Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Challenges...The Dysfunctionality we will miss

--by Mike Adams

(Part 2 Click here to start at the begninning of this multi part article)

In today’s society, righteous indignation is not out of style; it is not frowned upon or discounted. A quick wit and a well delivered blow even at the expense of truthfulness may well be exalted meanwhile, a common sense approach void of stereotype and consisting of practicality may be shunned. A mere perusal of modern talk radio from the political left or the political right will expose the depths of ontological sewage we are willing to not only tolerate but actively plumb for political entertainment or in our more vile and cunning moments, for political victory.

I’ll start by examining those with whom I am more likely to agree at least in sentiment. The far left pundits spare no effort in railing against any potential leaders of the political right. Even after most news sources acknowledged it unlikely that Sarah Palin didn’t know Africa to be a continent, the far left continued to proclaim that accusation with the same ardor that the far right employs when raising funds to build a scientific museum of biblical creation. The zealous left is quick to affix degrading labels to the right which denigrate their humanity and portray conservatives as greedy and heartless power mongers. This description may be true of some individuals, however, I can’t believe that all politically conservative people even those in Washington are somehow lacking in the spectrum of emotion and decency which make up a human being.

In fact, in the weeks leading up to this year’s election, I was discussing Washington politics with several co-workers. As we considered the ills of neo-conservative philosophy and the damage its’ application has wrought in our world, a new member of our office team walked over and asked if there are any other Republicans in the office besides her. Given the tenor of our conversation up to that point, this awkward interjection spelled the end of our lively discourse.

Just to clarify, I really like this employee; she is fun to talk with, fun to work with and fun to joke with. She is obviously intelligent, has a good work ethic and is fond of children. She recently presented me with a plastic bucket containing a salamander for my kids. There is no doubt that she and I have common values, common concerns and that we share political common ground; yet I have been unwilling to venture near politics with her in conversation because of the general level of hostility between left and right in our society.

As I write these thoughts, I increasingly suspect that I ought to be willing to discuss politics with my coworker, that the partisan deadlock of Washington is merely an amplified version of what is happening in work places, coffee shops, churches and living rooms across this country. Consider the absurdity that two people who like and respect each other are unable to discuss a topic of great importance because they disagree on a few points. Perhaps we citizens share more blame than we care to admit in the political impotence that pervades our national politics. It is possible that we misunderstand our elected officials and we ought to conceive of them as mirrors through which we can identify our own failures to be pragmatic and to compromise.

Consider the politics of employment. From the cross section of my experiences and the experiences of those who have shared with me there are definitely threads of continuity. Continuity in the way new comers may be distrusted and unfairly blamed for errors. Continuity in the willingness to deny culpability for consequences we helped to orchestrate. Continuity in the duplicitous actions we might take when competing for a promotion or a raise. Continuity in the subtle deceits we might employ to affect a meeting with clients or with management.

When we examine our own artful manipulations and those perpetrated by coworkers in an effort to gain even a slight upper hand, it becomes possible to see politicians not as villains, but as people trying to survive a difficult environment. Washington subterfuge may seem more unscrupulous than what occurs in our work places, however, on an interpersonal level, Washington politics is rather similar to what we practice every day, its primary dissimilarity being the high stakes and constant publicity.

Setting excuse aside, it is important to note that elected officials are obliged to govern effectively and in our collective interest. Difficult circumstances and human nature do not ease any charge of public service. All elected officials choose that burden when they run for office and we citizens will benefit by valuing, encouraging and even demanding pragmatic, thoughtful deliberation. Here is an area of interest, because when we choose our leaders, we charge them with certain tasks. Perhaps it would be useful to examine what labors we demand from our leaders and how that may or may not have contributed to the partisan bickering and deadlock in our nation’s politics. First, I’ll examine common complaints about politicians. Politicians are often thought of as unprincipled and ineffective; they are in the pockets of big money, they serve special interests and they place too much importance on party line while forgetting the plight of those who elected them.

From the mid 1990’s, through early 2003, I believed fervently that the political left needed to hit harder and develop effective counter attacks to answer right wing aspersions. I seethed that Al Gore was not a stronger candidate. I agonized over rampant disorganization in progressive politics. I wrote acrimonious letters to editors, complained to any who would listen and accomplished nothing. My opinion letters were never published with the exception of one, which appeared in a small paper, directly after an opinion linking political difficulties to UFO activity in the deserts surrounding Roswell, NM.

In May, 2004, I lost my energy for rancor. I became weary of the livid commentary that had dominated our politics for a decade. It seemed vital that we develop a new approach to politics, that we diminish extremes and search out common ground on political issues. I believed this country could progress only after we alter the tenor of political debate. Thinking better of myself than was justifiable, I imagined myself a leader in the new bi-partisan charge for common ground. After reading “Nonviolent Communication” (NVC) by Marshal Rosenberg, I tried to organize an NVC letter writing campaign, I arranged for NVC training sessions and encouraged my friends to use the process while corresponding with elected officials and editors of their favorite periodicals.

My friends found NVC to be cumbersome and tricky, meanwhile I wrote my heart out, although ineffectively. Of more than one hundred letters that I wrote, not one was published… none could even claim real estate in a local paper next to opinions about Roswell’s UFO’s. My friends didn’t write at all and slowly, I gave up…barely noticing my own surrender. As time passed, my country plowed further into political territory I found troubling and my ire resuscitated. My political discourse took on a new subtle ferocity partly inspired by George Lakoff and partly inspired by Karl Rove. I wrote to any and everyone including my whole email list, which was a bad idea as some people pointed out when they requested that I stop emailing them. Undaunted, I crafted opinions from the pulpit of moral certitude and as our wars in the Middle East deteriorated and our economy slowed, the fires of my indignation roared. I joined in chorus to evict the scoundrels from Washington and my vote carried with it, a directive to legislate my exasperation or at least, to inflict it on the opposition.

When I consider the experiences described above, which are common among people of all political persuasions, I worry that as a nation we are off course. We elect people to represent our outrage while at the same time complaining about partisan stalemate in government. What if partisan deadlock is simply a manifestation of our collective will? What if by adopting interpersonal changes, we could affect more political transformation than by implementing legislation? What if our government’s failure to be pragmatic and bi-partisan is a result of the value we place on staunchly adhering to and/or vociferously promoting specific, politically controversial agendas? What if we could alter politics simply by questioning the accuracy of our information, and asking if we really have the facts? What would be different if we were deeply concerned with having evenhanded and subjective information so that we could make informed and practical decisions about politics? How much do we set political tone by electing leaders who will “stick it to” the opposition? How much do we set political tone by tuning into sensational and partisan news programs or by avoiding the topic of politics with friends and acquaintances whose political affiliations rival ours?

I believe that collectively and individually, we have more control over the political process than we are comfortable with. Every day, we make choices that affect our political system. We choose how informed to be regarding local, state, federal and international politics. We choose how to view politicians and the work they do; whether we think of politics as positive, negative, corrupt, honorable or irrelevant. We choose where to give our attention whether sensational news and entertainment or factual assessment of current issues. We choose what sells, what is popular and what will be provided for public consumption. In a practical sense, we are the final arbiters of what our news covers, how in depth that coverage is and of how our politicians behave while representing us. We determine these things through what we watch, what we listen to and what we tolerate from others and from ourselves. In summary, if we intend to have a new inclusive and practical politics, we will necessarily attend to standards. We will examine our standards for developing opinion, we will look at our standards for personal behavior and we will consider the standards of news agencies, politicians and political pundits. We will raise the bar for ourselves and for our country.