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
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
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
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
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.
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:
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."