By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
“All politics is local” is the first principle of political organizing. A member of Congress, for example, may have a place on the national stage, but their primary constituency – and the ones who vote for them, and keep them in office – are in the district back home.
“All economics is local” is the corollary principle when it comes to money, employment and stable communities.
We all have our favorite places to shop, visit or spend time. And places that we either avoid, or don’t even consider spending our time. Or money.
Every snack we eat, book we read (and how we read it), every movie we watch (and how we watch it) expresses who we are and what matters to us.
The places we go (or don’t) and our favorite distractions and entertainment express what is important to us.
Our use of social media reveals far more about us than most of us will ever know.
My point is that, however much we may or may not be aware of it, we are making a statement every time we do anything; what we wear, eat or drink, even how we speak is a constant testimony, a living “witness” to what we care about and believe in.
Some of us make deliberate statements with bumper stickers, lapel pins or even flags and banners, but we all, in small but steady ways, are continually making statements about what we believe in.
Economics was, for years if not decades, considered “the dismal science”. I always assumed that was because it primarily dealt with numbers and statistics.
I know better now.
Economics is “dismal” precisely because it deals with the proverbial, and unforgiving “bottom line” of economic survival – or threats to that survival.
Here in the United States, for example, vast numbers of immigrants, over a couple centuries now, have come to North America because of famine, poverty or persecution.
We, the United States, were considered the “land of opportunity” not so much because we were, but because so many nations of origin were not.
A century or so ago, if you were Irish or Scandinavian or of an officially unapproved religion, America beckoned even as the homeland threatened.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and political and economic upheaval – and a strand of religious or political persecution still sends a steady stream of would-be immigrants to our shores.
To say that this makes for an interesting if not volatile mix would be the ultimate understatement, but it might explain our perpetual divisiveness.
Besides the usual conflicts between the haves and the have-nots, we have a perpetual, but always shifting landscape of conflict between those here for awhile and those newly arrived.
There may only be a year or two difference in their time of arrival, but once you factor in differences in religion, food preferences, skill level and the prevailing job market, conflicts may range from minimal to intense, temporary to semi-permanent.
We, like every nation and culture are composed of three realms; techno-economic structure, the culture, and polity – laws and public policies.
Other nations, from Europe to Asia and Africa to the Native cultures of North and South America, have time tested formulas, and usually a whole set of legends, rituals and warnings regarding cultural cohesion and survival – both for individuals and communities.
To put it simply, we don’t.
What we do have is advanced capitalism, (mostly secular, meaning non-religious) modernism, and liberal democracy.
Our version of capitalism has produced unprecedented affluence, and created a world power with a reach never seen before in human history.
Our peculiar brand of modernism, inherently and deliberately non-religious, emphasizes freedom of religion and religious “tolerance” (in most cases) as much as possible.
Our political ideal is one of welcoming every citizen’s voice and vote in every level of our political process.
To say that these core principles of every culture, in our case, come into conflict with each other or are being challenged by internal and external forces would be to proclaim the obvious.
Many cultures have a religious tradition or a shared ideology that, whatever differences individuals might have, unites and identifies them all.
We don’t have that.
In fact we have a reigning, largely shared set of assumptions wrapped around the ideal of self-realization, the radical rejection of restraints, and an unremitting hostility toward the hierarchical ethic on which our society rests.
Every society has assumptions and questions about work, success and citizenship.
And every society has shared beliefs about what is, or should be valued, by its members.
Do we value hard work?
Or do we idealize a life of leisure?
Do we find, like any healthy individual or society, meaning and purpose in our accomplishments?
Do we idolize and envy (and imitate) “the elite”? Or do we demonize them?
Or do we value and celebrate avoidance of responsibility and brag about “getting away with” not paying our fair share?
Do we appreciate traffic laws or violate them whenever we can?
Do we refuse to wear a face mask during a global pandemic to assert our “individual freedom”?
Or are we willing to make even the tiniest personal sacrifice for the common good?
Should we support local businesses or get a better price online or at a discount or nationwide chain?
Are we practical and utilitarian?
Or are we compassionate – especially toward those who cannot speak up for themselves?
For the most part, as a culture, we can’t decide.
Every dollar, every vote, every act of public advocacy expresses who we are. Each individual decision, multiplied, by hundreds, if not thousands, coalesces into the community, an economic value system, you might say, that, in turn defines us.
For better or worse, our politicians and economic policies (and how we treat the environment and each other) are the most reliable reflections of our deepest and most long-standing values and beliefs.
As our economy recovers, our tentative steps back into the car/housing/job market and our renewed social commitments are more intentional than they were just a few months ago.
As we might have told our children, every choice has its consequences.
We are citizens more of an economy than of a political state, and we express ourselves not so much by voting as by how our dollars flow.
And, perhaps more revealing, in spite of our much heralded love of individual expression, it is our collective behavior that truly and fully defines us.