Another thing I hope for with this blog is that it will be a forum for debate. The US is such a racially, culturally and politically diverse society that a careful, civilized exchange of ideas among people who are not necessarily intellectuals or writers would be very helpful in maintaining our democracy. In some ways we appear to be an advanced society, but in more ways than I like to admit we are quite primitive. For example, we pride ourselves in our individualism. I am so grateful to this rugged ethic that I see and feel all around me for inspiring and strengthening me. It is a wonderful thing to feel that you are free to make it on your own, that while you may not be helped much, you will not be prohibited from making your own business, from saying publicly what you think, from being as outrageous or odd or colorful in your style and personality as you feel. Most good ideas, however, do not stand alone. Individualism can be an excuse for rudeness, loudness and disrespect at one end of the scale; and at the other, it can be an excuse for the vile economic abuses that we have seen on Wall Street. These individuals think they can do what they like even to the point of destroying the lives of those around them. So individualism without respect for others, without concern for the local community and for the functioning of our society is just an excuse for criminality. And the strange thing is, they got away with it. The one who didn’t was Madoff, because he hurt the wealthy. But the people who destroyed the lives of countless working people by juggling and toying with complex and unreal ‘financial instruments’ are now back thriving, continuing to do what they have always done, while the rest of us look on in dismay, wondering what has happened to our democracy. What we lack is a developed idea of community. Individualism without community weakens and dies in exactly the same way as back in the eighties we witnessed the collapse of a collectivist society that did not have a strong idea of the individual.
Of course, the only debate worth having is Socratic, where the idea is not to win but to find the truth. I will come back to these ideas in later posts.