The Lost Art of Cooperation

Also in The Wilson Quarterly, Benjamin Barber:

Why, as a nation, are we so obsessed with competition, so indifferent to cooperation? For starters, competition really is as American as apple pie.  America has always been deeply individualistic, and individualism has presumed the insularity and autonomy of persons and, thus, a natural rivalry among them. Capitalism also embraces competition as its animus, and America is nothing if not capitalistic. Even the American understanding of democracy, which emphasizes representation and the collision of interests, puts the focus on division and partisanship. There are, of course, democratic alternatives. Systems of proportional representation, for example, aim to ensure fair representation of all parties and views no matter how numerous. But our system, with its single-member districts and “first past the post” elections, is winner take all and damn the hindmost, a ­set­up in which winners govern while losers look balefully on, preparing themselves for the next battle.

This has never been more so than in this era when politics has, in Jonathan Chait’s recent portrait in The New Republic, become “an atavistic clash of partisan willpower,” with Christian Right pitted against the Netroots Left in a polarized media environment defined by hyperbolic talk radio and the foolish excesses of the blogosphere. Moderation, cooperation, compromise, and bipartisanship are lame reflections of a pusillanimous past and of a “pathetic and exhausted leadership” incapable of winning elections.