Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Thought of the day: change the world? start by making up your mind
Each time I concoct an idea to change the world, I'm torn between two impulses--can-do, Think Big ferocity and crippling practical humility. On the one hand, nothing ever changes if everyone wallows in conformity and accepts the world the way it is--it takes courageous, entrepreneurial social attitudes to reduce sexism and inequality in society's institutions, to spread the gospel, to replace business-minded efficiency with intellectual substance in education, the church, the media, society as a whole. (And the above is just half of my to-do list in life...) On the other hand, it is an advanced form of arrogance to think that one flawed mortal out of 6 billion alive and many more dead can actually transform the social environment on the planet, except for micro-settings like my family and office.

In my 20s, and inspired by a Kuyperian vision for social change, I lean toward the former: change can happen, I can know what it is, I can write about it and take a tangible step to at least not pollute (if not exactly cleanse) the social atmosphere, and set an example in doing so. But hand-in-hand with Kuyperian quasi-triumphalism is Calvinist absolute depravity, which says that because of every human being's brokenness, I am no more apt to change the world through and for Christ than I am to muck it up with my own selfish pride. I mean, I subscribe to the Downstream model of thinking about social change: you could rescue drowning people as they float by you, but after five people in a row, you'll go upstream to clean the clock of whoever is throwing them in. That's why I see politics as a chance to address problems on a macro-level. BUT power is corrupting, and corridors of power are snakepits of egos. Besides, even if you did have political power to change the world, you'd have to get everyone (or a majority) to AGREE with you. I was thinking about this when I saw that on Sunday, the NY Times Magazine published a cover story on (roughly, though it was decently nuanced) why globalization harms the poor and how it should change. Earlier that week Times resident libertarian columnist Virginia Postrel had written a piece on how Bad Globalization is a myth. So how are we supposed to go out an implement the Mag's 9-point plan if we can't even agree if the diagnosis is apt, let alone the prescription? But is that even the correct model for change--the powerful agree, and it happens? I'd like to read this Malcom Gladwell book, The Tipping Point, which I understand analyzes how major social change happens in small, surprising ways. After all, celebrated, even agreed-upon plans for change can go nowhere, and unexpected ones can flourish. What's a world-changer to do?
What do you think?
Yesterday's Thought
Footnote: This has been my dillemma as an intern at the Tribune: I look around and see things that people who have been here don't see; I envision change, I envision improvement, I envision, all utopian-like, how the Tribune could really transform this metropolis. But not only do I have the least power of anyone in the building to do it, I also have to kiss up and shed my would-be maverick skin in order to come back here some day and actually be in a position to change something, by which time I may lose my fire. The Conformist Insider and the Independently-Minded, to find the middle ground.

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