Four perspectives (visions)[pt.2]

a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space. 




Free America [cont.]

As we saw last week, in his book, Last Best Hope, George Packer identifies that free America has an anemic understanding of “freedom” that fails to be grasped by the holistic nature of freedom.



In an earlier a mystical möbius post I had identified some problematic aspects of this hyper-individualized misunderstanding of freedom, i.e., HIPsters and HIP trouble?



Again, in Packer’s view, free America has been the dominant political narrative for the past 40 years or so. An important feature of the free America narrative made it a nice fit with what has been called the political grievance grift [I wrote a 10-part mini-series on this]. Here, Packer describes how outrage consumed the Republican Party:


Packer offers a key insight about the harshness of free America that also reveals why the Democratic Party lost the bulk of one of its key constituencies, i.e., white working class Americans. In this passage Packer shares Obama’s widely reported remark to reveal a blind-spot, i.e., an Achilles heel of arrogance in smart America:

Smart America

The failed promises of free America opened the door for the ascendancy of a “new and improved” narrative, i.e., smart America. Packer argues that the leading political-influence contender of free America is smart America — think the Clintons and Obama.
I say “new and improved” as a way of indicating that both free and smart America are chiefly just different expressions of Enlightenment thinking and the modernist wave that formed in its wake. Packer describes smart Americans:
Packer’s account shows that smart America [Democrats] and free America [Republicans] have sharp distinctions; but he relates that they also share some common ground:


Earlier, when we considered stage (stadial) theory in our “Stage theory… Is BS? mini-series, the notion of meritocracy did come up [in Stage theory… Is BS, pt. 4 see subhead: “Meritocracy: not well born,” — i.e., basis in eugenics]. 
Packer traces the etymology of the term ‘meritocracy‘ back to a British sociologist named Michael Young. In the 1950s, Young wrote a book entitled: The Rise of the Meritocracy. Here’s a passage (edited for time) in which Packer outlines the problem:
Packer then writes:
This hierarchy slowly hardened over the decades without drawing much notice. It’s based on education and merit, and education and merit are good things, so who would question it? And there are plenty of exceptions to disguise the deeper injustice, children who rose from modest backgrounds to the heights of society. Bill Clinton, for example (who talked about “people who work hard and play by the rules”), Hillary Clinton (who liked the phrase “God-given talents”) and Barack Obama (“We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills, and intellect”) — all products of the meritocracy. [pg. 89]
Meritocracy claims to be fair, at least in theory:
So, superiority comes very naturally (perhaps almost unconsciously) to those who rise in the meritocracy. Superiority’s cruel logic regarding equality depends on equality actually existing in society and not just some wished-for creed that we’ve frequently violated in manifold ways. Equality and freedom are plainly declared in our constitution, but that does not make them true for everyone in our society: 
We’ll pick it up from here next week.


Free America, and the 1980s, did not deliver on all the promises that were made. The 1990s saw the entry of a ‘new and improved’ vision, i.e., smart America. Packer’s account shows how these two visions had, by the 20-teens, occupied the two primary political parties, with free going Republican and smart going Democratic. (Packer shows how it may not have been inevitable for Democrats to lose white working class voters because of going smart.):



However, Packer writes:

As things played out, the 1990s, a triumphalist decade for the party and the country, were the years when the Democrats embraced Smart America and lost the white working class. [pg. 92]

The two visions do share what is, by now, an institutionalized structural form, i.e., meritocracy [see above, and here].

Merely different sides of the modernist coin, so smart America, like free America, fails on several accounts. For one, through an overreaching emphasis on autonomy — as we’ll see next time, Packer argues that smart America‘s inability to embrace patriotism (i.e., its overreach toward globalization/globalism) is a serious failing. 



Next week: “Four perspectives (visions) [pt.3].”  Come and see.

[this post ~750 words (3 minute read) + 9:42 media/audio]  


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