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  An American Manifesto
Friday September 19, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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A Pre-revolutionary Situation The Ghosts of Liberal Pieties

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Obama's Togetherness

by Christopher Chantrill
June 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm

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IN HIS LEARNED excursus on American history in Cleveland last week, President Obama made a big deal about the things we Americans have done “together:” railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge.

We got where we are today “not by telling everybody to fend for themselves, but by coming together as one American family, all of us pitching in, all of us pulling our own weight,” said the president. The president used the word “together” ten times in his speech.

It’s a pity that almost everything the president has done in the last three years has divided Americans and replaced “together” with big government and special interests. Maybe it’s time we thought about what “together” really means.

It just so happens that the life work of America’s only woman Nobel economist, Elinor Ostrom, who died last week, had something important to say about this “together.” Ostrom, who was not an economist, did groundbreaking research into the ways that humans manage common resources, a.k.a. the “tragedy of the commons.” In other words, she worked on the science of “together.” She asked the question: How do humans manage things that they own “together?”

Ordinary humans, it turns out, have succeeded in managing common resources like common grazing land and common fisheries despite the “tragedy of the commons.” They have done it with systems of shaming and rewards. Good people, who do the right thing, get praised and honored in their communities; bad people, who sneak off to fish or graze more than their share, get named and shamed. I suspect that a critical part of this system is frequent community meetings, where members of the community know that they have to face their neighbors in a public forum.

You can see why we moderns talk about the “tragedy of the commons.” We look down on guilds and village councils that “together” used to reduce the freedom of their community members. Instead of naming and shaming we prefer the impersonal hand of the regulator and the bureaucrat. But politicians and bureaucrats aren’t very good at managing common resources from Washington DC. Under their management common resources suffer waste, abuse and neglect.

Elinor Ostrom represents a generation of scientists that has been doing yeoman’s work in exposing the noble lies and oversimplifications of the last two centuries, the sort that politicians like President Obama use to justify increased government power. You could run human society purely on the basis of utility, said the utilitarians: “happiness of the greatest number.” You could run society as a communal village writ large, said the socialists. You could run society with rational educated experts, said the Progressives and the Fabians. You could even run society as an evolutionary survival of the fittest, said the entrepreneurs, but everyone agreed that was social Darwinism.

But just as we know now that the design and operation of the human body is complex and sophisticated far beyond our imaginings, we are coming to understand that our life as social animals has a depth of complexity and sophistication beyond the naive simplifications of the philosophers and political activists. For instance Alan Page Fiske in the early 1990s developed a four-dimensional “relational model” of human society, humans doing things together as social animals. There is Communal Sharing, which was Elinor Ostrom’s area of specialization. Then there is Authority Ranking, President Obama’s favorite approach to “together”. Then there is Equality Matching: that’s the idea of taking turns, of returning favors, of tit-for-tat. Finally there is Market Pricing; we know all about that.

The reality of humans as social animals is much more complicated than a four-dimensional model: of course it is. At least the model shines a light on the horribly cramped and bigoted philosophy of President Obama, whose “together” means liberals inventing bureaucratic programs and calling it “community” as they force everyone onto a one-size-fits-all idea that just happens to create easy, lifetime-employment, supervisory roles for educated liberals.

Let us celebrate President Obama’s use of family togetherness, for he is paying tribute to the conservative vision, that there is something more than politics and programs. As Catholics believe in “subsidiarity,” conservatives believe in civil society, the empowerment of the “little platoons” in society in which everyone can make his or her responsible contribution to society.

It’s a shame that the president and his political party really don’t really believe in “together” outside of presidential framing speeches. A stimulus program filled with moneys for the president’s supporters isn’t “together.” A top-down bureaucratic monster health care program isn’t “together.” A green energy program doling out favors to the president’s contributors and issuing draconian regulations to shut down coal production isn’t “together.”

Maybe the president and his top aides should spend a bit of time reading up on the science of human sociality. Then they might learn how very far the program of President Obama and his political party is from “together.”

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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 TAGS


What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican


US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050


Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008


Socialism equals Animism

Imagining that all order is the result of design, socialists conclude that order must be improvable by better design of some superior mind.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


Sacrifice

[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values


Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.


Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


Racial Discrimination

[T]he way “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,” Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District


Postmodernism

A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy


Physics, Religion, and Psychology

Paul Dirac: “When I was talking with Lemaître about [the expanding universe] and feeling stimulated by the grandeur of the picture that he has given us, I told him that I thought cosmology was the branch of science that lies closest to religion. However [Georges] Lemaître [Catholic priest, physicist, and inventor of the Big Bang Theory] did not agree with me. After thinking it over he suggested psychology as lying closest to religion.”
John Farrell, “The Creation Myth”


Pentecostalism

Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization


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©2012 Christopher Chantrill