The I that is not We: the We that is not I

This was the best bit in the essay that Ken quoted recently.

Care is impliedly conceptualised as resulting from poor fortune, to be provided for as a ‘service’ rather than something essential to realising our humanity. Incapacity is spoken of as a ‘risk’, as if it were somehow possible to never be a baby, or to avoid the mortal need for tender succour that precedes our dying.

Very nicely put, even if the ideological place the whole essay was coming from wasn’t my cup of tea for reasons I won’t go into here.

But yet again, the sad part is how out of touch the current political hardheads are with basic human psychology. Is it any wonder it’s difficult to get people to buy your message when it offers so little emotional heft? Have the ALP leadership and hardheads not noticed that people care at least as much about groups – particularly their groups – than they do about themselves? Have they not noticed that great speeches are not about “I” but about we. Not that I’m any fan of JFK’s oratory, but his most famous line was “Ask not”. All the great speeches are about ‘we’ not ‘I’. “We can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground”. “We will fight them on the beaches” and on it goes.

[T]he government seems woefully unaware of its political self interest … to tell a story about an ‘us’ that transcends the 22 million odd “I”s that subsist in the country.

My point is not that the Government would be wise to stress some call for sacrifice (though that can work in the right circumstances – and was last used to good effect by Bob Hawke in 1983). It is that, as usual the government seems woefully unaware of its political self interest which is for it to tell a story about an ‘us’ that transcends the 22 million odd “I”s that subsist in the country. Sad really.

And it’s doubly ironic when they think their opponents are preaching a gospel of selfishness. There’s nothing individualistically selfish about stopping the boats. It’s all about us. There’s nothing selfish about expanding work for the dole. It’s not about the money, it’s about the sense of mutual obligation to the community, and the community’s anxiety that mores of thrift and hard work dear to them are atrophying (this has been a concern of those over about 25 in virtually every non hunter-gatherer society in history).

It may (or may not) be a stretch to say that we’re much more motivated by protecting those things that distinguish our group than we are about our own individual or even family self interest (though I think one could mount a reasonable argument to that effect). But the situation a politician faces is conditioned by what they can achieve. And despite what they say, any policy difference between the Government and its political opponents will have only the most marginal effect on the material wellbeing of virtually all people and families in the community. By contrast their policies and what they say about them can have a much larger effect on Australians’ sense of whether a particular politician or political party is ‘one of them’ and someone to whom they can relate as a leader who is taking the groups they want to be a part of (their family, their community, people like them) into a better future.

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Pedro
Pedro
9 years ago

I think you are correct that a large percentage of people feel a group affiliation, but I wonder whether it is getting harder and harder to have that apply to the nation. Anzac day is an example of it occurring, but are there other things going on around the place that reduce the likelihood of national spirit? I think we feel part of groups that conform to our sense of self, so even group identity will be governed first by a degree of individualism.

Each of us will likely be a part of various groups that we join because of what we feel we have in common with the group, whether support for a footy team, interest in a sport, local school community or feelings of rebellion and alienation. So, if the govt is to appeal to the group spirit, it first has to find the hook to pull a lot of us in. Sacrifice in times of national or local emergencies are easy, its the every day that is the struggle now that we are less homogeneous.

Tel
Tel
9 years ago
Reply to  Pedro

Maybe it’s OK if people are different to one another.

Just tentatively putting that out there.

Thomas the Tout
Thomas the Tout
9 years ago

Well put Nicholas, but I hope that no-one in the Labor Govt. reads it; or if they do, they cannot implement it.
When SA had the Olsen govt., one of the more memorable letters to the editor was for the government to stop treating us as if we are numbers, and to treat us as people. I think there is an odd connection with your point

paul walter
paul walter
9 years ago

It’s the sobering reality of a “designed system”, the sense that we are of the same value as lab mice, curiosities on treadmills pointlessly running fast without going anywhere.
Now Pedro and I are usually antagonistic but I identify with where he’s coming from and share the cynicism; the sense of being alienated from something that now has a life of its own; a runaway train.
Thom the Tout, am from Adelaide too and involved in the Save St Clair Park group to try and save that park, I always hoped that Labor would avoid the Olsen mistakes, they certainly campaigned on that but then embraced them and the result was more race to the bottom, shopfront, tabloid politics within that “designed system”, whilst the politicians got behind closed doors, deal-making with the developers.
Now the solipsism is complete, as naifs eagerly embrace the dry lib opposition as saviours of parks and enviros.
I can’t see the libs (Campbell Newman?) standing up to vested interests if Labor won’t buck them and Labor won’t buck them because it is a top down system, imposing a legal, economic and ideological framework with a deep interest in and capacity for, the dumbing down/ atomisation of humanity and expropriation of the commons, not preservation of locales and communities.
We are a Satrapy, not a nation and lib-lab are “two right wing factions vying for control of a one party state”, to”manage the decline”, while the public sits back like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed on you know what.

Pedro
Pedro
9 years ago

Paul, in case you didn’t notice before, Labor is the party of vested interests, and especially at State level. Anybody who knows property developers knows this for a fact. It’s amazing how obvious they are about it. As Labor has grown into its current form as a patronage and ambition machine, it has lost any ethical heart or soul and this has been obvious since 2007 and especially so since 2010.

Tel
Tel
9 years ago

… to tell a story about an ‘us’ that transcends the 22 million odd “I”s that subsist in the country.

Not to mention the smaller but still significant number of I’s subsisting in Canberra.

To make a “we” requires effort and understanding on all sides.

jennifer
jennifer
9 years ago
Reply to  Tel

…..and a goal that is clear, attainable, highly desirable or essential; and which cannot be accomplished without the support of the entire group.