With all of the attention being paid to the presidential elections, it is easy to be misled into thinking that big problems can be solved by big institutions.
The reality is that the majority of problems that we face as Americans (an as human beings) are the result of individual decisions played out in the aggregate. As Kant observes, the fundamental flaw of human nature, from which all other flaws flow, is the tendency of the individual to make exceptions for himself to rules (or norms) he expects others to observe.
We suffer collectively because we recognize that the efforts of a single individual to reform is insignificant if the masses do not also follow suit. Many times, we become so pessimistic of others that we lower our expectations of ourselves. We then put our hopes in large, sweeping, institutional efforts.
The game theory behind these rationales justify a status quo that is unacceptable. It absolves the individual from personal responsibility to do what he or she can to make the world better.
Part of the reason I blog (I think) is that I like to believe that individual actors who are not yet embedded into institutional systems of power still have the capacity to drive progressive change by pushing forward normative arguments.
Our “spheres of influence” may be small, but opinions and attitudes are shaped based on the ties of interpersonal relationships. The stronger the bond, the more pervasive the idea. When integrated within established social networks, good ideas can spread like wildfire.
My (re)commitment to this blog, and to myself, is to act as an agent of change. I want to identify and discuss problems that I can play a part in resolving, in my own small way. I want to be an optimist of myself, because in the end I’m the only person I have direct influence over.
For me, this is the nuanced definition of “change” that Obama represents. His soaring rhetoric asks us to raise our expectations of ourselves. He carries Kennedy’s “Ask Not” torch into the new century.
There are too many people waiting for him to fail, to not be able to deliver on what he promises.
But hope and inspiration in politics are much like consumer confidence in economics. If the consumer believes there will be a recession, he will stop spending, and there will be a recession. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If the voter believes our country holds the capacity to do better, he will act better. And we will DO better, collectively, as a result.