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Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Ethics of Politics (again)

The Campaign is getting to its end. Finally! Next week the debates.

At the beginning of all this I proposed using the campaign to critique the American religion--the values of our culture especially as they pertain to our public life. I reflected on Morris Berman's book Why America Failed and used Robert Bellah's notion of the civil religion. Then I examined the websites of Romney and Obama to see if there was a difference in values or at least priorities.  I also tried to recruit some colleagues to help by listening to the candidate speeches, campaign ads, the convention platforms and speeches. No takers here. Guess I should go back to teaching. It would have been a great class assignment.

Good friend Bob Toth just introduced me to David Korten. I ordered his book; but while waiting, I listened to his talk on "Radical Abundance: A Theology of Sustainability." Here he contrasts two notions of wealth, two images of God, two senses of human nature. I think they are instructive for the campaign and American politics.

Wealth:
Consumability, the capacity to control and use up resources, measured in money.
Or
Natural, including human, resources for life, action, meaning, measured in happiness.

God:
Patriarch outside and dominating nature (including humanity) and requiring obedience.
Or
Emerging and becoming Spirit of life and love in everyone and every thing.

Human Nature:
Individual acquisition stimulated by the fear of loss and the flight from want or harm.
Or
Social collaboration stimulated by the desire for connectedness and universal meaning.

The Empire mentality which now activates our collective discourse and behavior measures national wealth as the sum of everyone's value as measured in money, speaks of God as a rewarding and punishing Superman in the Sky, and human purpose as fulfillment of want and avoidance of loss including death. Acquisition and consumption drive us collectively as images of God to control the earth for the good of our kind. And it leads us on a way to non-sustainability economically, politically, culturally as a nation and as a species. It is that gnawing realization that is behind the grief we feel, the anger that we misdirect, the loss of hope in our government and ourselves.

Korten points out an irony. Most people personally have preference for a happiness that is not measured by acquisition and consumption of people, nature, land, and things. Most persons rather see the divine in the relationships in oneself, others, the world as a Spirit of Life and Love. Most opt for an empathic view of themselves and others. Yet this Earth Community mentality does not transfer into our public discourse and policy or our collective action.

So individually we are preferring the way of connectivity.  But collectively we are choosing the policies of separation. Our policies are rooted in fear and distrust of aliens and each other, owning and controlling natural resources, increasing our individual ability to consume. We see government more as a threat to us than a tool of us collectively and maybe because we make it so with our heavily financed party system.

If our Empire mind, policies, and behavior are destroying the conditions for life, freedom, and happiness, should we not choose collectively a different path? I have argued that this path will probably NOT come through politics as it is structured through the party system today, but must come through thoughtful community organizing. Isn't this where the Tea Party went wrong? Certainly many Tea Partiers, like Cousin Vinnie, have legitimate concerns and justifiable anger. But then they wind up misdirecting it with fear of Mexicans, African Americans, homosexuals, feminists, socialists and with the Republican Party (directed by Karl Rove).

In the meantime, let's look at the candidates, their rhetoric and policies and see which path they most represent? Let's examine their websites, their speeches, their debates.

They are both personally good men. Both I personally find likable. (Despite their stupid negative ads!) Both with compelling biographies. Good personal values, good families, good education, patriotic good Americans, contribute to charity.  Both have given generously to help friends and others who need help.

But what is their sense of wealth, image of God, sense of human nature? What do they consider the highest goal for Americans and the nation? Who are they attracting us to be as Americans and as humans? What kind of a collective or public ethic are they promoting? What is their path to sustaining our species and our world?

Let's come back to this after the first debate.



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