Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Walking the Precipice

I woke early this morning from this nightmare: I am near the front of a line of people walking along a narrow ledge at the top of a sandstone cliff. I have no idea who this group of people is, nor why I have chosen to be among them. I am petrified. I have a long-standing fear of heights, and above and below me there is only the canyon wall to my right, and to my left... nothing but the long drop to the canyon floor. The face of the cliff is smooth, its features rounded: there is nothing to grasp on to. At one moment, I see what appears to be a hand-hold, but when I touch it, it turns out to have the texture of a knitted shawl. As we progress, my head reels, the path narrows. I become more and more terrified...

Once I woke, my mind insisted on continuing along that narrow ledge. I was unable for some minutes to shake off the image, nor the fear. Later, thinking back on it, I realized that this of course is how I'm feeling in my life at the moment--as I suspect are many others: at the edge of the precipice, and not a little scared. Scared about money, housing values, financial commitments. Scared about the elections and the quality of the debate leading up to them. Scared about what's happening to America and the world. Scared for my children and grandchildren. I feel like I'm walking along that very narrow path, with nothing to grab onto in order to feel more secure. I'm sure that the feeling haunts the lower levels of my consciousness, even at those times when I'm not aware of it.

Then, after I was up and about, after I'd made our morning cup of tea, the person who has made it his mission to make America feel more "secure" appeared on my television screen--the man who currently occupies our White House and whom I still can't bring myself to call by the title he appropriated. And I listened once again to his blather and asked myself again how a man of this inferior intellect had come to be the "leader of the free world." And I wondered once again how intelligent men and women of the media could sit there listening to this man answering, or failing to answer their intelligent questions with his usual bluff and blather, and later report on it as though it had made some sense. How much more often can this little emperor appear naked before the cameras of the world and still be treated as though he wore the full regalia? Once again, I'm stunned by the inarticulate simple-mindedness that governs this country and exerts so huge an influence on the world. How could this come about?

And then of course I remembered that this man is us. Like it or not, he's the mirror of who we are. We Americans enabled his elevation to the White House. We tolerated his excesses and rushed off with him to war. We allowed him to get away with his cronyism and incompetence. In our greed, we embraced his economic policies and his tax cuts. We threw up our hands in submission when he deprived us of our most basic civil rights. We still, to this very day, have failed to do what it takes to halt him in his tracks. Where we should have impeached we chose, timidly, to wait.

I'm sure I'll hear a chorus of protests: not me, that man in the White House does not represent what I stand for, I raised my voice against the war, I protested Guantanamo and the abuses of Abu Ghraib. Well, yes, you did. And so did I. But that's not exactly what I'm talking about. I'm talking about a collective responsibility for who we are, as a country. I'm talking about who we have allowed ourselves to become--not simply during the Bush administration, but in the course of the past four decades, slowly, inexorably, as we have made collective choices that have led us down this path. I'm talking about our misuse of power, our love of luxury and money, our contempt for education, our lack of circumspection for our place in a planet full of people.

So here we are, on the edge of precipice, and scared. If the housing market is in chaos it is the result of improvidence on the part of some, and greed on the part of others. If the financial markets are in chaos, it is for the very same reason. What I'd want to be hearing from the man at the podium this morning is not the blame and petulance I heard, but a rallying cry to all of us to be prepared, finally, to sacrifice some of our petty needs to the common good, to pull up our socks and roll up our sleeves and get to work on the real and urgent problems that we face.

And, failing to hear it from the Great Pretender, I'd want to see those in a position to do so take the responsibility for a merciless, objectively analytical exposure of his nakedness and the abject failure of his policies on every front. Unless and until we're prepared to acknowledge our responsibility for our current situation, we will not be able to move forward. Like the addict in the recovery program, we must first quit pretending that it's everyone else's fault, and recognize ourselves for who we are. We must quit squealing in indignant protest when a potential leader like Obama holds the mirror up for us to see. That's us, in the mirror there. And it's not a pretty sight.


thailandchani said...

I have to disagree on one point. "We" indicates a voluntary association and those who say "not me" are perfectly legitimate in doing so. Just because someone happens to live here doesn't necessarily mean he or she supports the social system.

Speaking only for me, I not only reject everything George Bush stands for - but I don't even support the culture or the social system that created him.

So.. who is "we", Kimosabi? :)

Asked in all respect, I hope you know.. but I couldn't just gloss over this one.


PeterAtLarge said...

Okay, Chani. I do think we differ a bit on this one. I tend to think we have both an individual and a collective responsibility for who we are as a culture--and that the two might conceivably express themselves in different, even non-compatible ways. I see myself as "supporting the system" in a variety of ways--paying taxes, for example, where I don't get to chose how they're spent. Or sending my kids to school... That said, I don't think that we (individually) disagree by one iota on Bush. And I do most sincerely respect your dissent! Glad you didn't gloss it over.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I agree with what you've said here so eloquently, Peter, because I haven't given up on America yet. It is beyond my meager comprehension that we have not impeached this man who has done so much to destroy and nothing at all to build a decent society which is a force for good in the world. I utterly deplore his record in office, and I am beyond disappointed in us for enabling it.

Until we decide as a culture that we do indeed stand for something, we will waver spinelessly in the path of anyone who has a mission, no matter how unholy, and the means to enforce it.

citizen of the world said...

It's so complicated. I knwo there is some collective rsponsibility for not doing soemthing to prevent the likes of a George Bush in offie. But what? I often feel that the things Id o to oppose a consumeristic or energy-foolish cultureare undone by other aciotns or inactions of mine.

PeterAtLarge said...

Well put, Heart! One microcosm of what you describe: Jonestown... The horror!

And Citizen, yes, it's easy to feel disempowered in a world where we take much of our consumption for granted. We think we need, so we need.

Cardozo said...

Well said, Peter.

The gap between your Buddhism and your politics in these pages has fluctuated over the months and years, but seems to be gradually shrinking.

"WE ARE BUSH" sounds like a good rallying cry for a Buddhist politics focusing not on finding scapegoats but on recognizing collective responsibility and forging a collective vision.

thailandchani said...

Hi Peter :) Thanks for the response. I agree with you that we all have community responsibility and that's also an integral part of Buddhism. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that we consciously choose the social system, culture or way of life we support.

My alliances have been chosen very deliberately.

We do agree on George Bush! No doubt about that one! :)


ErnestO said...

Peter wrote
"I woke early this morning from this nightmare: I am near the front of a line of people walking along a narrow ledge at the top of a sandstone cliff. I have no idea who this group of people is"

I might suggest it was Middle East Veterans returning home.

An article by Jill Carroll states "When veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bring their troubles home, police and judges often are the first to deal with them." This may be true for our homeless Vets but not the majority returning stateside from our Middle East wars. The first people to deal with our war torn are their families and fellow veterans.

I see an opportunity for fellow Vets to help their brothers in arms if we could develop an insurance pool that would cover the liability of transporting fellow vets in our own vehicles to centers of care. We Vets amassed as a legion to help each other could gain a critical force to turn around the Veteran crisis in the U.S. In the last White House Conference On Aging I shared this idea with the delegates; it became one of the few goals of the overall conference to address Veteran issues.