Deep Dive #5: This Is Who We Are
When I think about all the crazy things that go on in my country, the United States of America, I ask myself:
Is this who we are as a country? This was a question posed by Van Newkirk II of The Atlantic right after Donald Trump won the election.
I ask this question now amid the debates for the Democratic nomination.
It's a simple and tough question to ask, yet surprisingly easy to answer if you understand the origins of the theoretical and ideological framing of America as a country. The way I go about coming to a conclusion is based around the dominant strains of thought, or ideology, that fill our public marketplace of speech.
Where do these ideologies come from, how do they mutate and evolve over time, and more importantly, what are their logical conclusions?
Concerning America, I always think about James Madison, the 4th U.S. President. He was one of our Founding Fathers and the Author of the U.S. Constitution. Notably, his view as expressed in the Federalist No. 10 on what is the primary driver of conflict in society is still accurate today:
But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.
The unfortunate thing is that most people don't understand the importance of "property" being the main reason for conflict. The same concerns Madison had back in the late 1700s, and early 1800s were centered around the unequal distribution of "property." Property is better defined as the resources needed to sustain life. Property is unequally distributed now, and will always be in the future, according to Madison. Madison doesn't explicitly state this, but can be reasonably inferred that these "formed distinct interests" of those have property and those who do not are fundamentally and diametrically opposed to one another.
The next major statement he makes in Federalist No. 10 ultimately gives away his view, and by extension, the structural design of the American government:
The inference to which we are brought is that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.
What he's saying here is clear. He assumes (hence the word "inference") that inequality in property, or over the necessities of life, can never be resolved. Therefore, our nascent government should be designed to ailing the symptoms that stem from such inequality. Those symptoms are embodied by the conflict between the haves, and the have nots.
Economic inequality naturally leads to social and political inequality. (If you don't have the basic necessities of life at your disposal, how can you meaningfully interact as an equal in the social and political realms of life?)
The struggles of our day are borne out of the explicit design of our style of governance. That is, our government can't solve inequality through its formal operations because it was designed not to in the first place.
When you understand this fundamental point, answering the question of who we are becomes a lot easier. Madison's ideology is reflected in two key documents that explain the American economic, political, and social landscape of the past four decades:
When you read those two documents, compare the respective aims of those messages and Federalist No. 10. You'll see the common undertones and themes. You'll find it hard not to come to the conclusion that, yes, this is who we are.
What do I mean explicitly by "this is who we are?" Consider the following: Silicon Valley, Jeff Bezos, and Donald Trump.
In a social context, the logical conclusion of American society is Silicon Valley.
In an economic context, the logical conclusion of American capitalism is Jeff Bezos and Amazon.
In a political context, the logical (and honest) conclusion of American governance is Donald J. Trump.
The present-day outcome of our society was not by accident; it was by design.
It's not enough to say, "this is who we are."
The truth is, this is who we were always meant to be.
P.S. - I felt that was, from a writing perspective, a great way to end the piece. But a more fundamental question must be proposed. Given that the path society is on is, for the most part, inevitable, should that determine who we want to be as individuals?