Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Everything's Not Broken

With all the doom and gloom in the news about the banks, the auto industry, the economy in general (and healthcare and education and... you get the picture) it's easy to conclude that everything is broken. It shouldn't have to be said, but I'm quite certain this is not the case.

Let's bear in mind, for starters, that the news is necessarily limited to reporting on the unusual and sensational, no matter how objective, fair, and balanced the journalists strive to be. As the great G.K. Chesterton (himself a journalist) observed:

It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding... That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles.

Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, “Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,” or “Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet.” They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complex picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.

So yes, there are problems and many of them are big. People fall off scaffoldings. Scoundrels make off with $50B. People are losing their jobs. But this does not mean everything is broken.

For example, small banks are generally doing just fine (which pleases my Distributist sensibilities to no end). And democracy in America is working - we just witnessed the peaceful transfer of power between Bush and Obama. Not just any old power - the presidency is arguably the most powerful position in the world (at least in the top 3 or 4, right?).

And for all the complaints about education and healthcare (many of which are quite justified, I'm sure), we still manage to save lives, produce new medical breakthroughs and provide world-class education to some of the most creative and intelligent people around. Students from around the world still come to America for college. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I'm not saying everything is good. I'm just saying everything isn't broken.


RhetTbull said...

Why do you and everyone else (especially the media) keep saying "peaceful transfer of power"? Save the Revolution, we've never had any other kind of transfer of power in our nation. (I wouldn't include Civil War in "transfer of power". We debate, we elect, we transfer. That's how we've always done it. I think what the collective "you" may be trying to get at is that we elected an African-American president which many thought would never happen and it happened peacefully. But to qualify the transfer of power is to ignore history and is ultimately a slap at the American democratic experiment which has been working quite well and peacefully, thank-you very much.

The Dan Ward said...

Rhet, what I and my liberal-media-liberal-elite-liberal colleagues are saying is that the peaceful transfer of power, which has indeed been a hallmark of American democracy for 200+ years, is actually a relatively rare and precious thing when you look at the rest of the world.

People in positions of power like to hold on to that power (see Putin, Castro, etc). Historically, stepping down gracefully so that someone you disagree with can take over is not the norm. Riots in the streets, military coups and violent revolutions (either to support the current regime or to overthrow it) are not at all unusual in the face of an opposition party trying to take power.

We've managed to do it peacefully 43 times now. That's impressive, and while it's not rare here, it is rare in the bigger story of humanity. And my point in mentioning it is simply to observe that in America today, democracy is (still) not broken.

Eileen said...

Dan ~ I love how you think! Thanks for writing this blog!

RhetTbull said...

Hi Dan,
>and while it's not rare here, it is rare in the bigger story of humanity.

Yup, I get that. I spent 18 years in one such country and lived through several non-peaceful transfers of power which may be the reason this particular notion strikes a chord with me viz-a-viz the USA. But it is the norm in our nation and I do take some offence at the implication that our transfer would be anything but peaceful.

And yes, I agree that we're still not broken. But we are almost broke! ;-)

The Dan Ward said...

Ah, that makes more sense, Rhet.

However, I'm not sure what gave the impression that I (or anyone) was implying the transfer would not be peaceful. All I said was that the transfer was peaceful and that's a good thing. Not a surprising thing, but indeed a good thing and, in the big picture of human history, a relatively rare thing.

The POTUS has a lot of power, but one power he does not have is the power to stay. After two terms, off he goes. Any attempt to retain power (ala Putin, etc) would simply not work... because our democracy DOES work.