Thursday, August 18, 2016

Obama's Optimism vs. a Crisis Mentality

Interesting article by Zack Beauchamp at Vox about the worldviews of Obama and Susan Rice, his National Security Adviser. While many Americans seem to worry that the world is falling apart, Obama and Rice believe that things have never been better. Rice:
This is a much more hopeful and positive period in history than we have seen certainly in our lifetimes. I tell my kids this: that they couldn’t be luckier to be living in this world at this time. . . .

We are in an era where, as the president has often said, if you didn’t know who you were going to be, or whether you were going to be male or female; white, black, Asian, Native American, Latino, [or] something else; if you didn’t know if you were going to be straight or gay — if you didn’t know anything about who you were going to be and you had to pick a time in which to be born. . . .

You would pick this time. Because the odds of success for any individual are much higher in the aggregate than they’ve ever been.

More people are free of poverty than ever before, conflict between states is less than ever before, technology is providing extraordinary opportunities for advancement, and health and agriculture and well-being. Compare the era we’re living in today to the losses we suffered in World War II or even in the Vietnam War, or compare the economic challenges we face now to the Great Depression.
As Beauchamp says, the numbers largely support this view:
The number of people living at $1.25 per day or less declined by roughly 1.1 billion people between 1990 and 2015. The number of war deaths per 100,000 people worldwide has increased in the past three years, owing largely to the war in Syria, but is still far lower than it was even 20 years ago. Average global life expectancy worldwide was 48 in 1950; it was 71.4 in 2015.
Since Obama and Rice believe that the world is generally trending in the right direction, their approach to foreign policy has been deeply conservative. Their main goal is to keep the boat from being rocked. They believe that things like the global free trade regime should be protected, because they are doing their job, and that we should not let little things like the terrorist bombings or the civil wars in Libya and Syria distract us from the broader mission of insuring peace and prosperity in the world. Beauchamp:
Contrast this with the Bush administration. After 9/11, the administration concluded the world wasn’t actually trending in a better direction. Jihadism threatened civilization itself, and a radical new approach was necessary to address the threat.

That means the Bush administration was willing try out more high-risk policies, like invading Iraq and attempting to transform it into a democracy at gunpoint. The Obama administration, because it thinks things are generally going well, can afford to be a bit more conservative. They don’t need to try to create utopias, because they think we’re on the road to one.
This can come across as callous, since the civil war in Syria is causing a lot of misery, and terrorists have many people terrified. But to Obama and Rice the main point is to make sure that our responses to those things don't just make things worse.


G. Verloren said...

The problem is one of perspective. People who take a long view will recognize that things are actually pretty good.

But many people aren't capable of taking the long view - they're either not adequately educated, are distracted by misery and stress, or are actively misled by others. It's hard to have a realistic sense of the world when no one has ever taught you anything about it, you're too busy and tired from work to learn on your own, and your primary sources of information about the world have their overt political and ideological agendas paired with a willingness to distort reality and ignore the truth.

If you don't have a real understanding of what things were actually like 50 or 100 years ago, you can't properly contrast those time periods with the present day, and it becomes easy to think things are worse than they were before - especially if other people around you keep telling you that without any way for you to verify it easily. And what catches people's eyes are the most visible differences, not the most significant ones.

So people look back at the post-war period and see all the pop culture representations of picket fenced suburbs full of smiling nuclear families and think "Boy, life sure doesn't look like that anymore! They sure had it good! The world today is a far cry from how it used to be!" They buy into the cheery veneer that age decorated itself with, and fail to recognize that underneath that flimsy facade reality was pretty ugly for a lot of people.

They're shown adoring women and children gravitating toward deific father figures, but other aspects of the old patriarchy like rampant domestic abuse, routine neglect, flagrant adultery, and all the rest are conveniently swept under the rug. They're shown happy, ethnically and culturally homogenous communities free of strife, but receive no hint of the actual extreme dischord that often existed at the time. People recoil at the awfulness of terrorism in the modern day, but forget that the entire world lived under the constant threat of impending nuclear war for roughly half a century.

If you were a white, Christian, heterosexual male who was native-born, spoke English fluently, and bought into capitalism and the American monoculture, then sure - things were pretty okay for you in the post-war period.

But if you were black? If you were a Jew or a Muslim or an Atheist or something else entirely? If you were bisexual or gay? If you were a woman? If you leaned toward Communism or Socialism? If you were an immigrant, particularly from places like Russia or Germany or Japan? If you spoke with an accent, or deviated in personal dress or customs, or even just expressed an open interest in other cultures or ways of life? Then things weren't going to be nearly so rosy for you.

pithom said...

"by Zack Beauchamp"

-The most worthless writer at Vox. Unintelligent, uninteresting, and wrong on everything.

Of course Obama is happy: he created ISIS (as admitted by the Republican nominee for President), and still probably controls it. He is an evil, sick person. He should be tried for his crimes and shot on the White House lawn.

"Their main goal is to keep the boat from being rocked."

-Which explains their support for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, their overthrow of Gaddafi, their get-out-of-jail-free-cards to millions of illegals, and their support for Ukromaidan. No, their main goal is to keep rocking the boat, so their Sunni-Islamist-Illegal-immigrant conspiracy can triumph. They are evil people. And they should answer for their crimes.

"But to Obama and Rice the main point is to make sure that our responses to those things don't just make things worse."

-Wrong. They're smart people. They're evil people. They know what they're doing. And they love making things worse.

"People who take a long view will recognize that things are actually pretty good."

-Relative to six years ago, they're not, except maybe in China.

"They buy into the cheery veneer that age decorated itself with, and fail to recognize that underneath that flimsy facade reality was pretty ugly for a lot of people."

-Crime was low. People generally trusted each other. The government was too big, and there wasn't sufficient political opposition, and that was a problem, but, adjusted for the level of technology, the 1950s really were better than today in the U.S., except maybe for southern Blacks.

"domestic abuse, routine neglect, flagrant adultery"

-Got any stats on that? I suspect they're higher now than they were in the 1960s, at least partly due to the rise of interracial marriage.

If you were a typical Jew in the 1950s US, your status was much higher than that of the typical White person, and that continues unto this day. Things weren't as good for atheists, sexual deviants, or Asians, but, despite government persecution, they were better for Bol'shevists, as a hugely disproportionate number of smart Jews bought into Communist doctrine in the 1950s. They have since switched to Neoconservatism or Social Justice, which aren't nearly as powerful. Things were probably better for women, as they were not nearly as stressed by work as they are today.

Notice, Verloren, your post have no statistics. That makes me suspect strongly that you are mostly making stuff up.