Monday, February 21, 2011

The Question

Here's the question for the day. Why are we so ineffectual, and they so effective? By "we" I mean, of course, those of us leaning toward the left, or even far out on the left wing--which is where my political instincts take me. By "they" I mean those people I was talking about yesterday, the ones who appear to run our lives.

The answer I come up with is this: they have been winning out simply because they are ruthless, like those autocrats in the Mideast. They are hard, ungiving, unresponsive. Monolithic in their thinking, they act out of an unquestioning sense of rectitude. Their minds are closed. Think Reagan. We, on the other hand, are by nature open, ready to listen, prepared to concede the possibility of error. Pluralistic. Self-questioning. Think Carter.

(George Lakoff says all this more eloquently and persuasively, perhaps, though differently than I do; he "frames" their strategy as paternalism.)

Am I flattering "us"? Maybe. Am I tarring "them" all with the same brush? Quite possibly. But it's a genuine puzzlement for me, and the source of infinite frustration. There are hard-liners on the left, too, I know--those who insist that we should never compromise on principles. But one of those principles is the democratic one, that each of us has a right to an opinion, a right to voice it, and a right to vote. We are opposed to tyranny, whatever form it takes---including, then, presumably, our own. We argue endlessly amongst ourselves. We do not coalesce into the kind of solid--and hence powerful--block that gives the other side their strength.

Take Obama. I know there are many who disagree with me on this, but I believe we do ourselves a disservice in castigating his every departure from the hard lines we believe he should be taking. We feel free to attack him publicly when he takes the time to listen. We accuse him of weakness and complicity when he makes a concession or a compromise. We fault his "leadership," but are unwilling to follow. We provide no firm ground for him to stand on. Contrast this with the other side, with "them." How many Republicans were ready to stand up and criticize George W. Bush in public, no matter how egregious the errors of his judgment, no matter matter how glaring and costly the mistakes? Consider his ill-considered tax cuts, his rash wars that remained, contrary to all conservative fiscal wisdom, unpaid for. He was subject to criticism, often severe, from our side, yes. But from his own? Scarcely a murmur.

Some will consider this a retreat from what I was saying yesterday, but I say, No. My own Buddhist principles urge me to opt for the "Middle Way"--the way that Obama urges with remarkable consistency and patience, and to his cost. I look around me in the political world and see mostly those who reject this as the way of weakness and inefficacy. I wonder how differently things would look if "we" were to rally unanimously to the President's support? If all the "we's" were to step forward, stand up, suspend our differences, and form that solid block for him to stand on. But that is contrary to our nature. We, on our side, are born to question, argue, quibble, doubt. All of which is great--except when it comes to effective political action, where bullying and certitude win.

Which leaves me with another Buddhist speculation: At what point does karma catch up with those who have grabbed on to the reins of global power and their misguided policies? At what point will the delusion they have fostered in our country meet up with the consequences that will inevitably result?

Tomorrow... good news! I have found something rosier to talk about!


John Torcello said...

Why are 'we' so ineffectual, and 'they' so effective? I know, for me, even in my most 'lefty' moments, upon reflection, I am reminded of the similarities in how easy it is to adopt a hard version of the ways and means, the 'ruthlessness' you describe, in reaction to what we'd sometimes like to attach to 'them', to those on the 'other side'…In my opinion, this approach is the easier of two paths; to succumb to 'those' kinds of tactics…

To me, what we sometimes perceive as Obama's 'failure' is that we, as a society, are not ready, not prepared for, the kind of seemingly confused message he prescribes. Even in my own most personal flustered moments, given some of his decisions and approach, I agree with you, he does seem to be opting for the 'Middle Way'.

It's hard to come to understand there are some things that just 'are'…to conclude that it's sometimes best to move away from striking out at 'them'; and instead, to a focus on the inner dimensions of 'me'. If and when we do; we come to understand, I think, the 'me,' that so many of us falsely mis-define and so cherish, is simply 'us'; that the self we identify as 'me' is only a process of being.

I've come to accept the wit in what John Lennon once said, "Reality leaves a lot to the imagination"; that the 'reality' we perceive as a series of connected moments is merely the collective consciousness of us all being together in the here and now. 

I think the 'answer' in the question you raise in your writing piece can be found in the efforts at daily life we will all ultimately exhaust; avoiding when possible, with mindfulness, a way of life not just comprised of our own vain attempts at attaining that feeling of equanimity.

mandt said...

What I would say, without trying to seem harsh, is that by lowering the standards of 'compromise' to a commonality of mediocrity is NOT the Middle Way. To compare the Buddhist Middle Way to Obama's political machinations is not a correct analogy.

roger said...

the world is run by psychopaths. there is no middle way.
obama is one of them.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response, John. I like the John Lennon quote! And I believe you're right: it all eventually comes down to what each of us can do in our daily life.

Okay, Roger and MandT! I was kind of expecting that I'd hear from you on this! I think we shall continue to disagree on the subject of Obama; I persist in my perhaps deluded belief that this is a good man caught in the worst of all situations. And I'm saddened by the knowledge that so many who voted for him have lost what hope they had.