#5 – September 2008
Note: This essay is obviously dated, and I might say something different now, as we see how little President Obama has been able to change things, especially our enslavement to the military industrial complex as reflected in our on-going wars in Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. However, the overall perspectives still apply.
On the U.S. Political Scene in 2008
These days I find myself with a kind of dual consciousness. I go about my personal life in this beautiful small town nestled in the mountains, sustained by enduring relationships with Jim, family, and friends. In this life I feel alive, engaged, and usually quite happy, with a mingling of concern and sadness about problems, illnesses, and deaths. At the same time, another part of my consciousness is in deep distress about what’s going on in my country, which the presidential campaign has brought into sharper focus. At the heart of all the woes and horrors, I see the insane drive to make money at all costs, no matter the harm done to humans and other living beings and their habitats. I am talking about people making excessive amounts of money, which they then use to buy huge energy-consuming trophy homes, gas-guzzling mega-vehicles, and other toys and trinkets that are harmful to the environment and society. It’s hard to understand how such different worlds can exist at the same time: one essentially healthy, happy, and vibrant; and one driven by greed, fear, and confusion.
The Presidential campaign commands our collective attention partly due to the media and their insatiable hunger for juicy news bites to fill up the airwaves and make up headlines. I think the election also occupies some people’s thoughts because we see it as an opportunity for change, an opportunity to replace the current horrific Administration with something probably more intelligent, a little more responsive to the real needs of the nation. And we see the clear possibility that the forces of greed, fear, and deception will dominate, and carry us further down the path of national insanity and global disaster.
The other night I had a dream that reflected my distress and preoccupation with the election, but also left me with a glimmer of hope.
I am with Michelle Obama, who is wondering out loud what special project she should take on as First Lady. I counsel her to quiet the conflicting voices and listen within, to hear her true calling. She asks me to just listen to her, without saying anything, which I do. She talks about her concern for her children, how to raise them in a world full of so much horror—to which they are bound to be exposed. We talk about this challenge for ourselves, how to see the evil and the light at the same time. Just then her younger daughter walks by, and I comment on the purity and innocence I see in her face.
I ask Michelle to sign a book I have with me (a book I am working on, not something she wrote). Her signature is a kind of endorsement of the project. While she signs it, I speak with a woman friend about how pleased I am to have this connection with Michelle Obama.
I woke from this dream with a warm glow of hope. I realize that Gestalt dream theory would dictate that I explore what aspect of my own psyche Michelle Obama represents—and indeed that might be useful. However, I prefer to assume that the dream was telling me something about the woman herself, her real concerns and attitudes—and also how deeply that family has touched my heart. I like to think that Michelle can support Barack in keeping his values and vision intact through the battleground of his campaign.
For the other ticket, I have no such hope. Sometimes I’m inclined to cast this election in terms of the forces of darkness and the forces of light. I see the Republican ticket sinking to such lows of deception, deliberately engendering confusion and fear in many Americans instead of addressing the true and serious issues before us (such as global climate change, dwindling resources, health care, our military occupation of Iraq, poisons in our air, water, and soil, endemic poverty here and abroad—you know the list). It appears to me and many others that the primary—and perhaps only—motivations of the McCain/Palin ticket are to guarantee continued profits for huge corporations and their billionaire owners, and continued power for the neoconservative cabal. They cannot run openly on that platform, so they distract us with lies, manipulation of information, invented scandals, and misinterpretations of the opposition’s statements and positions. They call upon the most primitive of human motivations—they summon up the “reptilian brain” with its irrational fears and hatreds. They deliberately provoke what the Buddhists call the three causes of suffering: greed, fear, and confusion.
As an alternative to the light/dark dualism I mentioned above, a Buddhist perspective seems far more positive and useful in finding our path through the smoke and mirrors of this election. We can so clearly see the three causes of suffering are at work here: desire (greed for money and power), aversion (hatred and fear), and confusion (lies, distortions, and emotional manipulation). These causes of suffering are encouraged and conveyed through political speeches and interviews, radio and television ads, so-called “shock jock” talk shows, and heavily-biased television commentators (think of Karl Rove on the Fox Network payroll).
The three causes of suffering are most likely at work in the basic motivations of the candidates and media moguls as well. Why else would someone behave in this way? Most (but not all) of our political and corporate leaders seem driven by greed, fear, and confusion—and in a vicious circle, they spread both suffering and the causes of suffering far and wide. They treat the rest of the world as enemy, projecting their own greed, fear, and confusion on everyone else, and engaging in battle on all fronts to protect their tenuous hold on a false sense of security.
Inside, they may well be suffering as intensely as any of us, perhaps more. If this is so, we can only regard them with compassion. What horrible karma they are creating for themselves, and what horrible suffering!
Of course we are all caught up in greed, fear, and confusion; no one is exempt—not you, me, Barack Obama, or Joe Biden. However, some of us also know love, trust, inner peace, deep friendship, and connection to the natural world. Some of us received enough of the love, respect, and acceptance we needed as children, and were sufficiently encouraged to follow our own life paths. Some of us have been given the opportunity to understand and work on ourselves, have been exposed to teachings and processes that help us extricate ourselves somewhat from the causes of suffering. We are the lucky ones, with the precious opportunity to work for the benefit of all beings. And in this election, we may be able to help our whole country begin to extricate itself from the collective greed, fear, and confusion that now imprison it.
I want to support health and life. Focusing solely on the harmful actions of the McCain/Palin campaign, and fighting against it, sets up a dangerous and false dichotomy between “good Democrats” and “evil Republicans,” leading to more hatred, fear, and confusion. Instead I choose to positively support the Obama/Biden ticket in whatever ways I can—which includes writing and sharing this essay. And I want to encourage whoever reads this essay to do the same. While Obama and Biden are also subject to the causes of suffering, they at least base their campaign on appeals to democracy, positive change, and concern for the welfare of all citizens. They may need to address the lies and distortions coming out of the Republican camp, but it seems to me that their basic appeal is to our hopes, dreams, and sense of community.
This election will affect the direction our country takes for years to come, perhaps our very survival as a society. I cannot foresee anything but a crescendo of suffering and destruction, if McCain and Palin are elected. Perhaps we need more suffering in order to “bottom out,” like addicts often need to do before committing to recovery. Or perhaps with the Bush Administration, we have already done so and can now step forward towards health and sobriety.
Obama is not some knight in shining armor who can transform this country with a few deft strokes of his verbal sword. If he wins the election, we will still have a long road ahead. Obama will be subject to intense pressures from corporate and financial powers to support their greed and fear. We will need to guide and support him and all our leaders to act for the common good of all Americans—which ultimately means acting for the good of all Earth’s people, life forms, and life-support systems. This is a tall order: it requires us to extricate ourselves individually and collectively from greed, fear, and confusion, and summon up love, intelligence, and commitment to move toward a truly life-sustaining culture.
First, however, we need to elect Obama President. Please help that process however you can, drawing on your particular resources, gifts, and predilections. Pray, meditate, make phone calls, write letters to the editor, go door-to-door, support honest voting procedures, sign petitions, be a poll worker, register voters, donate money, talk with your friends and neighbors, use art and music, celebrate in the streets—whatever you can think of to do (especially voting). In the process, we’ll connect and cooperate with one another in new ways, building the friendships and community we need to face the serious challenges of our times.