Over at Balloon Juice, Tim F. writes regarding skyrocketing gas prices:
I don’t feel particularly smug when I stand next to my Honda Fit watching some SUV owner near tears as she puts more than $100 of gas into a car she doesn’t need. It just feels sad to think about how long it’s been since it became obvious to anyone who cared to look that we won’t be able to scare off problems like fuel scarcity and climate change by closing our eyes and wishing.
That lead time was an opportunity to make changes. Some would have been painful and some merely sensible, but it would prevent huge numbers of honest Americans get caught with their pants down. Instead we blew it out the tailpipe of cars that average 15 MPG. Now, instead of a planned transition, we get to see what happens when stubborn denial meets inescapable change. It’s simply unsustainable to live in suburban car country with a negative equity on the house, $6-7 gas (wait until you see what that does to property values in outlying suburbs) and expensive SUVs that nobody wants. The saddest thing for me was that most who will get fucked the worst had no idea this was coming. There was that one guy who warned us, but he had a snooty laugh.
On an individual level, it’s easy to feel superior to people who bought SUVs and are paying for it now. But that’s foolish, because we all rationalize our choices like this, so it was inevitable that a high percentage of people would like SUVs not in spite of their low mileage, but because of the low mileage. Instead of wishing human nature to change, then, I’m going to suggest that the people who exploited this rationalization tendency hold the lion’s share of the blame. For people who wanted to engage in wishful thinking about the relationship between oil and environmental problems, right wing pundits, car companies, and oil companies did all the hard psychological rationalizing work for people.
I can’t disagree with this strongly enough. Sure, schadenfreude isn’t worth the time, but the idea that “the people who exploited this rationalization tendency hold the lion’s share of the blame” is incompatible with a democracy, never mind what I consider basic morality. Repentance, absolution, the process of forgiveness, or whatever else you want to call it requires not only saying you’re sorry and providing restitution (and fixing the problem, but not doing wrong when placed in a similar situation.
I don’t want revenge (it’s usually not worth the time), but I do want accountability, not just for those who promulgated lies, but for those who believed them–often time and time again.
I would argue that one of the defining characteristics of a ‘progressive’ (and that of a liberal as well as a feminist) is a struggle against the establishment idea that we are sheep who are led around by the nose by small groups of elites (hell, this is David Broder’s guiding star). Are you one of those sheep? Am I? Or are we elites*? If we truly want to move closer to a true participatory democracy, we must hold people accountable for their actions. More importantly, we have to avoid giving people an ‘out’, and make people take responsibility for their own actions.
That’s not revenge, but simply what is necessary for a democracy to function.