In the United States, the “outsiders” continue to dominate the Republican presidential nomination contests, and even among the Democrats, outsiders are gaining ground. What makes this all so surreal is that the same voters who are backing the outsiders are the ones who backed the insiders in all previous elections, because they’re frustrated that elected government isn’t doing what they wanted.

What very few seem to recognize is that what has led to governmental deadlock in so many areas is that voters penalize any official who tries to work out a compromise by throwing them out of office. So there are few compromises. With neither party able to muster a clear majority, compromise is the only way to get anything done, but compromise has essentially become political suicide, because of the polarization of the two main political parties.

So now the voters want to penalize the mainstream and experienced candidates because they didn’t commit political suicide. These voters are doing that by backing candidates who promise results they cannot deliver because their promises are based on ignoring reality. And anyone in the media or political arena who points this out is shouted down, mocked, or ignored.

Is this the result of the “me” culture? The “I want it now and I’m going to have a tantrum if I don’t get it” culture?

That may be, but I think it’s also largely the result of the two-fold failure of most Americans to understand that (1) none of us deserves special treatment merely because we exist and (2) none of us are exclusively self-made successes.

I’m not saying that successful people didn’t have talent and didn’t work to get their success, but I am saying that without all the social and physical “infrastructure” provided by American society and government, few if any of those successes would have been possible. Just having clean water and decent sanitation provides a great advantage. Almost half the world doesn’t have one or the other. Having a basic education is another great advantage. Roughly over a sixth of the world’s population is illiterate. Having enough food to eat with the right nutrients means that children don’t grow up mentally and physically stunted, but some 13% of the world’s population is malnourished, and in large areas, such as Africa, almost a quarter of the population is undernourished.

Wide-spread corruption and arbitrary laws stifle development, ideas, and success, and one of the major factors behind the success of the United States and Western Europe has been the development and enforcement of more equitable laws and regulations. Likewise, the encouragement and development of national and regional transportation systems by governments fosters success. There are scores of other factors in our culture without which individual genius, determination, and effort would be totally thwarted… and yet the myth of the totally self-made individual persists.

We are in great danger of losing everything if we persist in ignoring that our greatest strength is not survival of the individual most fit, but a culture of cooperation and compromise that allows those with talents to flourish. It might help to remember that the deadliest individual predator on the planet is the tiger – and it is an endangered species.

7 thoughts on “Outsiders”

  1. Wine Guy says:

    You mean to say that if society and civilization need to function that people must cooperate with each other? Even people they don’t like or who do not think like they do?


    That kind of thinking might get you thrown into the stocks or pilloried.

    Sometimes, I wish Ross Perot had won.

  2. Joe says:

    The problem is not compromise as much as representing the interests of a client-base. If you do not think for yourself, but simply argue to win a point for your clients, it should come as no surprise that few matters are resolved, and those that are result in self-contradictory policies.

    It is not for nothing that so many politicians are lawyers, not scientists. One might have expected that Science, which has given us our high standards of living, would be the method of choice for coming to decisions. But instead the pestilence of the ignorant quick-witted has taken over, causing us to lose our rapid pace of innovations, so that the
    incompetent can build fences around others’ ideas and claim they own some “intellectual property”.

    Shakespeare’s Henry VI had it right: Let’s kill all the lawyers.

  3. Bob Vowell says:

    The current thinking of the majority of people seems to be that if someone else “wins” they lose completely, that the winning and losing is a zero sum game. You are right, it always comes back to the people are pushing the thinking.

    There was an essay I read years ago by a game developer discussing how to satisfy the majority of the game’s player base, who focused on short term tangible rewards and benefits, while ensuring the game was able to survive long term providing the intangibles that kept the players coming back day after day for years. The end thought of that was essentially you have to give the people what they want but know when to put your foot down and say this is a bad path.

  4. Kevin T says:

    I don’t have the book with me, so I can’t quote it directly, but I’m currently reading your novel Gravity Dreams, in which a great deal of time is devoted to teach the protagonist that a functioning society must ensure that individuals contribute to the greater good–as opposed to being overly concerned that individuals are “happy” or satisfied with their position in life.

    I find myself wanting to share those passages online when I see people demanding that the government take steps to solve the “problem” of income inequality. To me, income inequality isn’t in itself a problem; it’s one of the means we have of encouraging people to better themselves.

    On the other hand, something seems wrong when corporations feel they need to pay their CEO’s a gazillion dollars just to do their jobs properly and improve their companies’ performance. I wonder if it’s like a pyramid scheme, with the second level of management supporting the inflation of the top tier’s compensation, in the hopes that they’ll benefit whenever they make it to the top.


  5. D Archerd says:

    Kevin T, as you say, income inequality is not a direct problem per se. The problems arise because money equals power. The more money a person or a group of people have, the greater the tendency for that group to change the rules in their favor to entrench their power and privilege. This proceeds from the very natural human tendency to want to hang on to what they have, but the upshot when a group of extremely wealthy people all behave in that way is to create a more stratified society. And then the next step, again proceeding from a natural human desire to care for one’s family and children, is to change the rules to preserve that power and privilege for your children. And once that is done, a society that was once democratic and equal at least in opportunity if not in fact has become a hereditary monarchy or at least a hereditary oligarchy like the Roman Republic.

    We are already seeing signs of this stratification of our society and the hardening of those layers. Some of this is due to self-selection as those with money, power and education tend to marry one another and beget offspring who begin life at that same place in society. And we are also seeing attempts to change the rules to lock in that stratification, such as the perennial attempts by the Republican party to eliminate or minimize inheritance taxes so as to ensure their wealth(i.e. power)passes to their children.

    America has come dangerously close at least twice in its history towards that descent into privileged oligarchy: first in the antebellum South where the large plantation owners had begun to establish a quasi-landed aristocracy before that was destroyed by the Civil War, and again around the turn of the last century in the so-called Gilded Age where plutocrats and business trusts dominated politics until being somewhat offset by the Progressive era.

    To preserve a society that is both democratic and stable, our laws and government programs must serve as a container with elastic sides – the farther one gets from the center (i.e. average income levels) the more difficult it becomes to proceed further away. This is achieved at the bottom end by safety nets of services and cash transfers such as welfare and earned-income tax credits and at the upper end by such methods as progressive income taxes and inheritance taxes.

    What threatens our society is not inequality of wealth by itself, but the possibility that those at the bottom rungs will begin to perceive that the cards are stacked against them. It is when the downtrodden feel that not only is their situation hopeless but they have nothing to lose that they tear up the cobblestones and man the barricades.

  6. R. Hamilton. says:

    Granted that cooperation and infrastructure are necessary, why must the cost grow so much? Didn’t we have enough “infrastructure” in the 50’s?

    And as you’ve said yourself, not everyone belongs in college; some would have a higher standard of living if they went to a trade school.

    Public spending should be the least necessary, not the most to satisfy all desires.

    And why can’t Congress spend at least as much time simplifying and reducing the intrusiveness of existing laws, as it does passing new ones? Is there no glamor in that – no clearly delineated demographic that would support it?

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