Ron Rosenbaum echoes his friend Jeff Goldberg on the American tendency of “solutionism”:
Obama’s UN speech defined him as a solutionist. I envy him. I wish I were a solutionist. Do you know the word? I’ve often referred to “the American belief there’s a solution to every problem,” but I didn’t coin the word “solutionism” — although I wish I had.
I’m not sure he invented it, but the first of the some 4000-plus Google entries for “solutionism” (now 5000-plus since Obama’s speech — coincidence?) comes from my friend Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic*, writing about the Mideast. He calls solutionism “America’s national religion”: the compulsion to believe that, with good will and good faith, a solution to everything — even ancient hatreds — can be found. Maybe it’s because we’re too young a country to have experienced ancient hatreds, although we brought a lot over with us. Ancient hatreds will trump good will and good faith every time.
It’s this really very admirable “solutionism” that Obama demonstrated at the UN. The optimistic belief that with good will and good faith there’s a solution to every international problem, just as there’s a solution to health care somewhere in the 500 amendments to the Senate bill.
Later in his post:
At least the Irish had a tragic sense of life, one we lack and which thus makes us forever surprised and angry that a solution doesn’t magically appear despite our best efforts.Conservatives believe they have the solution; liberals believe they do. I believe that in many cases there is no good solution. … Why can’t people admit this? Look at the history of the past century — a hundred million dead in wars despite all the peace treaties and peace conferences and lip service paid to peace. Some things are irreconcilable and tragic and always will be. Get used to it. I didn’t say give up. Maybe next century only 90 million will die if we keep searching for a solution. On the other hand, don’t count on a smaller figure. I’m betting the over.
It’s hard to disagree that this mindset characterizes a lot of American political discourse. Perhaps it’s something about the modern mind and democracy. As Rosenbaum says, it’s rooted in an optimistic view of human nature. It’s something that I probably fall into more than I realize.
Hat tip: Jeff Goldberg