A Case for the Longer View
I’ve found that the best antidote to being overwhelmed by political trivia and the day-by-day struggles of the electorate and their representatives is to step back and allow one’s perspective to embrace a wider angle view of history including past, present and future. Lately I’ve been returning to science fiction, which by its nature embraces the longer view. I’ve been reading Hunters of Dune
and listening to an audio version of Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation Trilogy
. Both epics challenge us to think in terms of thousands of years of cause and effect. If nothing else, they provide a useful exercise for stretching our perspective outside of our immediate impulses.
Certainly, in the context of human history the current political struggles are more clearly apprehended as part of a continuing discourse that stretches across boundaries of time, war, religion and empire. Every election and every personal choice at every point in time in fact contains the entirety of our relationship to every other moment. In Buddhism this is known as the principle of interdependent co-arising
. Given the principle that everything we do and think is inextricably linked with the ongoing flow of time and with the totality of collective experience, we are either driven toward a helplessly deterministic frame of mind or we fully take on the responsibility of our actions and their consequences in relation to the whole. In this context my frequent but fleeting surrender to the emotions of fear or anger appears somewhat irresponsible at best and extremely counterproductive.
Yes, every election is “the most important election of our time.” Given the almost infinite vectors of historical and personal history colliding at the point where we pull the lever or drop our ballot in the box (or don’t) the potential consequences of the choices we make may appear either overwhelming or meaningless. Here the advice inscribed in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy appears most relevant:
Over the years, at least since the overthrow of Jimmy Carter, every election season evokes in me feelings ranging from short lived elation to rage and disappointment. It appears that every time America is on the verge of actually grappling seriously with real world situations we collectively surrender to some dream of manufactured reality. While the rest of the world begins to face the consequences of some of humanity’s unfortunate choices (We’ve been thinking and talking about climate change since the late seventies) America pretends that the consequences of our actions (other than financial gain and loss) are mostly irrelevant.
However, when I step back and take a few breaths I can see that there is change and even progress over the years and decades. While our politics cycle through periods of vision and retreat our collective awareness of a world beyond our expectations gradually and steadily expands. Awakening proceeds much more slowly than I generally appreciate, given the nature of one short human lifetime. We try and fail and try again and slowly the boulder moves on up the hill.
It appears that the best we can do is to help each other stay awake while urging one another not to surrender to cynicism and complacency. There’s so much to be explored and so many choices ahead of us. We all need help to prioritize and to hold things in proper perspective, as various waves of panic and despair and misplaced enthusiasm roil over the surface of civilization. We need collectively to decide from moment to moment what’s important and what’s better left behind.
In the interest of our common interests I’d like to share with you an interchange between myself and my friend Jason, whose reply to my last post includes a representation of our political situation that’s both simple and clear. He quotes the part of my piece that I believe is the most provocative and open to debate:
“To those who are lost in the kind of cynicism caused by over-exposure to the mind numbing critiques of the left, particularly over issues of foreign policy, I can only say that I don’t believe for a minute “both parties are the same.” The difference, even in foreign policy, is clearly put forth in the rhetoric of the presidential candidates. Mitt Romney forthrightly represents the old colonial assumptions of white supremacy and the just rule of financial elites. Barack Obama’s foreign policy, which has been criticized for being too reactive (rather than pro-active) consistently emphasizes themes of cultural diversity and cooperation and are never mired in the rhetoric of religious and racial bigotry. It’s true, I will concede, that both candidates and both parties support the continued strength and overwhelming superiority of the American military. Both will do what it takes to keep the lights on. Both will use drones (or whatever means necessary) in wars against foreign enemies (with consequential collateral damage to civilians). I do believe, however, that the switch from a rhetoric of domination to the rhetoric of cooperation and defense is more than just a change in vocabulary. It indicates an important step toward new approaches in a world facing enormous changes where cooperation is the only path that can take us beyond disaster.”
“I think both parties goals are the same, but they have different strategies/ideologies to reach the goal. Reminds me of being a young child in the back seat of the family car and listening to my parents bicker about how to get to a certain destination. Sometimes the gloves would come off when there was a disagreement about the current location or even which direction north was. But you know – where we were hoping to end up was never in dispute.”
This inspired the following response:
Absolutely true. All of us, left, right and center are riding in the same vehicle, toward heaven or oblivion or more likely someplace in between.
What we expect from our governments and leaders is that they maintain the infrastructure that supports our existence, and that they protect us from those who want to hurt us. ALL of us who choose to live in a particular country agree on these things.
Some of us may see the destination more clearly and most of us disagree somewhat on the path from here to there. Some of us are extremely short sighted and selfish. Some of us are lost in our dreams.
The war that’s raging in this country and most of those raging around the world are religious wars, dealing with disagreements about the purpose and destination of the journey. In this election two very different metaphysics are represented. The parental metaphor is apt. American politics in fact, has long been characterized as a clash between the “daddy” state and the “mommy” state.
I see it as a clash between two distinct value sets. One is based on the religious concept that our ultimate destination is another world completely (the Abrahamic religious legacy in the west and the Hindu philosophy in the east). Against this is the view that our natural destiny is one of codependency with the natural world and each other. The latter view flows most recently out of the conclusions of science, particularly as Systems Theory. It also is seen in several religions that emerged out of the so-called Axial Age that began about 2500 years ago.
If you listen to and analyze the vocabulary used in virtually every speech at the Republican and Democrat Conventions you will see an amazingly stark representation of these opposing metaphysics.
This is a conflict that is much older than America. In a country that’s a melting pot and in some ways a microcosm of the whole world, our political process is a mirror of this ancient struggle.
Unlike in many other countries in the world, we may be sitting in the back seat, but we ultimately decide, collectively, who will sit in the front.
As for my comment about “the mind-numbing critiques of the left,” a bit of clarification is in order.
…which leads us to the question of Drones…
Oh yeah…and here’s Sarah Silverman with another public service message
Freedom is just Chaos, with better lighting.
– Alan Dean Foster
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“If you want to find pure gold, you must see it through fire.” – Mumonkan