters more than the life of the breathing, then the following pattern of valuing typically underlies: human females are, foremost, vessels of procreation; there is a hierarchy of importance with God at the top, human men next, then human women and, in descending order, animals and other organisms measured in their usefulness to the status quo.  And, with a little slight of hand, wealthy people mattering more than poor people. 

This last over simplifies a rather complex set of issues, but is still useful in this form: those who have stuff matter and those who don’t don’t!  Large amounts of our cultural action and belief spin off of this simple assertion.  In the most blatant way this is not ideology, but assertion of fact.  The wealthy and powerful must be appeased since their actions have the larger consequences.  The actions of the poor only have consequences in the organized aggregate (except for rare moments of lonely violence and rarer ones of lonely brilliance).  

When family based communities fail as the primary structure of human order and relationship, we are left without a biologically sophisticated means of assessing value: our choices are ultimately raw power and undeniable fact, both of which are given especial presence by wealth and political power. 

The unforgivable action of the poor is to become organized and therefore consequential.  Gangs of various kinds are an example of one of the few ways that “the poor” can seem to retain their values and also attain power and wealth: the ‘brother’ matters and the outsider doesn’t.  But the shifting of ‘who’ matters in the flux of weakly structured relationships can be as much a danger as any benefit from the organizing principle.  And this paradigm differs in no way from the over-arching social paradigm of power; it only shifts it to a more local form. 

Unionization is another way that the poor can organize and therefore give their wishes importance in the decisions of the powerful.  Such organizing is often seen as no better than gang or criminal activity exactly because the people doing the organizing are seen as being of no importance. 

‘I matter and you do not’ can become the bottom-line formulation.  ‘The design of the natural order matters more than the perturbations of individual interest’ is the natural, though largely ungraspable, antithesis.   It is easy to see which, in a sea of self-interest, would be the most acceptable formulation! 

What all this means is simple.  “We, the people,” doesn’t actually mean ‘the People.’  It means ‘those who my people agree to include.’  The righteousness of Michele Bachmann or Lew Dobbs, the petulance of a Limbaugh and the shear stupidity of O’Reilly/Hannity/Beck, and the fact that they are listened to, has as much to do with who they are perceived as representing as acceptable people as for their mean-spirited utterings. 

The exclusiveness of inclusiveness is the ultimate guide to political identification.  If, when you say ‘the people’, you have in mind the Peruvian miner and the waitress in Dearborn as well as the corporate CEO, then you are a humanist/liberal/progressive.  If, for you, ‘the people’ refers to those who meet your list of requirements to be a full member, then you are a conservative, no matter how you might otherwise identify yourself.  

This process of classifying is, if not the oldest profession, one of the oldest of all human (and pre-human) activities.  Konrad Lorenz wrote, many years ago, of its dangers for a world of our present design.  And thoughtful people (you can see how difficult it is to be inclusive!) have long recognized that prejudice is a very blunt instrument. 

This is so well understood, even by the prejudiced, that inclusiveness is a primary rejection of those who wish for “their kind” to have the greatest say in a more homogenous world.  From such simple beginnings can come many of the ills that infect our societies. 

I suspect that the degree to which a person includes other humans as well as other living and non-alive elements of the world into their pantheon of the valued is in some part genetic.  I can find no other explanation for my personal experiences of very early and deep connection to the wonders of the world.  I have, from my earliest memories, felt an attachment of association with humans in particular and all things living in general.  I can’t say that I find very many individuals especially likeable (be they human or rodent), but those things, including people, who share the trillion to the trillionth power lottery of being alive today are all absolutely loveable.  I guess that ruins any chances I might have had to be a conservative: When I say ‘of the people, by the people and for the people,’ I also mean blue whales, fleas, paramecium and even the non-living buffering systems of carbon sequestration. 

[1] the selection of the “most important” powers of government is determined by whether one sees including or excluding others as a primary value. 

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