“The function of man is activity of soul in accordance with reason, or at least not without reason,” Aristotle explains in his sixth book on ethics (I know this from Wikipedia).
One of the many things that tempted me to move to Denmark when I was much younger was that reason was a powerful force in that society, as opposed to prejudice, incompetence and greed. In government policy at all levels and even in the relations between labor and management – reason played a major part.
That certainly did not mean all the policies were correct. But you could be confident that reason had a spot at the table.
In addition to the many hot dog wagons on the streets, plenty of bookstores, and a large supply of taverns, Denmark’s societal policies made sense. The voting rate ran close to 90 percent. Artists received modest state support, as did all students.
The kommunes, or municipalities, shared power with the national government and the unions worked with trade groups. Labor strife was unusual and per capita income was among the highest in Europe.
Denmark depended greatly on trade, so both sides in labor negotiations were motivated to keep their demands reasonable as both had a stake in the survival of Danish enterprises.
But Denmark is also tiny, shot through with a streak of racism and remains a long way away from social paradise.
A friend’s mother once sat me down at her kitchen table with a dark-brown bottle of bitters called Gammel Dansk, which translates as Old Danish, to explain to me that Denmark was not so perfect. It had its fair share of social ills, a petty criminal class, drug use, welfare dependency that passed from one generation to the next, and a bevy of juvenile clients at the social agency where she worked.
At the same time, day care was subsidized heavily, health care and education were free, and the gap between the person at the very top of an enterprise and those at the bottom was within a factor of ten, while the average pay for a worker was quite a bit higher than in the U.S.
I have been thinking about the role of reason in the Danish society for an obvious reason: because there is so little of it being displayed in the policy of our American administration. More fundamental, and more disturbing, is that the president’s large group of followers have no interest in reason.
One of our directors here, whose judgment on both business and human matters I highly respect, voted for Donald Trump.
“So do you still like Trump,” I asked her the other day.
“I see no reason to change my mind,” came the answer.
But she also refuses to watch the news anymore because she trusts no news outlet to tell a straight story, and she does not follow social media because it has become a river of trolls.
From the surveys I see, Trump’s base is shifting very little. His followers are true believers.
Such blind fealty, unaffected by reason, must have a very deep and strong foundation. I have come to the conclusion that the bedrock is a deep and abiding disenchantment with the state of affairs in America.
In a Pew Research Center study reported recently by Courthouse News, the author concluded, “Large demographic shifts are reshaping America.”
The study went on to say “Nonwhites are now a clear majority of the population in urban counties while solid majorities in suburban and rural areas are white.”
Along with the demographic shifts, the amount of poverty has grown dramatically in suburban American, increasing by 51 percent, according to the Pew study. Pay levels in suburban and rural communities lag behind the cities, and the number of employed adults has dropped in rural communities.
“Rural residents are less optimistic: 63 percent of adults in rural areas who say they don’t currently have enough income to lead the kind of life they want don’t expect to in the future,” the study found.
Those demographic and economic trends have in turn hardened the rural and suburban voters on the right. “Rural adults have moved more firmly into the Republican camp. More than half (54 percent) of rural voters now identify with or lean to the GOP.”
Taking on that asymmetry in American life is a massive task, but it can start in increments, by putting more public investment into rural areas and by heeding rural concerns over a deteriorating level of pay and quality of life.
Because a large army of true believers during a time of social dislocation and economic malaise is a combustible and dangerous cocktail. When reason does not play a part in unfolding events, they run at an increasingly unpredictable and disruptive pace with an outcome that is unknown.