Two more from Breakthrough

The last two mandatory blogs from my time at Breakthrough are up. Click the links for the full thing.

Technological Mojo
Liberalism as it exists today isn't so much an ideology as a flag of convenience. The progressive position on policies promoting the welfare state and cultural attitudes towards abortion, gun control, and gay marriage unites a solid minority coalition, but one without big ideas except for a vague notion of 'play nice' and 'be yourself.' As Michael Lind of the New America Foundation put it, the Democratic Party is about checking off the wish-lists of its constituent interests groups. "What is the liberal position on the environment? It's what the Sierra Club wants." Rather discuss values, liberals have retreated to policy literalism, appealing to a slew of "scientific" and "rational" policies to achieve narrow, tactical ends: price carbon dioxide, extend healthcare to the uninsured, stop the war, decrease classroom sizes. Liberals have ceded values and emotion to conservatives, with disastrous electoral and policy results at every level of government. Liberal scientism is a rhetoric of failure.

It's Dangerous Being Modern
The Breakthrough Dialog began with a very interesting idea, that of second modern risk, which was not fully fleshed out. At the heart of second modernity is the idea that humanity has become responsible for its own fate. Thanks to the power of science and technology, we have banished the ancient gods and forces of nature. Food, shelter, and physical security are all assured in the first world, and so humanity has directed its efforts to fulfilling post-material needs for status, power, and a moral society. In many ways, this is a zero-sum game; unlike material goods, status and power cannot be increased, only redistributed. Different cultures have profoundly different concepts of morality. For all our efforts to improve the second modern condition, it seems that the best we can do is run to stay in place. Post-material failure is one kind of second modern risk.

But while people worry about their job security, and their child's chances of getting into Harvard, and what their neighbors are up too, second modernity has its own apocalyptic horsemen. Flood, famine, fire and plague are primitive problems. In their place, we have substituted the business cycle, anthropogenic climate change, and total war. Second modern risks are more worrying, not just because they are bigger, mankind finally has the power to wipe itself out, but because they are human in origin, and therefore, in some sense, are our responsibility. My fear is that decades or centuries from now, the weary, broken survivors of whatever ended our technological civilization will look back and say, "But why didn't they change?" How then, can we as individuals and as a collective, come to grips with both kinds of second modern risks?

1 comment:

  1. "Liberal scientism is a rhetoric of failure." really? how about "uses failed rhetoric". I took away from that "'liberal scientism' is the only correct strategy for making policy, but doesn't sell itself well".