July 14, 2005

Raindrop Theory...

[Post updated several times] I've started to write various intricate expositions of the Raindrop Theory (not a great name, but it's stuck in my head), but none of them have quite jelled. So I think I'll just write a simple version, so at least I'll have something to point to.

My theory, which seems to me to explain a lot of the odd things happening in politics these days, (things I'm always harping about, here on the blog) is that many people have never developed a political philosophy. This is especially true for my generation (Baby Boomers). We came of age in a time when it seemed to many Americans as if the big questions had all been answered. Settled. So we just absorbed that world as if it was unchanging and uncontroversial. (This is of course how we all learn much of what's in our heads; we just pick it up from our parents or peers, or from "conventional wisdom," and never scrutinize it. We don't have time to debate everything.)

When I was young it seemed to many people that the system sometimes called 'big-government liberalism" had been conclusively shown to be "truth." Settled. Beyond debate, typified by the way Nixon said, "We are all Keynesians now." Or the way LBJ could launch a "War on Poverty" without being greeted by a storm of derision, as would happen today.

There really wasn't any conservative critique of the dominant liberal paradigm, at least not one that ordinary people encountered. I don't remember any such during my college years. Goldwater's challenge was widely dismissed as kooky, and Reagan wasn't on stage yet. So a great many political things were just accepted, the way we accept without conscious thought that the sun shines, that smoke rises and raindrops fall from the clouds.

But a lot of what those people absorbed doesn't work any more. Times have changed. The Industrial Age is over, the Atlantic Era is over, inflation is gone, Europe is a hollow shell, the Cold War has been replaced by the WOT, and the Republicans are now the dominant party. And it's no longer true that Democrats are the party of the young and the cool, the party of minorities and free spirits. And the Republicans are no longer the bland white-bread party, stuffy and stodgy and isolationist.

So there are a ton of changes that are impinging on people''s minds, if only subconsciously. And they can't deal with them rationally, because they never learned to THINK about them. Never realized they were opinions, or temporary conditions, not "the way the world works."

Which is why "Raindrop Theory' is a bad name. I meant it to suggest how any of us might freak out if raindrops suddenly started falling upwards. Actually we are all so accustomed to scientific wonders and paradoxes, we might just calmly wait for the PBS show that explains why raindrops fall up...But many people are NOT accustomed to expect social and political change. Not on the scale we see now.

And the results are millions of "Bush-haters," foaming at the mouth and apparently actually believing that a malevolent plague is emanating from the White House. But only because of Bush, not because anything has changed. They seem to think that if Bush (and Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld etc) disappeared, then things would go back to "normal." Back to the 20th Century. (They are wrong, poor creatures. Bush-is-Hitler is mere crackpottery. But it shields them from worse news, which is that the Bushies are just normal American conservatives, normal products of this age, and there are LOTS MORE like them coming up from the minors)

Partly this can be explained by the 70-Year Cycle. When party dominance changed in the 1860's and in 1930's, there were lots of Lincoln-haters, and FDR-haters. Still, the freak-out seems to me much greater this time. Perhaps because there are a lot more educated people, who have their self-esteem wrapped up in their ideas. And partly because big-government liberalism was a philosophy of the Industrial Age, which is passing away. The Information Age is not being kind to people who believe in large organizations directed from the center by experts and managers.

Posted by John Weidner at July 14, 2005 2:46 PM
Weblog by John Weidner