Forward to next post: All of my opinions about the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
I was struck by a thought today, while reading yet another Internet Conservative defending rant radio and the ethics of hatemongering.
Our political conversation is a shared resource, which none of us owns and all of us benefit from. It’s how we decide where to bestow our votes, our source of information about the world and how we as a nation fit into it, our debating-ground for how our lives are led.
There are people who get money and power from this shared resource: politicians and pundits work the ground of our discourse for profit. But though there is some money and power to be obtained from working it honestly and sustainably, there’s more to be made by exploiting it. Lies and vitriol, hate and hysteria, populism and tribalism all pollute the political atmosphere even as they allow the people who use them to profit. They take the benefit, but we all pay the cost.
Sound familiar? It’s the Tragedy of the Commons.
The issue I’m talking about isn’t really yesterday’s shootings in Arizona. That, and the subsequent explosion all over the internet, weren’t even our political Love Canal or Three Mile Island. They’re but a single bald patch on our common grazing grounds. What I’m getting at is different. It’s a bigger, systemic problem.
And I don’t have a solution. The usual result of the Tragedy of the Commons seems to be privatizing the common resource, which always sounds to me like fixing crumpled origami with a blowtorch.
On a dark day like this, I think there is no solution. A political system critically dependent on a resource vulnerable to this failure mode is doomed. You can finesse a few centuries out of it, exploiting inefficiencies of communication and historical sub-legal norms to restrict the exploiters and polluters for a time. But in the end, greed finds its level. Selfishness wins out again.