9.29.2013

Why a Government Shutdown is Reasonable


A government shutdown is not reasonable from a policy or good governance standpoint.  But it is reasonable if we consider what we know of human behavior during toxic conflict.  

In the context of war, it is “reasonable” for one human to kill another, and for that to happen on a mass scale.  It becomes reasonable when the stakes are high enough, when the good of the group outweighs the good of any given individual that may die.  (Let’s not dissect that premise.  Just stick with me.)  While Congress is not engaged in armed conflict—I don’t want to disrespect those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom—we need to understand the conflict in Washington as being on that spectrum.  Congress should no longer be understood as a group of people who are sent there to govern.  They are sent there to engage in rhetorical and legislative violence for their constituents.  Think otherwise?  Members of the House play to a small base.  “I am going there to fight for you” is a common refrain on the campaign trail, consequently we should not be surprised then when they do just that.

From the singular view of one side or the other, when a person is engaged in conflict, all manner of things that would not otherwise be reasonable, are.  On the hockey rink, if the game turns dirty, we expect that otherwise well-mannered boys will engage in cheap shots and brawling.  “I may not have started it, but I sure as hell will finish it” is a common thought process.  When two people who have shared their most intimate secrets divorce, it gets ugly, and in the context of that divorce, one can expect certain types of vindictive and counter-productive behavior.  Things will be stolen or broken, and the ugliest things said.  Considered from the standpoint of the individual consumed by conflict, these things are reasonable.

If we escalate any given conflict beyond Congress’ current level of toxicity, to armed conflict, undesirable behavior is not just acceptable, it becomes admirable.  Soldiers and generals are respected for what they do.  When you fight for God and country, anything goes.  And so it is in Congress.  The sides are sent there not to represent or seek the collective good, but to fight for their constituents.  Red State vs Blue State, or more accurately, Red County vs Blue County. If we are to believe the rhetoric of those that are very conservative or very liberal, all that is good and true is at stake.  In the context of access to affordable healthcare, it is nothing less than life and death according to both sides.

Understood this way, a government shutdown is a reasonable thing to do.  That is not to say it will be good for the country in the short term, not economically or in several other respects.  But that is always the case during conflict.  Parties choose to cease cooperating, or are forced to from their perspective, and give up present gains to obtain a better future.  A nation that had devolved into armed civil war gives up a great deal, while at the same time, a neighboring country not involved in civil war prospers.  Does that make sense?  It does to the parties at the center of the conflict.  However bad armed civil war, or a government shutdown may be, so long as it is better than the status quo,  it is reasonable.

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Notes
Conflict resolution, solving problems like this and helping parties recover from their seemingly reasonable actions is one direction I could see my career going in. Part of the reason for this is that I am prone to escalate things.  I am part of the problem.  I was a basketball player.  I preferred to play clean.  I never fowled out.  But I did use my allotment of fowls strategically, particularly if I felt the other team had crossed a line.  An eye for an eye?  You bet!  Because I have engaged in retorical and limited physical violence, it is clear to me just how destructive it is.  I know the depth of my pride and my inability to turn the other cheek.  I don't like the version of myself that comes out when I am engaged in conflict.  Because I identify with people in conflict, I think I might be able to help them solve it, maybe.

Another thought.  The reason I write a piece like this is that I believe we have to understand any given conflict before we can solve it.  Comments like, "why are they doing that, it is not reasonable," suggest that people misunderstand the nature of Congresses relationship with each other, the White House, and the American people.  It is not a disagreement.  It is a conflict that he degenerated to the point of rhetorical violence.  The only reason it has not descended into physical violence is that we all find it better to go to work each day with people we disagree with than to fight.  That, and the American people are not as radical as their representatives.  But to hear Congress speak, armed conflict would be reasonable.

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