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Wealth, Carbon, and Human Culture

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The rising accumulation of private wealth is to civilized governments as rising levels of CO2 are to Earth’s climate.

Screen Shot 2020-02-12 at 11.03.57 PMLet that sink in. Extremes accumulations of private wealth in human society and the extreme build-up of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere are both transformative, disruptive of a complex equilibrium and ultimately destructive for humanity.

Human culture is both a cause and a barrier to solving these two great threats to our collective welfare. In fact, these two looming catastrophes of extreme wealth inequality and extreme climate change are different aspects of a singular human flaw – personal greed. More specifically, both of these threats are outcomes of a powerful cultural priority that places profits over people. We don’t do what is our health best for human society because the cost would reduce personal profits for those who profit the most. The idea that we would not sacrifice personal wealth to save our immediate family from ruin is unthinkable, yet in the abstract of corporate enterprise, the concept of sacrificing business profits to benefit society as a whole is equally unthinkable.

We are at the second great inflection point as a species. We once again face social deterioration and possible extinction, despite being at the apex of our success as a species.

Humanity’s first inflection point was over 50,000 years ago when we almost became extinct. We were down to a very small number of survivors in Ethiopia. As a species, we were incapable of self-sacrifice to benefit the survival of the clan. This nearly caused our extinction. In this regard, we were much like many other species in this regard.

Consider the wolf. In the presence of a kill, the strongest wolf defends its right to eat its fill. It cannot eat less in order to save some meat for members of the pack who are starving. This is how evolution ensures the survival of the fittest among these top predators. But humans were never top predators. Our strength as a species is in our social bonds and the coordination of our collective actions. We, as a species, needed to suppress our self-preservation instincts to achieve our survival as a species.

We are told that this genetic alteration happened at this point around 50,000 years ago. It allowed individuals to sacrifice their personal welfare for the sake of the welfare of the group. This great self-sacrifice gene has carried us forward to the present. It has allowed us to create this massively interdependent human culture we enjoy today.

But now our more primitive personal greed tendencies are finding expression in an inability to sacrifice corporate profit (a hypothetical construct, and not an actual reality) to benefit the welfare of human society as a whole. Our inability to sacrifice corporate profits is once again threatening our existence as a species.

It is my curse to see this so clearly when so many seem incapable of seeing it at all.

Why Democrats Should Care About People Who Don’t Vote

by Brian T. Lynch

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Both political parties in America, along with virtually all television pundits and political opinion polling companies focus entirely on 60% of likely voters. We all ignore 40% of potential voters who don’t vote. Polling surveys commissioned by both the Democratic and Republican Parties are always predicated on some variation of likely voters. The results are then grise for the mill of television and newspaper commentators and political party prognosticators. And so it is settled wisdom that all of our elections boil down to 7% of likely voters who are also the swing voters among us. Rightly or not, these much fawned over swing voters are considered most independent voters with centrist political ideology. These swing voters have a disproportionate influence over electoral strategies and policy positioning. As a result, we never hear from those who are disillusioned with politics.

The conventional wisdom is that these non-voters don’t care about politics, but it is equally true that the body politic doesn’t care about these non-voters. We have come to the point where non-voters are the largest block of eligible voters in America. But are they really unreachable? Or are they justifiably disengaged because they are neglected by both the Democratic and Republican Parties? What is the potential for re-engaging this huge block of the electorate, and which political party has the most to gain? Which of our current Presidential candidates have the best shot at reaching out to these non-voters? And who are they anyway?

Why Democrats should care more about non-voters than swing voters

  • Among likely voters, there are about 10 million swing voters or 7% of all likely voters according to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight
  • There were 91.7 million non-voters in the 2016 presidential election or 40% of all eligible voters. Non-voters are the largest group of eligible voters
  • 54% of non-voters (49.5 million votes) are Democrats or left-leaning non-voters
  • Another 10% of non-voters (14.7 million votes) have no political leaning
  • 52% of all non-voters (47.7 million votes) want more government services, not less
  • The 64.2 million non-voting Democrats, left-leaning or neutral eligible voters represent over 6.4 times the number of swing voters in the 2016 election
  • This compares with 65.9 million Democratic votes for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election

Who are the eligible voters that are not engaged in voting?

  • 66   million non-voters (72%) are under age 50. They are mostly younger voters
  • 59.6 million non-voters (65%) are dissatisfied with the way things are in the country
  • 54.1 million non-voters (59%) are White (non-Latino) citizens
  • 19.3 million non-voters (21%) are Latino citizens
  • 11   million non-voters (12%) are Black citizens
  • 55  million non-voters (60%) either graduated or dropped out of high school
  • 54.1 million non-voters (59%) are single
  • 46.8 million non-voters (51%) experienced unemployment in their household in the prior 12 months

39.4 million non-voters (43%) have household incomes of $30,000 or less per year

By far, the largest number of eligible non-voters are people who once made up the base of the Democratic Party. They are citizens for whom the rightward and upward shift of both political parties over the year has left them without a voice in government. It is not only the right thing to do to reconnect with these less-fortunate Americans, but it is also in the best interest of the Democratic Party and the Nation. These disillusions, often angry citizens are most vulnerable to the nationalistic authoritarian appeals to which they are being targeted.