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Mutually Exclusive World Views

There is a long precedent for mutually exclusive world views.

Thomas Powell

The great sorting process of American Presidential elections is underway. It is remarkable as a phenomenon for its sheer scale, hype, cost and logistics. The ambitious candidates for the world’s most coveted power job as President of the United States of America announce themselves to begin more than a year’s duration of pontificating, posturing, and groveling for money. The total public subsidy in resources and non-productive work dwarfs any other global four year ritual.

It would not be difficult to become cynical regarding American Presidential elections if the whole process were not so drawn out and intricately choreographed by professional handlers, and if it didn’t involve millions of people in so many roles performing their assigned tasks. Pundits dissect electoral strategy for the mainstream contenders and the long shots. The issues are trotted out and a few gain traction. The tea leaves of the American electoral pulse are solicited and read. There is theater, there is sanctimony, and there is continuity. After two centuries of personnel change at the top, the United States remains firmly entrenched in militarism and capitalist ideology.

The remarkable early success of the “outsider” candidates, real estate mogul Donald Trump and democratic socialist politician Bernie Sanders have added a new story line to the cyclical script. What seems more acute than usual in this Presidential election is the inability of the Republican electorate and the Democratic electorate to have a mutually intelligible conversation as to what are the relevant issues of today. There seems to be no common ground or even any mutual common wisdom on how to cope with either domestic or global issues, or even what those concerns should be. The world view gap between left and right seems insurmountable.

Two hundred fifty years ago at the inception of the modern state, Rousseau wrote of similar mutually exclusive world views between “subjects” and “citizens.” Subjects, he proposed, prize public tranquility, prefer security of possessions, believe the best governments should be severe, want crimes punished, think it is a good thing to be feared by their neighbors, and are satisfied as long as money circulates. By contrast, citizens prize the freedom of individuals, prefer the security of the person, believe the best governments to be the mildest, want crimes to be prevented, think it best to be ignored by neighbors, and demand that all people shall have bread.

There is a long precedent for mutually exclusive world views. Reconciliation is untenable.

¡Hasta la victoria siempre!

Thomas Powell is a sculptor who lives in Northern California and writes on issues of aesthetics and politics.

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