Where have all the virtues gone?

    You don’t hear much about the public good these days. In the modern political market, votes are bought and sold with the currency of personal promises and appeals, and any image of a larger purpose fades into the background of rhetorical appeals to the “American Dream.” If a politician gave so much as a five-second sound bite asking individuals to sacrifice for the public good, the audience would blink a few times and ponder what exactly this guy means by “the public good.”

    But I judge too quickly. The public good is actually being discussed in the political forum today; it just so happens that it always equates to your personal good. What is good for you is, of course, good for everyone, and each political party would like us to believe that it owns the public good. That’s why you have to vote for its candidate, after all: The other guy is going to destroy the American Dream!

    But before we get carried away, might we ask ourselves, does a public good actually exist? Considering that political science theory has proven that such a thing is pure fantasy, we might conclude that our discussion ends here. But like many things in society, the effects of collective cultural belief can be considerable. A popular belief in a public good seems preferable to acknowledging rampant shortsightedness that now characterizes our democracy.

    The symptoms of this disease are right in front of us: Both the demonstration last year against higher fees for students and the current rally by UCSD staff are examples of the “this democracy is made to serve me” mentality. While everyone can probably agree that both of these events revolve around legitimate issues and complaints, let’s look at it from a more comparative view, focusing on the student protest last year. In every government, there are limited resources — and the state of things in California could not exactly be described as abundance. Former Gov. Gray Davis was just booted out of office in the fallout of a huge budget crisis with resources tapped to the limit. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came into office on a premise of balancing things out, knowing he’d have to cut some places and raise others. While it is unfortunate that student fees were raised, can we honestly claim to be one of the most desperate sectors of the population? While protesting students stopped traffic and displayed their extreme poverty in the streets of La Jolla — of all places — they would have you believe that they are some of the most destitute and neglected victims of the state. Poor UCSD students, attending one of the top universities in the country.

    But no one needs to worry — our politicians are going to give you anything and everything. The list of promises supplied by presidential candidate John Kerry so far is quite impressive. Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards let me know the other day that he is fighting for me, the average American, and what is important to me. I was very touched, so I decided to send him a little list. First, I find it really annoying that everything closes in La Jolla as soon as the sun sets. Second, my landlord won’t let me keep a dog — it makes me awfully lonely and some dog somewhere has died in a shelter because of him. And finally, could you please get rid of “The Surreal Life” on VH1? That show is just so damn annoying.

    The problem may not be so bad at the moment, but it’s only getting worse. The main question is: Does democracy mean everyone getting everything they want at the standard they feel they are entitled to? And even if the answer could possibly be yes, what does that say about our national character? Today’s politics have taught us to be self-interested — the original American ideal of citizens making decisions based on the greater good is buried under 230 years of dirt, where it apparently belongs.

    It seems to me that there are clearly a few pressing issues that should be considered before all else, yet nearly none of the protest you’ll see in the streets or on campuses these days have to do with them. Medicare and Social Security can be saved, but only if everyone is willing to engage in a little self-sacrifice, whether it is through higher taxes or cuts in programs. But that is a breadth of vision totally lacking in our country today. Perhaps that’s only natural; I suppose the public good cannot coexist with private interests — but I guess I’m just a little nostalgic for when we at least pretended to be virtuous.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal