Posted on February 18, 2013 by Ruth O’Brien
What a clever idea. The president who is taking collective action to a whole different dimension — the “You and I” of our nation, as articulated in his Second Inaugural — announced in his State of the Union Address that he plans to help revive the economy by funding a study of the innermost aspect of the You and I: the I — in other words, the brain. Costing billions, this study of the human brain would do “what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.”
Investing in “best ideas,” Obama explained, has benefits beyond science: “Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy — every dollar.”
Historians and students of politics date reform epochs with labels that start with “New”: Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, FDR’s New Deal, JFK’s New Frontier, or Warren Harding’s obscure New Normalcy. Obama has thrown out a more complicated label — using the brain to study the brain, as one of his “invest in best ideas” projects. To be sure, Obamacrats, or Team Obama, has not yet coined a two-word slogan that best reflects his first or second administration.
Reflecting the interdependence of the You and I (that government and individuals, and collectivities of individuals, are interconnected, intertwined and interdependent) in this new world that contains not two but what I call three colliding spheres — the public, the private, and the social — Obama has captured best as, I recall, what Alec Baldwin or Meryl Streep said “it’s complicated.” It’s no longer enough to have a public versus private, or a big government versus small, or a protected identity or not — it’s all mixed up.
Just as everything becomes a Twitter acronym, Obama planted lots of “bombs” for what constitutes the “best ideas” for investment in his SOTU address. Indeed, as John Markoffreports, there was some question that Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health “inadvertently” confirmed the plan when he wrote in a Twitter message, “Obama mentions the #NIH Brain Activity Map in #SOTU.”
Was this “inadvertent?” If there are bread crumbs about where Obama’s best ideas are leading the nation, and crumbs that are all tips as to how he will engage in the fiscal funding fight next month, then perhaps these inadvertent confirmations are a good thing for boosting the economy.
To my mind, or what dances around in my brain, double negatives create a nice space forthree-ways: ambiguity, disambiguity, and disambiguation. And no matter what Obama intended to drop, it’s great for “you and I” if Obama throws funding at initiatives that could do another double whammy of helping us keeping growing the economy while getting a chance to better understand ourselves, since the “brain remains one of the greatest scientific mysteries” while continuing to lead us out of this slumped economy.