When I think about the November 8th midterm elections, I ask myself where are we going in a highly polarized U.S. society. A healthy democracy is a social system in which citizens are constructively linked with fellow citizens, with each person bearing social as well as personal responsibilities. A healthy democracy gives the homeless shelter, gives the sick care, gives the vulnerable protection, and gives the terrified refuge. It is anchored in honesty and truthfulness. It asks how we treat ourselves and how we treat others. It asks us to seriously consider our place and our responsibilities in a fragile world.
Looking toward next Tuesday, I am thinking of course about political leadership. When political leadership gets disconnected from the truth, democracies collapse into either chaos or authoritarian regimes. Those dangers are very real today. What is truth? What are the contemporary socio-political delusions that people adhere to? What are their contemporary socio-religious delusions?
In authoritarian regimes, social order is maintained not by adherence to shared public values but by fidelity to the dictates and wishes of the authoritarian leader. Authoritarian leaders like chaotic situations in which people, living in fear, can be kept obedient and dependent on the leader.
In a healthy democracy there are certain primary values, like, for example, that murder is immoral, that theft is immoral, that dishonesty is immoral, that harming innocent people is immoral, and that lying is immoral. When these immoral actions, however, are turned into social virtues or social normalities, society is in trouble. And the survival of the human spirit is threatened.
By the “human spirit” I mean those positive aspects of humanity that people show towards one another: empathy, respect, generosity, compassion, and identifying with the other. Contrary to the “human spirit” are extremely self-centered attitudes and behavior: “my race,” “ my perspective,” “my politics,”” my kind of people.” They lead to conflict, not cooperation. To fear, not hope. To aggression, not mutual respect. And to suspicion, not trust.
The United States is a country that is seriously struggling with issues of race, economic inequality, gender, immigration and, yes, crime. But constructive change is possible. The story is not over. Another exciting chapter can begin.
People set and adjust their values through interaction with family and friends, and with social, religious, and political groups with whom they identify. After the midterm elections, regardless of the election results, we will need to safeguard our lives and our society based on shared common-good values.
Houses fall apart if they are not maintained. Democracies as well. I remember the words of the French philosopher and writer Voltaire (1694 – 1778), who was an advocate of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
May we all observe, judge, and vote.
PS As a U.S. citizen living abroad, my absentee vote has been sent.
14 thoughts on “The Big Question”
Thank you this timely observation amidst our political churning, reminding us that “kairos” is upon us, laden with opportunity rather than chronically portentous doom. You have offered some key phrases that need meditation and questioning, which I quote here, for starters.
“What is truth? What are the contemporary socio-political delusions that people adhere to?”
[Chaos and kairos seem to be polar opposites, axial extremes locked in a struggle both for and against balance. Would you elaborate on the imperfection of “la mesure,” of the clamor for perfect equity, of moderation that detaches one from the uncomfortable “situations” of our times, our kairos? Perhaps the ideal of perfect balance is a delusion, obscuring the individual grit and personal character that struggle in our relationships requires of us. The ironic twist here is that Pilate crumpled when faced with Truth in the Flesh, and yet Jesus does not respond. Is that our invitation to existe and dwell in struggle and suffering for Truth, not as an ideal, but as the truth of the individual’s reality with whom we contest, of those who have political and authoritarian power over us? We all have grief, a beef with authority, to some extent, but isn’t that a key component in what you, and Dr. Schweitzer, call “the spirit of humanity?” Doesn’t Jesus too have faith in the spirit of humanity?]
“Authoritarian leaders like chaotic situations in which people, living in fear, can be kept obedient and dependent on the leader.”
[False messiahs succeed in self-promotion, at the expense of others, when the crowd, the mob, the “turba,” listens more to parasites that itch their ears (with slogans like “Only I can save you”) than to the call from the small still Voice in the whirlwind, to the Logos, to the words of the itinerant teacher from an occupied province known as Jesus of Nazareth. I think His “surplus powerlessness,” like ours, freed Him to resist, reject and refuse to accept nihilism and absurdity, even unto forgiving his executioners who scoffed at His naked Truth, gambling away His clothing. His so-called weakness as a “loser” is strength enough for all to care about one another, if only we attend to His example. How is this a victorious sign in which to conquer others? Is that what mission-minded morality comes down to? Isn’t that an ethos contrary to the work and word of Jesus?]
“regardless of the election results”
[This is where the rubber hits the road ahead, as we travel: the trouble, the travail of travelling together in my relationships with other citizens with whom I live and disagree, is the field of contention and tension, an energy field really, of honest contact where the bond among us resides. In a twist, we are united as much in our misunderstanding the expression of the grief and the beef, as through our mistrusting of motives. Ironic, isn’t it? The grief and beef is real, honest, true for each individual, but it is shared only in the struggle, in the honest, open-ended communication, rather than in closed-in, clammed-up internal gripe and grind that eats us from inside. How bad can it be, if I let it out, make it personal and public, not private and isolating of an individual in misery. The problem isn’t in the grief and the beef, but in not opening up to one another about it. The way forward isn’t about “majority rule” (the majority isn’t always right) but about ethical loyal opposition, expressing a different view that widens all perspectives, eschewing silo thinking. Isn’t this true for law as well as for religion, both cultures in their own ways, one accommodating the other?]
(Yes, we too voted absentee last week, as “pensioners” of a certain age… and we live just outside DC.)
Thanks for this. You’re accurate in your assessment of both the problem and the solution. I voted. I pray.
Jack – you are spared, living abroad, the constant barrage of commercials with attendant lies and appeals to the basest of human instincts. I am viewing this hard reality through another lens, i.e. end of life issues, i.e. afterlife with joy/punishment. With the abundance of false statements and selfish grabs for power, it would appear that any concern about post-life impact is long gone! I continue to wonder how we can possibly at least get back to the necessity of observing and working toward the common good for the general welfare of humanity.
My friend I too wonder “how we can possibly at least get back to the necessity of observing and working toward the common good for the general welfare of humanity.” U.S. society is at a very serious point in its history.
“Another exciting chapter can begin.” Thank you for your optimism, Jack, an outlook sorely needed at this time!!
Well. It is a serious and difficult time. Much more spooky than any Halloween😉 But we cannot give up.
Warmest regards and much appreciation, Betty, for your own writing.
Beautifully said. I couldn’t agree more. We all need to vote carefully and with the future of our democracy for our children and grandchildren.
Yes indeed Mary!
As eloquently put as any words from our founding fathers! Yes, Jack, we need to see our future bonded together by our common humanity and fueled by our desire to build a world where we can all prosper and grow without fear. You have addressed the importance for all of us who love and respect our democracy to vote for a bright and hopeful future. Thank you for writing inspiring words of wisdom to encourage us to look ahead to a nation full of opportunity for all!! (We, too, have already voted and pray for a positive outcome.)
Many thanks Frank!
Recently, I remember uncomfortably often the words of Alexandr Solzhenitzyn in his Nobel lecture: “Let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds.” He does explain it more in detail
So very, very true.