Our country is no longer the New World; it is the Developed World. The United States is old and rigid. We have lost our flexibility. This wasn't true until recently. This country was known for groundbreaking changes: The Tennessee Valley project, building the tallest buildings, trying (and failing) to build the largest airplane (you can still see the monstrous Spruce Goose in some museum). We were even known for amazing projects that struck others as odd; think of the four presidents' faces carved into the mountain in North Dakota. We were also noted for other kinds of breakthroughs, in medicine, chemistry, art, poetry, and perhaps physics theory (the latter now as much a form of poetry than of ‘fact'.)
I don't think all of that is true any more. Think of an attempt to build a new, imaginative bridge. The environmentalists will try to stop it. Architectural critics will grind it to death. Money won't be available, unless it is a pork barrel bridge in Alaska (the famous bridge to nowhere). Citizens will complain that the shadow will hurt land values. Maybe even the League for the Homeless will complain that it provides too little protection to sleep under. The project will be lost. Try to build our Interstate road system now.
Each group has a legitimate claim. But all their claims together lose legitimacy. They become holes in the road. Together they forma chasm.
The bell I am ringing is that interest groups, in millions, hold their interests before any idea of the common good. Sure, those infamous lobbyists do it but so does the garden club in every town. The result is inflexibility.
Even small changes now are ‘historic'. Barak Obama accepts his nomination in a football stadium. That is ‘historic.' Actually, it is a tiny thing, although it does show some bravery and a wish to spread the magic directly to more people. But it isn't historic; it is a twitch.
All the changes proposed by both candidates aren't major; they are quite small. But see how many are enacted after the lobbyists, bankers, oilmen, pundits, and garden clubs get into the action. Any real change would shiver the country or at the least apowerful industry.
This situation is even more rigid because of the ascendance of more and more interest groups: people with HIV-AIDS, gays, old people, landowners' associations, deaf people, ethnic minorities, bridge players, English language purists, professional sports associations, environmentalists, 4H clubs, academics, and people who oppose genetically modified foods. The list goes on forever.
It is easy to suggest that we try to see the greater issues and try to work together. That is too difficult, because the law is used so often. Lawyers see combat in everything. Or at least we could negotiate together. Not easy when you compare the beauty of a flower to the ugliness of a bridge. On a larger scale, appeals to everybody to pull together are appropriate only for a major war or in a dictatorship.
What's the solution? How can we make the country more flexible, able to move and act out of the box? I don't know. Maybe there is some answer in technology. PCs and new media are changing our world. Nobody planned it; they just sneaked in. Is there a technological or entrepreneurial change to our fixedness other than brain operations for all?
A possible solution is one proposed by a former friend, Claudio Naranjo. He is a psychiatrist who thinks in new directions. He believes that education, a radically ‘opening' form of education, can permit change and growth eventually if not now. Probably so but how can we get around the administrators and the teachers' unions? Or the parents who want good grades (no grades in a new system) for their kids? Or kids who now avoid (either emotionally or in person) any education beyond the barest?