As a physician I am endless intrigued
by the processes of adaptation that has led to our being on this
earth; and I am amazed that these processes show up so dramatically
in our differing politics. So for those wishing to think a bit deeper
than soundbites here's my two cents' worth.
Bacteria are the oldest life forms on this planet with evidence of their presence close to four billion years ago. Over the next two billion years they adapted to survive using natural selection, where good mutations provided a survival benefit that was passed down to more offspring than those without the good mutation as the bacteria divided. They formed the atmosphere and learned how to recycle. This is Darwinian evolution; it represents competition between agents. But there is another side to it described by Lynn Margulis in the process she called symbiosis. In this the agents are seen to cooperate; bacteria, for example, who knew how to metabolize sugars became the mitochondria that are the engines of all animal cells. Other bacteria that had learned how to use sunlight for energy joined similarly and became the chloroplasts that power the plant kingdom. Life, Margulis and her school argue, did not spread across the globe by competition, but by cooperation and networking.
Going down the road a few billion years we know that survival is important, but we also know that diversity is equally important and that, while survival insures individual benefits, cooperation is the foundation for social benefits as well as the diversity that is the sine qua non of a healthy system . We can also see these two poles, if we look for them, in nearly every aspect of our lives as adaptive organisms.
Applying these ideas to a discussion of political parties is always difficult because we always see what we focus on and what we focus on is not the whole or the underlying principles, but the instant episode. This is a task worth the effort because it takes one to a broader place where principles play a greater role. Take, for example, our current crop of politicians.
On both sides we have candidates who are well educated, religious, with strong family ties, and intelligent. One of them worked in business, close to Wall Street. He seems oriented more to the laissez faire type of market that is focused on profits as the indication of survival. Promoting this kind of survival will raises all boats is the way he sees the system working. His opponent was a community organizer in his formative years. He sees the value of community symbiosis; that people working together on a shared problem is the only way to save the resource from being torn apart by the self-interested. Demonstrating this won Elinor Ostrum, a political scientist, the Nobel Prize in economics.
On a broad basis the funding for one party comes in large contributions from the relatively few who have been very successful at the profit end of survival, while that of the other comes in much smaller amounts from the more numerous who are not so wealthy but see a possible community.
The plan for progress on the one side is to enable those who create jobs (the wealthy?) to do so more easily and with less restraint. In this the emphasis is on making jobs, but just as with the TARP program that saved the financial industry, where the focus was on getting money to those on Main Street that needed it, money seems to have a mind of its own. TARP money stayed in the Wall Street banks, just as trickle-down money mostly stays with the wealthy. Money in the bank, or in the pocket, equals survival in this way of thinking.
On the other hand the plan for the communitarians lies more in helping to repair the infrastructure, working to improve the social elements, like health and education, that lead to a better quality of life; and realizing that money in your pocket, or on a national scale a constantly increasing GDP, is not, as Robert Kennedy memorably stated, the best measure of social health. They see more of a role for cooperative enterprise and other yardsticks, like Bhutan's Gross National Happiness.
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