Politicalism; I thought I was creating a new word. It turns out it has been around since the mid-19th century, but it’s time to look at it again.
We have other ‘isms’ like nationalism, racism, and sexism; the ism-list is long. These words typically refer to extremist or overzealous views. Nationalism, when applied with common sense and decorum, can be a good thing; people are proud of their country and rally around each other to help solve problems that arise. Sexism, racism, and others like pessimism are often viewed as undesirable belief systems. If you want to see how many isms there are, check this list... not now; finish reading my post and then check them out. ISMS
Why am I writing about politicalisms? Let’s look at extreme nationalism. One of the worst examples in history would be the Nazi regime in Germany, where all peoples but what they called the Aryan race was degraded and often subject to genocide. Extreme racism and sexism often result in anger, hatred, and acts of violence. Extreme isms bring out the worst in those people who have embraced those beliefs to the point of rejecting logic and objectivity, and it turns into a type of cult worship.
Politicalism, in this case, refers to the extreme view on the right and the left. I’ll use the terms Capitalism and Socialism to give them a label, although it’s much broader than that. We hear from the extreme-right all the time the cry of “Oh, socialism! They are trying to turn us into a socialistic or communist society!” From the extreme left, we have anti-capitalists who want to lay the ills of the world at the feet of those who succeeded beyond all probability and are extremely wealthy.
There is no pure capitalism or socialism anywhere and never has been. There are degrees of both systems around the world, some more successful than others. Scandinavia comes to mind when we talk about socialism. They seem to have balanced capitalism and socialism in a way that works pretty well. The people in those countries are free to make as much money as they want, and they must pay taxes on that money. The richest among them will complain about taxes, but they also know that no matter how much money you make or how poor you might be, your children will get free education, and your entire family has world-class medical care at little or no cost. Deduct what would be the cost of education and healthcare from their taxes in the US, and it’s probably closer to a wash. The difference being, in the US, the well-off can afford education and healthcare; the rest often go begging.
The so-called communist countries of Russia (the former Soviet Union), Viet Nam, China, and Cuba have mostly abandoned the pure communist approach in favor of a blend of capitalism and socialism. I do not mean this post to be about economics; I’m merely pointing out that we have to avoid a “one or the other” argument. If interested, you can read more about the Chinese economy here.
My argument is about not adopting extremism in our political views and allegiances. We must avoid the polarization of extremism in our political views and rhetoric. Extremism breeds anger and polarization. We have only to look at the ills and wars that came from religious extremism over history to see the pain and suffering.
Another analogy about avoiding extremism and embracing a balanced approach might be in sports, let’s say American football. The best teams in the NFL, the ones that consistently contend for and end up at the Super Bowl, are teams with a balance of offense and defense. If a team spends all their money on the best offensive players and builds their defense around picking up day workers at Home Depot, they are not likely to have much success; you can’t be all offense or all defense and succeed.
Capitalism and socialism are like that; they are the offense and defense of a thriving democracy. For this discussion, we’ll call capitalism the offense and socialism the defense. The offense is a capitalist economy that is constantly trying to surge forward to score points in production and GDP. We want that and need that and should design our system to succeed to the max without hurting other parts of our society.
Socialism prevents terrible things from occurring to society that blunts the offense—things like pandemics and natural disasters that would otherwise cripple businesses and the economy. We want to prevent a lack of education and skills from inuring our economy. And we want to ensure that there is an infrastructure in place that will enable the offense to be as successful as possible.
Look at the role of the FAA. Every day, the FAA manages 45,000 flights in the US, 16,405,000 flights per year. Without the FAA, which is by definition a socialist scheme, the airlines would take off and land anytime and anywhere they felt like it. There would be no “lanes” in the sky; each pilot would fly any damn way they wanted to at any altitude they wanted. It would be chaos; we would probably look at a dozen airline crashes a day at the cost of several thousand human lives each day.
It’s time for most Americans to reject the politics of extremism. Reject the candidates who demonize their opponents, whether left or right. It’s okay to favor a strong economics program or social program, but if we don’t move away from the extreme views that are driving the division and hatred we see today, we can kiss our democracy goodbye. We need our elected representatives to put America first, not cling to some narrow ideology based on anger and division. That means electing people with principles who will work with the opposition and reach a consensus on what is right for the United States.
Most of the world likely recognizes that line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. While on the surface, it appears to ask where Romeo is, in reality it is asking why Romeo is. I won’t bore you with the details. The text begs the question of who Romeo is, a Capulet or a Montague. Seattle seems to suffer a similar identity crisis as we emerge from the struggles of COVID-19, rampant protests, often violent, over the arguably excessive use of force by the police, often tilted toward minorities, homelessness that seems hopeless, climate change, and an economy that appears to be bordering on grand-bourgeoisie and leaving the common worker behind.
Our problems, like many cities in the US and around the world, are primarily wrapped up in homelessness, violence, drugs, economic inequities, and the never-ending march of climate change related to over 7 billion humans and their use of fossil fuels. I won’t try to address them all here. After all, I’m not running for office (I can hear the collective sighs around that pronouncement) but I do have to pick a favorite for mayor in the upcoming primary election.
I like to think of myself as a liberal centrist. I’m have a well-defined list to the left, but I reject radical solutions that are knee-jerk reactions to a difficult problem rather than thinking through the problem and the impact of proposed solutions on society. A good example of that has been the “Defund police!” movement. While understandably embraced by those who have suffered the most under our slave-chaser brand of policing, it is not a well thought out solution. After about a year of this craziness, calmer minds have prevailed and are now looking at reforms that include things like better training for cops, eliminate the free pass they get for bad behavior, also known as ‘qualified immunity’, special units to address non-violent issues like public drunkenness, mental stability issues, etc. By rejecting those first calls for a drastic solution that would have been a nightmare for society, we are moving along a path toward solutions that work for everyone.
An issue I want to address is that of transportation in a large city like Seattle. With one exception, every mayoral candidate I’ve looked at, and I’ve looked at at least the ‘top ten’ the approach has been narrow and populist. In one Q&A exercise, they were asked to rank transportation priorities. Almost to a person, it was transit, bicycles, walking, driving. Mass transit, either busses or fixed rail, a 19th century technology is the mantra for anyone running for office. Bicycles, another marvelous 19th century mode of transport, was second followed by the oldest mode of moving around, walking, and last, was driving; the most modern mode available.
Yes, fossil fuel burning vehicles are a part of the problem, but this might surprise you; it’s not the gorilla in the room. You will find a myriad of data out there about how much private vehicles contribute to greenhouse gasses, but you’ll find that it ranges from about 15% to 30%.
This vendetta against the automobile is misplaced. If you get everyone out of their cars and on either busses or riding the rails - even electric rails - you will increase the pie slices above for electric generation, and you’ll still have the smoke-belching trucks on the road and factories spewing emissions. Private cars are not the villains. Seventy-five percent of the emissions screwing up our atmosphere come from other sources. And, we are rapidly moving toward electric cars and trucks, but then again, of course, they will increase the demand for electric power. We need a greater push for both solar and hydrogen powered engines in our transportation systems and wind energy for other electrical uses.
Candidate after candidate stated in that their top priority was to get people out of their cars. They didn’t say as much, but the traditional approach has been to punish drivers by taking away access to roads, raising parking fees through the roof, taxing the doo-doo out of drivers, etc. This Draconian approach to solving problems doesn’t surprise me when I hear it from conservatives, but coming from good-old-liberal Seattleites surprises me. Let me share another chart:
Well, that’s interesting. Only three-in-ten commuters to downtown drive their cars. The rest are all over the map, walking, biking, ride share, busses, etc. Interestingly, only 3% ride their bikes but we are spending tens-of-millions of dollars on bike lanes that set empty most of the time.
All I’m looking for, folks, is a commonsense approach to any of our problems, not a radical or punitive one that drives people away from Seattle to the suburbs. What about a ‘positive’ incentive to get that 30% who are driving to move to electric or hybrid vehicles instead of making life miserable for them?
We’ve been using the punitive approach for years and what have we got? A beautiful new skyline of shiny glass and steel skyscrapers that are empty because no one can afford to live in them or occupy them for business and the city has made getting to work more and more difficult. We need a balanced and experienced leader, and we need to work on our city council in the next couple of elections to get the one-issue minded people out and community minded people in.
So, how am I leaning? Well, sort of left, of course, but I like what Art Langlie had to say about transportation. When all the candidates were asked, he was the only one to say you can’t prioritize any one mode of transport; look at the entire system and take a balanced approach. That’s the thinking I want to see in our city government, not some narrow ideological approach that rewards only a small percentage of Seattleites while hurting others.
Discussing life, politics, and philosophy in the language of the bar.