In which I Shift my Alliegance to the Republicans
I find myself in the manifesto-writing mood, a mood I deeply distrust. Political passion is almost always a displacement of deep irrational anxieties: we assign the major political players roles in our personal psychodramas, and watch Obama flounder in despair at our own unassertiveness, or watch Palin in horror, as the personification of all our childhood humiliations at the hands of the pretty, vapid, ignorant and cruel. I suppose a celebrity political system will always operate this way. But at least we can shake free of believing in it, when our full attention is on it.
I have shifted my emotional alliegance to the Republicans. Republicans are happy people. They believe everything is going to work out. They trust people to spend their own money. The economy and the environment, think the Republicans, will prove resilient and bounce back from anything. Things aren't really under human control anyway. Democrats, on the other hand, believe the worst of everybody, including themselves. People can't be trusted. The rich will plunder up to the bitter end, ruining themselves and country in the process; the humiliations of the poor will drive them to crime and addiction. God forbid you should give the poor money, say the Democrats. No, you should give them programs, to turn them into better people, people more like us. Not that we're anything to write home about: but at least we're not like those horrible Republicans.
The Republicans are wrong about almost all the issues I care about. But they're emotionally right, spiritually right. We aren't in control of any of this. And we aren't so bad. What we need to do is -- as Margaret Thatcher would say -- pull up our socks and get to work. Right here and right now, on the local and personal problems that we fully understand and are equipped to deal with. We do need to vote people into office who understand how the world works -- people who understand science and history. But most of the world's problems, most of our problems, do not have a governmental solution, not in the long run. Real historical solutions tend to emerge, not to be imposed. If we stave off World War III long enough, if we stave off totalitarianism (which is often the same enterprise) long enough, if we limit environmental damage as much as we can, we'll get through.
Not (to bow to the depressive Democrat in me) that we won't take horrific losses in the process. My blood runs cold when I think of the destruction of species and of habitats; also when I think of the destruction of languages and cultures, when I think of the huge human die-off required to come back to a sustainable population. The world, natural and human, will come to the other end of this algae-bloom of humanity much the poorer, in many ways. But we'll be all right. Really. And people will fall in love just as deeply as ever, and they will stop short, breathless, at the beauty of a dewdrop glistening on a dead leaf, just as they always have.
Bad times come to an end. History takes unexpected turns. In the nature of things, disasters are foreseeable, but creative solutions are not. Should the worst come to the worst -- should the last war or the global winter come, should this be a die-off of species to rival the three or four great die-offs written in the fossil record -- all it means is that other new and wonderful things will arise. There will be beautiful things we have never dreamed of.
Our species and our planet are mortal. I don't think our time has come, this millenium, but if it has, let's die with our heads up. No one taught us how to be superintelligent animals, and it's no particular shame if we don't get it right. We gave it a shot.