Last week I wrote about an Associated Pres-GfK study that shows that the only racial-social group in which the majority prefers Republicans is the white working class. I pointed out that in supporting Republicans, working class whites act against their own best interests, and wondered why. I promised to return to the issue when I had some answer to the question.
When I am trying to answer a question, the first thing I do is look at it from many different angles. The first angle I selected in this case turned out to make a whole lot of sense: Is the white working class so different from other groups in acting against its own best interest?
When I started to think about the question from this perspective I realized that in fact it may be the current American way to act against one’s own best interests.
- Don’t a significant number of college students, especially freshmen, ignore their studies in favor of socializing, hanging out, video games and partying? How can that ever be in anyone’s best interest?
- Doesn’t the news media and popular culture reinforce anti-intellectualism and a dislike for learning? How can brainwashing your customers to act in ways that will leave them less capable to earn the money needed to spend on your products be in your best interest?
- Aren’t rich people the primary donors to groups fighting environmental regulations and other actions to ward off global warming? These people have theirs and have the most to lose to environmental and natural disasters—you’d think they’d want to protect their world from the depredations of continuing to befoul our earthly nest.
- Don’t a lot of small businesses belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supports positions that favor big business at the expense of the little guy, e.g., is against development of alternative energy sources, which would create enormous opportunities for smaller technology, engineering, parts and related companies.
- How could it ever be in anyone’s best interest to take out a second mortgage to finance a vacation?
- Didn’t the Congressional Democrats act against their own best interest by not forcing the issue on a vote for extending tax cuts for everyone but the wealthy before breaking for the election? They would have put the Republicans in a no-win situation by creating a win-win for their own party.
- With the history of our Viet Nam debacle and the Soviet Union’s Afghanistan disasters close at hand, how could Congress authorize expensive, unwinnable and goalless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? How could these brutal money pits ever been in the best interest of the people they are supposed to be representing?
In short, it seems that it has become the American way to act against one’s own best interest.
Yet if we take a closer look at all these examples, we’ll see that in all cases, people are acting to their short-term benefit even if it hurts them in the long run. Whether it’s the Democrats trying to survive the 2010 mid-term elections or college students drinking margueritas and smoking pot instead of attending classes, most of these decisions involve filling a short-term “want.” In the case of working class whites, I think it’s a combination of the lure of lower taxes and the fear of the unknown in the form of minorities, immigrants and gays.
And why do we think short-term all the time? It’s because the news media and popular culture have infantilized the American consumer to want to fill every want immediately by buying something. In a way, acting against your own long-term best interest is what drives the consumer-based economy, which partially explains why we’re in our current mess.
“I must have it now” thinking fosters the “I can’t think about it now” syndrome, the “I want it all” syndrome and the “Let’s worry about it tomorrow” syndrome. These ways of thinking all make people act against their own best interest by foreshortening and distorting the parameters of the definition of “best interest.”