The concept of the Goldilocks Zone reminds us that most typically, there is a range of possibilities above and below which would not be viable. This is in contrast to the idea of unbounded growth, in which one or more key performance indicators is expected to continue to grow forever, without bounds. Think: up and to the right.
Commonly used as a metaphor, the Goldilocks Zone has its origins in planetary science. It defines a planet that is within the habitable zone of its star system, meaning not too hot and not too cold — with the ability to sustain liquid water. Without it, life on the only living planet we know — ours — would cease to exist. Therefore, one good place to look for potential life on other planets is the Goldilocks Zone, which has also come to be used as a reference meaning “the perfect conditions” for some ideal state or goal.
“Going viral” isn’t always desirable
We crave it in our social media feeds, but avoid it like the plague when it is the plague — viral contagion can both giveth and taketh away. In America we’ve recently been having both as of this writing.
Whereas the Goldilocks Zone presupposes limits at both ends, unbounded growth expects no limits to ever be encountered from the start. In a finite world inside a finite universe, it is simply unlikely to be true with much regularity.
You could say that Goldilocks Zones know a lot about establishing boundaries, while the infinite growth areas tend to extremism. Beyond the pandemic, cancer is another infamous candidate for illustrating the dangers of growth without bounds. Arguably, hypercapitalism belongs.
The Goldilocks Zone is a moderate
Goldilocks Zones are akin to the center of the Bell curve; the boundaries of the margin of error; the middle path. James Madison would have been a fan of the Goldilocks Zone — it would have smelled to him like his own concept of the moderating force of many factions preventing too much extremism from taking root in governance, and reminded him of the insights of the Marquis de Condorcet.
“Moderation in all things” was made famous by first the Greeks and later the Romans. It is a kind of ancient wisdom that turns out to have very old roots indeed — back even to the early days of the universe.
The cognitive dissonance of the so-called Republican “agenda” is on acute display, wherein mortal threat to a literally enumerated power of the Constitution given to Congress to establish a federal postal system seems not to bother the Constitutional originalists one bit. Not to mention said power’s role in facilitating free and fair elections. Curioser and curioser!
Somehow, one of the nation’s oldest institutions — instrumental in both our political and economic history throughout its existence — is suddenly considered yesterday’s fish by the seemingly randomly fiscal conservative. It’s, apropos of nothing (except an upcoming election in a pandemic), nigh time to punish the historic public service for not being more focused on the opposite of its stated mission:
The colonies’ budding sense of unity was emboldened by collective action overtaken to dislodge the British Imperial Post (and its taxes with it), and this sentiment continued to grow through related historical affronts including the Townshend Acts of 1767, the Boston Massacre of 1768, and the Tea Party of 1773 into the full-fledged political pursuit of independence waged as the American Revolutionary War.
Foundational Acts: Establishing the post was a first priority
Benjamin Franklin became the first Postmaster General when the Second Continental Congress created the Constitutional Post in 1775. In his first term, the nation’s inaugural President George Washington signed the Post Office Act into law, establishing the USPO in early 1792. By the end of his second term, the number of post offices, miles of post roads, and post revenues had grown by 400%.
Washington spearheaded the creation of the post with help from James Madison. With it the two philosophical fathers of the revolution established both a right to personal privacy and a right to public information for citizens of the new nation. They specifically made it cheaper to send news — believing that an informed population was of utmost importance to a self-governing country.
Alexander Hamilton helped the fledgling post office with legal challenges it faced as it modernized, including a dispute with contracted stagecoach services who refused to adhere to delivery standards. Alexis de Tocqueville was impressed by the postal service on his historic visits to the new nation, convinced that the organizational capability of the early post office was essential to sustaining this fledgling American experiment with democracy.
Roads in general owe their ubiquity and quality to pressures from the mail service to provide reasonable passage for delivery. The Pony Express provides to this day some of the most iconic imagery and symbolism Americans associate with the Wild West.
The postal service was the largest communications network of the 19th century; it bound the nation back together to some small but not insignificant degree following the Civil War. Later, the Air Mail Service of the Unites States Post Office Department would be inaugurated only shortly after motorized plane flight was in regular usage towards the end of World War I.
Without the West, no America
Anyone care to argue that this country would be the same without the great American West? Surely not you, Texas — nor you, Montana. Not even Wyoming. Our national self-conception as a people of Manifest Destiny — a people whose boundless horizons were thrilling, exciting, and full of possibility. Of social mobility. Of personal responsibility.
The American identity is bound to the West. Our entrepreneurship, our creativity, our explorative and adventurous spirit finds itself embodied in the iconic images of the cowboy, the dusty plain, the purple mountains’ majesties that we all learn in childhood curricula. How would we ever have shared that imagery in the first place, if not for the post?
I think James Madison — the Father of the Constitution — would have had many choice words about this development. Since we cannot alas ask him his opinion any longer, perhaps his parting words to the beloved country he was instrumental in creating can suffice:
The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated. Let the open enemy to it be regarded as a Pandora with her box opened; and the disguised one, as the Serpent creeping with his deadly wiles into Paradise.”
There is no point belaboring a “stop the identity politics!” argument because there is simply no way to excise the political clash of factions from the identities of those factions. There would be no point in clashing if there were no identities.
There is no polity without identity. The root of the word itself in ancient Greek referred to the relationship between a citizen and the state, and the rights one has in relation to that state. Whereas individual communities have historically had rights infringed — often precisely because of their identities — it is of course a logical imperative to defend one’s rights under the rule of law. You use whatever tactics are available to you and that your ethics comport with to get your rights. All factions would do the same.
Some might say the predominant historical thread since the founding of this nation is the gradual parity-seeking of the many groups that have migrated here over the past 241 years (and much longer still, before that). Most of them have had a long, hard road; many of them still do; and still new groups are becoming the focus of persecution in America as time goes on.
Economics is also identity
How does one even have a political position without an identity? I often hear “economics” presented as the “alternative” to discussing identity, as if one’s economics can be separable from one’s identity; as if economics is separable from history (or as Jefferson called it, the “dead hand of the past“); as if economics is separable from one’s nationality; as if one’s choices in life have no relation to one’s station, or aspiration.
James Madison himself believed the unequal distribution of property was itself the most common cause of factionalism. There aren’t a lot of rich socialists. There aren’t a lot of poor Libertarians. So it goes. The question isn’t whether or not we talk about identity — the political question is “whose identity(ies) do we talk about?” Who gets resources, accolades, airtime, contracts, lucrative careers, investment funds, bailout funds, bail funds, etc. etc. Who gets rights, and who doesn’t.
There are mathematically-speaking two predominant positions one can take on this question:
we all have equal rights
some groups should have more rights than others
The former position is the classic view of liberal political philosophy (not to be confused with liberal economic policy, with which it is much conflated to all our detriment). The latter position is a belief in supremacy. Typically, this belief is accompanied by the belief that one’s own group is, of course, the dominant group and that other groups are the inferior groups that ought to be generally submissive to the in-group. Unsurprisingly to game theory or statistics, each faction tends to have such believers amidst its distribution of policy positions and political leanings. Some are more militant than others (quite literally).
Clearly the nation’s founders in any of even the most skeptical reads believed in the former, however, and intended it to be the law of the land for their fledgling republic:
Whether we can live up to it is the question still, as it was when it began. In our time the “question” appears to loom large once again — a time when it is convenient for the powerful and wealthy to avoid even sharper scrutiny from a public set against itself like dogs trained for a fight. We all must have an answer to the question: equality or supremacy?
Your answer becomes part of your identity and thus, your politics.