In response to my books post, commenter robert said: “Yes, it would be nice for politicians to realize that social problems are not so easily soluble, and that many are based in human nature and not changing political arrangements.”
I think of that as the traditional conservative point of view, and while I’d probably prefer it to the nihilistic bloodlust and weird busybodyism of John McCain, that’s not quite what I meant. What I was trying to say about literature is that I think it’s a reminder that even if we halt nuclear proliferation, prevent catastrophic climate change, vastly improve public health, and maintain strong economic growth people will still frequently feel sad (or angry or frustrated or jealous or bored or nervous or whatever else) about this or that. Not because social problems are irredeemable but because social problems have a limited relevance to people’s actual lives. I feel like that’s the kind of thing — the bounded importance of the entire politics ‘n policy game — that one can lose sight of the closer one gets to the corridors of power. It’s not that I think we can’t solve our social problems, it’s that even if we did life would still go on, just as it will still go on if we make our problems worse.