Thursday, January 7, 2010

Compromises and Shared Sacrifices

Maybe it is a trick of perception but it seems to me that we are losing our ability to work together to solve our problems, both as a city here in Dallas and perhaps in the country at large. Granted, I am now in a position where I’m trying to locate housing for people now homeless, which many people would rather not have in their neighborhood, so the entire issue may just be more important to me now.

I seem to remember, though, when the culture was different. When we fought a war, then there was a draft. Whether or not you went to war, at a minimum you shared the risk of fighting with everyone else. Important national issues were examined and dealt with on a bipartisan basis, which seems impossible now. The two political parties are so divided that I can’t imagine that they would agree on any significant legislation.

Some years ago, I think the culture was different. We weren’t so self-obsessed. Nobody was famous for being famous. Conspicuous consumption wasn’t nearly so conspicuous.

It’s hard to trace the changes in our culture, but I think many of them resulted from the Vietnam War and the protests against it. The Vietnam War provided a great incentive for those of us old enough to fight in it to become politically active. There is little like the threat of being drafted and sent to fight, and perhaps die, halfway across the world for reasons that you don’t understand to make you get up off the couch and do something. With that incentive, the New Left developed a whole new technology for protests and asserting individual rights.

Like any technology, once it has been developed, then it can be used for multiple purposes, often with unexpected consequences. Drift nets were not invented to eliminate fish populations, only to make catching fish easier. Once an extremely effective technique for fishing was developed, however, the loss of entire populations of species of fish became inevitable.

I think the same pattern took place once better techniques to assert our individual rights were developed. Now that we know how to stage effective protests, media events and the right way to file lawsuits, we can all assert all of our rights and the unforeseen result is paralysis. That’s not at all what most of us probably have in mind when we try to assert our individual rights, but good or bad, I think it’s an inevitable result, as I’ll discuss tomorrow.

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