Walking Buber the Dog tonight I was pondering my place within the nexus of the intersecting, competing, bewildering array of economic, political, and religious philosophies vying for my attention each day, but particularly on a day like tomorrow when every one of their voices reaches a fever pitch, screaming into my ear, tugging my heart, stabbing my back, and generally clamoring for my attention.
A thought came over me, combining Einstein's insight with Jesus' commitment to those typically forgotten and trampled by social systems: the system that creates the "least of these" can't serve the needs of the least of these.
Sadly, it's not on our menu of options tomorrow, any way to stall and eventually starve the system that creates "the least of these." As it is, my horse isn't even in the race so again I'll vote for second best. To the polls I go, heavy of heart that I too am just an extra (actor) in the political theater, at least for that one day, in that one role, on that one stage.
This blog has been around since 2002 and my interest in writing on things political was rather hot in 2004-2005. I was fired up in that year since it was the first year after my rebirth of sorts, seeing the world with new eyes, making vital but naive statements. I was pretty devastated in the wake of that election. I was gladdened four years later, but a lot more sober and heavy hearted, knowing Barack Obama, an individual man of demonstrated principle, was bound for a situation that inherently demands compromise and outright deceit. How could a relatively wet-behind-the-ears non-insider turn the table on the system? It didn't make sense, but I had hoped his commanding presence would inspire people to act from better places in themselves. I'm sure it happened in pockets all over. His election brightened my mood for a while. But I did watch as step by step he had to admit the way to stay in the game is to play by the rules that have been written long ago and vetted over time. Sad. Very sad.
I've said for years now that the new republic isn't what we want to believe it is. It's still representative, but less and less does the representation signify a relationship between the people and the elected. It's found in two other relationships: how we spend our money determines what companies or industries we support. And in turn, how their power is channeled through the officials we think we elect. Corporations or industrial-commercial blocs such as Pharma, Oil, Biotech, and Defense of course can shout louder than us when it comes to spending. But those are powerful because most of us tend to demand their products and services with some kind of allegiance or pathological dependency. True, you and I don't pay our money at a cash register to support the defense industry, but a time like September 11 does tend to trigger some feeling of acceptance or even outright welcome of things that "defend" our freedoms, even while the stiff taxation and government debt to fund that kind of standing military works counter to our best values, and even our beloved freedoms.
But more and more I realize there is less and less representation for what are emerging as my more beloved values and convictions. I have to admit, I doubt America could ever really be the stage where they are played out. To be honest, the closest representation of what sounds right to me is within countries that are often sneered at and derided for being "socialist." You know—the places where there is a reliable health program. Where cities are charming because of their respect for aesthetics and mixed income integration, and where other elements of the manmade landscape do not presume the automobile is the only means to transport oneself. Where the defense budget doesn't assume the world is out to grab your ill-gotten gains, and where the same budget doesn't guarantee taxation on your hard-won gains. Where the work week leaves time to be a citizen and community member, or just a family person with dignity and energy to engage in the real stuff of life.
Yeah... I guess that's socialism. What misery it must be! Here we could work ourselves to death for no gain, get stranded in traffic, eating junk food, and then go to our pathetically alienating suburban dormitories and numb ourselves on TV "reality" shows that show people more pathetic than us—but who get a TV show on which to present their mock misery, in turn mocking our real miseries.
And as Richard Rohr says often, those who don't transform their hurt are certain to transmit it. There's no shortage of that going around. I'm quite frankly surprised there has not been an attempt on Barack Obama's life. With the insanity and vitriol that fills the air, the anger and scapegoating in a nation of over 300 million, it's frankly hard to believe that some bipolar, unemployed, domestic terrorist has not gone totally off the rails, or that his demise was not ordered as some kind of inside job. I guess I should be thankful. But one day at a time. We haven't re-elected him yet. I hate the thought of such a thing on a man so well meaning but under the sway of other forces beyond his control, but the cauldron is bubbling over and this is too obvious a contingency to ignore.
I've reduced my soapbox activity in the peak oil range of topics but I haven't discarded them. Facebook threads tend to be where I take up the topic, usually when people are caught in some back and forth about why the economy is stagnating. There are more voices recognizing peak oil/energy and asking the questions of what it means for daily life. But it's still kind of veiled. I see more mainstream talk but it's never really asking people to think of how to live another way. It's still up for debate and questioning, or presented as some novelty. But that Barack Obama has dropped the ball with the matter of global warming/climate change, there's not a lot of hope that he's going to be a voice to echo Jimmy Carter's "turn down your thermostats" message of restraint and true conservation. An article by Resilience asks why transportation in particular has not changed to electric because oil is so damned useful for other purposes that it's absurd to allow it to be burnt! Alas, we shall look to no elected "leadership" for a path out of the energy crisis since those characters have their fingers placed most deeply in their ears. I frankly have to admit—still—that we're pretty much going to smack the wall of all these limits to growth with as much force as we could muster. As long as the notion of a growing economy trumps all other concerns, we'll get nowhere beneficial. And in the end, the economy will be dead in the water too, having never made a plan to really rein it in to sustainable levels. What will be sustainable will be a return to gathering and recycling the artifacts that still have use. And digging through trash heaps. Even a hack like me was making the case for addressing this in 2004. It doesn't need to scare anyone in 2012.
Hey, I didn't want that for my future, either. But where is the clear voice of leadership with a soapbox high enough and a megaphone wide enough to really do the job of changing things? I doubt that is anything to look forward to. It will come through the cracks at the bottom. If the political system isn't already seen to be irrelevant now, I suppose the next four years—no luckier in producing a thriving economy or a return to middle class comfort, or no firm convictions of the financial vipers—will show that neither a two term Democratic president nor a Latter-Day Satan of a vulture capitalist Republican will produce the goods. The fact is, neither party is able to control the bus going off the cliff. But they can change the in-flight entertainment and assure us of air conditioning on the way.
I can't just blame the two candidates. No one but a handful of concerned scientists, educators, and activists in various disciplines is really prepared to envision a post-growth world. Certainly we shan't look to our elected officials to tell the truth, else that's their own pink slip they're signing, and that's just not how it goes in politics. But we are at a world-level paradigm shifting moment if we are to take seriously the message of Richard Heinberg and his peers in the Post Carbon Institute. Or a bit less shocking than his talk about "peak everything" and "the end of growth," there's the folks at CASSE—the Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economics. These are just some of the voices that I read to get a less varnished perspective on the news, and to help understand the holes of logic that riddle the mainstream arguments.
After a couple years of working extensively with Jubilee Economics Ministries, and being rather involved in a progressive church, but more so after being initiated into the Christ mystery of life and death, the state of American politics has less and less sway for me. Even within those three shapers of my spirituality, there are some conflicting thoughts. As much as I like the progressive ideas that would emerge and be supported in and around my church community, there are blind spots that I don't like. JEM doesn't always make arguments that accept a post-collapse reality (instead there tends to be a more easygoing adoptions of a grassroots transition that would gain more cred as its virtues are discovered). But the deepest level of understanding, being initiated into the mystery that permeates all we know as mortals in a universe of constant change, says that while I can and must throw my lot in with all the other madness, the patterns of death and resurrection are larger and more immutable, and therefore, I can't control things, nor am I at any advantage to try.
That seems like cosmologically isolationist hocus pocus but really... the systems that define my day and age are brittle. Politics as we know it is cracking. Economics as we know it is imploding. The environment itself is in jeopardy in a particular way that has never been seen before. The great philosophies that shaped the industrial era are themselves not able to explain or contain what is happening. Something profound is happening. As one might fly above the storm to see its eye and the territory it spans, we can't be within the storms of our time to get perspective on its might and ferocity. The systems and philosophies we've relied on are weakening and the water is cresting those levees. A larger view is needed. I've found that the pattern we are loathe to accept is that of death for the sake of rebirth. Is it any surprise there are so many apocalyptic scenarios out there? We fear the death because we don't see how this could be reborn. Sadly, a huge number of Christians, not strangers to some vivid images of death, are also missing the rebirth that awaits in the wake of whatever purging and cleansing has to happen as things radically deconstruct and are eventually sorted out and put back into some order according to new values.
If the Christian myth is that of death and rebirth, then that means those two components must be present and intrinsically bound. Hope is to be found in the very things we can't understand. And usually, we can't understand death. Faith is to be able to progress, even in the seeming darkness, with some assurance that things are as they should be, and our job is to move forward somehow. But you see, a faithless, death-phobic society will tell itself every lie and apply every blame if it means not facing what is right in front of it. Right in front of us.
So our elections are exercises in political theater, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I wish it wasn't so but as much as I liked Barack Obama in 2008, nudged along because he was a member of my denomination, and perhaps because we shared a bit of common faith territory, I have long questioned his walking away from his congregation and pastor for the sake of political expediency. And then after that, I have not heard him talk about the United Church of Christ, though to his credit he has spoken some words that I think compensate for that, couched in terms of a world-wise view that religion is vital to humanity, and a plurality is good and should be protected. But then he surrounds himself with Goldman Sachs people and doesn't push to prosecute the gross financial crimes that wrecked the nation. Y'see what I'm saying? I wish Obama would have accepted his special place as the first black president and seen that even one term put him on the map, but then he seemed like he had what it might have taken to do a real expose of what is going on. Sure, it's political suicide, but being as beloved as he was, it would be quite a deed to name and prosecute the misdeeds that put us where we are. He could have come out with a fully transparent explanation of peak oil and a vision for how to meet it with dignity and resolve in a way that echoed JFK and the moon mission. But I guess he wasn't prepared to fall on his sword. I guess I could hope he's able to man up in a second term.
Of course, Mitt Romney is dismally worse. His main ability is talking from two sides of his mouth at once. He's not even worth a mention, really. Pathetic beyond pathetic, he. Shoot me if he gets "elected."
For the first time, this year I decided to join the Green Party. I'm torn because of course I have to make that sickening decision to vote a real conviction or to settle for what might suck less than Mitt Con-me. Of course I barely know who "my" candidates are. Even now I can't recall their names. I'm sure even the Greens have their issues and blind spots that would turn my gut, but they are as close as anything to what I'd support.
Unfortunately, I'd like to find a party that reflects the kinds of values I have adopted under the influence of the lived teachings of Jesus. But it will never gain traction in this land. And the kingdom of God is never meant to be a matter of actual, dirt-under-the-nails activism and political life. It's meant to be more than that, at a deeper level. It's meant to be the thing that turns people's hearts into things of compassion and generosity and acceptance of contradiction and that is able to hold the tensions of existence. It's not a right. It's not a responsibility. It's not electable. It's there and ready to be turned on and is ready to be the shaper of lives in this nation or any. It's outside the systems of the world at large because it is latent within us. Even though I voted for Obama the first time, it was still up to me to volunteer at a social service kitchen serving meals to people with AIDS, or sneaking around at work grabbing food discards and distributing them to people in some need or position to do the same.
These days, I'm experiencing some reawakening of my musical interests that have gone dormant for a decade or so. I look forward to putting that to some use, either as a songwriter with themes that I've blogged on for all these years, or just playing and seeing the harmony erupt between players, or the joy that listening brings either in the contexts I've been involved in lately: the pub and a church.
In some ways, it doesn't really matter who wins the election. Or who steals it. Not to me. It's not that I won't erupt in righteous indignation if the wrong guy gets in (either by theft or the sad realization that idiocy and short sightedness in my country has tipped the balance), or if the right-enough guy does another of his appointments that is a handout to the party I tried to avoid electing. I'll keep harping somehow. But the bigger patterns are at work. The wheel is more than I can wrap my hands around and turn. I guess my options are to do my part in the band to serenade while the bus goes off the cliff, hoping to awaken something, or I could blog or write songs that live in the tradition of Pete Seeger, putting a spanner in the works of thought systems. Or I could keep inviting people to eat together, even if it means finding the discards—the stuff relegated to the death-bin—and doing my small bit to reinvent it as the stuff of life. I guess those are my options, whether or not I vote, whether or not my horse is in the race, or whether or not I vote for the lesser of two evils.