Needless to say, this was a somewhat stronger response than I expected. Almost as surprising is how overwhelmingly positive the reaction has been. I thought I was saying something controversial—something many would consider downright heretical—but instead I was met with near-universal agreement. And the criticism hasn’t even been all that critical. Many have pointed out that the diagram fails to account for some key point or another, which is perfectly fair, and I acknowledged as much in the article, but few have objected to its underlying premise.
What, then, can be taken away from all this feel-goodery? Whatever you want to take away from it, I suppose (and I’m interested to hear some other opinions), but I think it’s safe to assume the diagram resonated so well because of its simplicity, not in spite of it—and with simplicity comes a certain toothlessness. In this case, the message could be expressed in simple terms because it dealt only with identifying problems, but once you start talking about solutions, ideological differences come into play and things get complicated.
If that sounds cynical, it’s…well, because it is, but it actually represents a step up for me. I started this blog, in part, because I feel like the ubiquitous left/right, liberal/conservative dichotomy has just about destroyed our ability to even agree on problems, much less solutions. There’s this tendency to associate every viewpoint with one side or the other, which is tolerable enough if it’s something like “we should reduce taxes on high-income earners” or “the financial industry should be more heavily regulated”, but it's distracting and counter-productive when the dispute is centered around contrasting interpretations of reality.
I watched this happen with the Tea Party. The Tea Party has, in many ways, become a conservative movement (and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party), but there’s no good reason for the cause of rebelling against government excess and inefficiency not to appeal to everyone—libertarian, conservative, liberal, or miscellaneous. The frustration I expressed last week arose from the seeming inevitability of OWS lapsing into a similar affiliation with liberalism and the Democratic Party, and from my sense that I couldn't declare my support for and identification with the OWS movement without being branded a socialist (which I’m not—no offense, socialists).
But what I saw instead was a refudiation  of the idea that there’s something inherently “liberal” about acknowledging the role of the private sector in our current troubles, because of course there isn’t—no more than there’s anything inherently “conservative” about acknowledging the role of the government. And now I’m at least hopeful that the OWS/liberalism/Democratic Party alignment is not as inevitable as I thought—and hey, maybe there’s still hope for the Tea Party to turn it around, too.
So that’s what I’m taking away from the popularity of the Venn diagram. We’ll always have trouble agreeing on the best solution, but the crucial first step is agreeing on what the problem is, which at least gets us to the point where we can meaningfully and constructively disagree. Looks like I'm not the only one who's tired of bypassing that step.
1. I don’t want this to sound like an awards show speech, but seriously, thanks to Jeffrey Ellis and Steve Horwitz for getting the ball rolling. Thanks to everyone who commented on my article, everyone who shared the link or the diagram on Facebook or Twitter or wherever else… [“wrap it up” music starts playing] …my long-time readers for all the support and encouragement, um…thanks to JoeMyGod for showing me there's nothing wrong with having a blog with an awkward name and “blogspot” in the URL. [music getting louder] Ok, they're telling me to wrap it up. If I forgot anyone, sorry!
2. And, as the title of this post indicates, I've already let it go to my head. This is a good thing, because bitterness makes me funny, so I should be in rare form after I fall back down to Earth, which I assume will be any day now.
3. As the week went on the story sort of morphed from “OWS and the Tea Party have too many similarities to be so antagonistic” to “Could Occupy Wall St. and the Tea Party Unite?”, which is the title of this post on Time's Curious Capitalist blog. I might come up with more to say about that in the near future, but, for now, I just want to say that for all the enjoyment I've gotten out of watching the media overreact to things over the years, it makes me proud that, just this once, I was one of the causes of the overreaction.
4. What? It’s a perfectly cromulent word.