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Today's Political Arena

When it comes to politics, I try to keep a neutral position, while gently pointing out a possible alternative that better reflected our ideals. This is not always easy. I have to restrain some passionate opinions, which often try to leak out now and then.
    Nevertheless, when I look out on the world, especially the world of politics, I do so with dread. In the U.S., we tend to think of politics as a two-sided contest between "bleeding-heart liberals" and "throwback conservatives," and do everything to keep it that way. We are presented with no viable choice. Of course, clear, unbiased thinking is the obvious alternative, but it is rarely considered over the oppressively fanatical hype of political extremism.
    Conservative extremists view liberalism with terror, as if secular humanists are trying to destroy everything that they hold sacred. Liberal extremists feel much the same way, fearing that Christian mullahs and Tea Party fanatics are going to turn the U.S. into a theocratic version of the gun-toting Taliban.
    Both sides have legitimate concerns, but fail to see the threat that they themselves pose. All they see is the "evil" of the other side, which hardens their opinions to the point of fanaticism.
    The result? A divided nation crippled by vicious and rampant paranoia.
    Television propagandists add unlimited fuel to the fire, using mind-numbing rhetorical tricks to exploit public opinion. The problem is so bad that even when their claims are debunked, as they usually are, they still reference them as true, and people believe them.
    The sides are so entrenched that their ability to be honest and reasonable breaks down completely. This, I think, is the greatest threat we face as a nation today. If the most powerful nation on the planet disregards truth and the validity of reason, then none of the challenges we face will be reasonably met. This is exactly where Congress is today. Most of our major problems have been empowered by the ignoble distraction of extremist propaganda. And for what? Greed? Irrational hate? Ego? The thrill of being a political celebrity?
    Such priorities are contrary to everything we believe in!
    To my mind, politicians, consultants and political propagandists who disseminate this falsehood purposely lead large sections of the population astray. At the risk of sounding harsh, from the perspective of our ideals, that makes them traitors not only to our democratic nation, which depends on truth to properly function, but to humanity itself.
    Most of us, at some time, have had the experience of selling portions of our souls because we wanted to belong to some group. We wanted to think as they think, share a common enemy, no matter how contrived, to vent our rage and be applauded for doing so. In this respect, our guilt unites us to do better. Let us use that commonality to put blame aside and open our minds to truth.
    When I see bits and pieces of prefabricated political rhetoric bubble up now and then, among us, I wonder if all our efforts, all our research, soul-searching and discussions, have led no where. This, of course, reflects my own insecurity. Nevertheless, I find it perplexing. How can this coexist with our professed ideals, which seem totally opposite?
    Here we find a condensed version of the overall problem. Our society constantly entertains conflicting values as if they were all equally valid, when they are certainly not. We see self-righteous yet bloodthirsty ministers; politicians wallowing in corruption; assistance programs that sustain poverty instead of eliminating it; wars of liberation oppressing the very people they are supposed to liberate.
    Whenever we hear or speak a political tagline or cliché, a red flag of caution should pop into mind. Have we really considered the meaning of those words? Their implications? Do they carry a treasured lesson from the past? Or a malicious product of "group think," designed to lead people astray?
    For example, what does it mean to be part of a "loyal opposition?" What does it represent? Contention for the sake of contention? Who are you loyally opposing? To what high-minded end? While pressing partisan agendas, what about concerns of the people that transcend political bickering? What about the moral obligation to discern truth before opposing anyone in order t justify one's position?
    If we claim to care about the people, why express it through the arrogant repetition of partisan politics, which causes more problems than builds solutions? Chivalry does not lend itself well to this purpose, and is cheapened because of it. Instead, why not tap into your soul and find the greater truth?
    Chivalry calls us to be a force for good that transcends today's childish, political demeanor. If we fail to do that, then we are part of the problem, not part of its solution. All our talk about chivalry and honor is for nothing.
    Friends, shall I tell you what moves my innermost passion, and has from the beginning?
    I long for a better world, a new humanity that bases its existence on its highest aspirations, rather than its lowest weaknesses. It is a yearning that defies the shackles of greed that would confine us. It is a vision of something greater, something within our grasp that validates our existence as something good. It is reflected in such words as "all men are created equal," which taught me to never sacrifice the depth of our being because of the happenstance of our birth. We can rise above political taglines, clichés, and social expectations merely by standing up to claim our birthright, which is the joy of authentic living, and the responsibility that comes with it.
    While others see the American Dream as economic opportunity, I see something far deeper and more important, something rooted in Western culture going back to its earliest beginnings.
    The founders of the United States were visionaries whose perspective of universal principles were meant to inspire all people, those who lived beyond our borders as well.
    These Enlightenment Age principles were given birth in Europe where they challenged superstition and helped spread tolerance and human reason throughout the West.
    In the New World, where feelings of liberty already stirred, the ideas led to creating a new form of government. The words of John Locke about the social contract became more than an intellectual challenge. They provided a threshold to something new, a springboard toward freedom that went beyond bloodlines and titles. Building a new government at just the right time, the founders embraced these Enlightenment principleswith great enthusiasm, and enthusiams we would do well to rekindle today.
    To many, our Revolutionary War was a rebellion against taxes being imposed without Parliamentary representation. After more than a century of benign neglect, England seemed more like a foreign sovereignty than a homeland. Its distant government, with its aristocratic hierarchy, was something that American intellectuals, wilderness pioneers and ordinary people could no longer respect. For people who viewed their individual colonies as separate nations in their own rights, taking orders from an unseen potentate thousands of miles away became unbearable. Something new had risen on these shores that reflected Enlightenment tendencies. England was too distant to understand that.
    At the root of this movement was the desire to maximize human potential through reason — building a better world, not through happenstance, but through design. We wanted a social contract that provided not only protection and law, but an environment where people could realize their full potential ("the pursuit of happiness"). Virtue provided the base for this, but utilization of intellect, skills and talents were paramount as well. In founders like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson we find Renaissance personalities whose interests spanned science, mathematics, engineering, architecture, botany, anthropology and politics. These were not people who just accepted life as it came along, obsessed by their material needs. These were evolutionary giants who believed that freedom had a subtle purpose that superseded the vagrancies of license. That purpose was the fulfillment of human nature.
    We see the founders as giants from where we are today, but they probably were not. Here we find the central point I want to make. Our founders were probably ordinary men responding to extraordinary times — when a convergence of ideas and opportunities fruitfully combined. This is a prime example of Kairos. When we respond to the possibilities of our times, rather than just the needs of our egos, we too can accomplish great deeds.
    Our founders held no illusion that their ultimate goals would happen all at once. Freedom does not work that way. It cannot be rushed or coerced, only carefully nurtured through inspiration. All they could do was devise checks and balances that would shape our government to allow great things to happen, and then hoped they would.
    When I hear politicians shape the issues into things they are not, or see how their consultants continually throw integrity out the window, while pundits stamp out every possibility of good intent, it seriously enrages me. The vision of our founders has been cheapened to the point of obsolescence. There are several causes for this, but first among them is the propensity toward partisanship. Our original principles, rooted in the hopes of Enlightenment thinking, rooted further in the integrity of chivalric ideals, have been replaced by the crudest form of power brokerage.
    Almost everything I see and hear from political leaders fails the test. Their "patriotic" rants, manipulative, patronizing and often ignorant, ring hollow and malicious. Once in a while we hear the right words, but they are generally given out of context, leading us in circles that spiral in the wrong direction. Liberals advocate expensive programs that heal none of our cultural ills, while conservatives abstinently shirk the responsibility to fix anything. Either way, the problems flourish.
   
Reason provoked by conscience lay at the heart of Enlightenment philosophy. Our only viable recourse is to urge people to use their freedom to think for themselves, and not be enslaved by partisanship.
    What do we get instead? Pandering, "spin" and outright lies. In response, we elect too many leaders who are mediocre in intelligence, but astute at stirring crowds and disseminating hype. This is a course that leads nowhere but disaster.

It is time we recall the last line of that shining Age of Enlightenment document known as the Declaration of Independence:

"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

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