Thursday, September 8, 2011

The United States: One Country, Two Nations

I found this definition for the term nation: "a large body of people united by common descent, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory." Some countries are blessed with one nation, others possess many. Perhaps the worst situation is to have two nations of comparable size. Early in the current financial crisis there was much talk of the US becoming the new Japan. It appears more likely that we will become the new Belgium.

A number of tabulations have accumulated pointing out just how deep the differences are between the people who make up our two political parties.

We have previously quoted Senator Webb from his book idealizing his Scots-Irish ancestors, Born Fighting, where he states that immigrants from non-English speaking countries ("Catholics, members of the Orthodox churches and Jews") brought "communitarian" values that were inconsistent with the "individualism" of the population with Anglo-Saxon/Celtic heritage. Could this be a source of cultural divergence within our populace? If you believe that culture persists over a number of generations, as Webb does, then he may have a point. Consider data measuring the tendency towards individualism rather than communitarian actions. We will make the great simplification of associating red-state Republicans with British heritage. We will continue that approach by peopling the blue-state Democrats with other major immigrant groups. The quoted number is the "individualism index."

Great Britain 89

Italy         76
Sweden   71
Ireland    70
Germany 67
Israel       54
Spain       51

One can look at these numbers and conclude that this could be the source of a cultural divide. Communitarians might expect focused government interactions for the common good, while individualists might view government intervention as an assault on their personal freedoms. That brief synopsis would serve as an introduction to the two wings of our political spectrum.

One often concludes that because of their inability to agree on important matters the two classes of people must work from different sets of facts—or from no facts at all. A Yale study of opinions on climate change and global warming supports this notion. The Economist provides us with this summary chart.

Those with the Tea Party label make up about half of the current Republican Party, and seem to wield the greatest influence. Notice the difference between the Democrats and the Tea Party. The Tea Party represents those most convinced that global warming does not exist, and they are the most certain of their convictions. Given this stance, it is not clear how one conducts a dialogue on the issue.

Given that the two parties occasionally occupy the same room, is there any hope that they might be able to reach a compromise on important issues? The Economist indicates there is little hope for that.

Absolute certainty can only be attained through absolute ignorance. It would appear that one of our parties has endorsed ignorance—or at least faith-based reality—as one of their party platforms. It seems that there must be a decisive confrontation between the forces of enlightenment and the forces of darkness before our country is returned to us. I am not sure who will win.

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