Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama, Hope, and Finding Our Way Out of This Mess

This is my Dec/Jan Grassroots Press column:

What a relief! The election was best-case scenario at every level. This was a pleasant change of pace for us shell-shocked veterans of recent electoral wars. Nationally, Obama won a substantial victory – in other words, too substantial to steal. Statewide, New Mexico has become a delightful shade of blue – both of our Senators and all three Representatives are now Democrats. And in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County, Democrats swept every contested race. Now the real work begins – ensuring that the Dems don’t resume their usual spineless capitulator routine. Unfortunately, some would say they’ve already started caving. Yo Dems, we voted for change, not more of the same!

I wonder what the white racists think while they’re standing in line at Wal-Mart, surrounded by the smiling, happy faces of the Obama family on every magazine and tabloid cover. The older racists will never change, but their children and grandchildren are now growing up in a world filled with black role models. The demographic wind is at our backs – this is becoming an increasingly nonwhite country, and young people voted for Obama 2-1. It’s just a matter of time till the balance of power shifts permanently. But I wonder if there’ll be anything left by the time the old white men in suits finally lose their grip on power.

I hope there’s more to Obama’s “hope” routine than mere rhetoric. Obama is clearly a once-in-a-lifetime transformational figure, and as such – to phrase it delicately – won’t be with us forever. We don’t want to depend on the charisma of a single individual. I wonder what we, out here in the cheap seats, can do to create a positive vibe to replace the paralysis that has gripped our country for far too long. I find myself asking a lot of questions these days because the answers aren’t obvious yet. Everything is still preliminary and unformed, although it looks like the Obama administration will be “status quo lite.” At least the President will be able to speak his nuanced policy positions in complete sentences.

Obama probably ran the most intelligent, tightly-managed campaign in American history. After eight years of a corrupt dumbass president, a majority of Americans were eager for change, donating unprecedented amounts of money and countless volunteer hours getting out the vote. Barack, Michele and their two girls are obvious incarnations of higher consciousness – which is to say, they are positive, intelligent people. Obama possessed an astounding equanimity throughout the campaign. He was unflappable, a veritable Rock of Gibraltar, and earned the nickname, “No Drama Obama.”

McCain and Palin, by contrast... my fingers grow numb at the thought, and recoil from typing about them; I’ll have to use my teeth: McCain and Palin ran the lamest, most incompetent, lyingest, nastiest, sleaziest, flip-floppingest campaign of our lifetime. They were the successors to the most unpopular president in American history (who also happened to be a Republican), who got us into a needless travesty of a war, who wrecked the economy, who condoned torture, who trashed the Constitution, who turned his country into an embarrassment for anybody more intelligent than a loaf of bread... and after all was said and done, despite everything, McCain still captured 46% of the popular vote. Which in my mind, is almost half. Nearly half of the electorate quite specifically rejected Obama’s message of conciliation and hope. Obviously, there’s something terribly wrong with this country, but we already knew that. This election merely sharpened the focus to an excruciating level of detail.

Fundamentalist Christians have a series of novels, the “Left Behind” series, in which the True Believers are Raptured into Heaven, while the rest of us – secular humanists, goddess worshippers, atheists, wiccans, Druids, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, animists, shamans, sexaholics, freeform meditators, latte liberals, homosexuals of all flavors, unchurched mountain bikers, Earth pagans, mystical beekeepers, tree huggers, anarchists, zen mamas, rock & rollers, freethinking feminists, agnostic punks, serious spiritual seekers, alternative newspaper editors, and the whole Motley Crue – will be “left behind” to suffer the consequences of our disbelief. (Imagine a world in which the fundies have all disappeared... this seems like an intriguing prospect to me, and gets my vote! Bring it on, God!)

At any rate, here’s the actuality: American Civilization (or at least, what passes for civilization in this country) has been evolving for a good long while. Compared to our ancestors, many of us are better educated, more tolerant, much more self-actualized, and more likely to depend on our own unfiltered experience rather than religious dogma for whatever conclusions we may wish to draw from our sojourn on this plane of existence. But there remains, in this country, a distressingly large percentage of the population that is still effectively living in the Dark Ages, living lives of ignorance, intolerance, superstition, and fear. Their sophisticated leaders very successfully spread their retrograde message by every high-tech channel available. The rank-and-file have truly been left behind... and as such are very dangerous, being easily manipulated by whoever cares to push their buttons -- like Limbaugh, Rove, and the multitude of megachurch preachers. These people will fight us in every way possible, because they feel they have the divine right, the divine commandment, to TAKE OVER. They will never give up, and changing them in any way will be well-nigh impossible. Making progress under these circumstances is like trying to run a 100-yard dash with a cinderblock tied to your foot. Evidently we need to learn to levitate.

A worthwhile research project would be to send a team of outgoing, personable people to interview thousands of conservatives across the country. The team would ask – openly, honestly, and respectfully – what the conservatives believe, and why. After the team accumulates enough information, they might be able to formulate a strategy to effectively influence people who don’t think in the same way we do. I’m not talking about people who merely have different opinions, but people whose thought processes are fundamentally different. This work has doubtless been done to some extent by campaign pollsters, but not in the relentlessly methodical way that is needed.

The bottom line is, we’ve got over 58,000,000 people in this country who not only couldn’t see how stupid and meanspirited McCain/Palin were, but actually thought they were the better choice. You can’t reason with these people, because verbal arguments don’t work. With them, the cerebral cortex doesn’t work in the expected way. We’ve got to work with the lizard brain, or maybe the spinal column itself. Until we figure out a way to get some semblance of unanimity going in this country, we’ll be fighting the same battles over and over while the fundamental problems remain unaddressed. The “long emergency” we are now entering requires that we finally take politics and public opinion seriously rather than leaving them in the none-too-capable hands of media hacks and political consultants.

Ultimately we’re all culpable. We are all contributing to the destruction of the planet. We’re all part of the human condition; we’re all enmeshed in the same human reality, which looks like this: At the individual level, most people identify with – consider themselves to be – the nattering, chattering, sense of self apart from everything else, known as “ego.” The ego is constantly churning out thoughts – thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future, thoughts about hypothetical situations – that prevent us from living fully in the present moment. We live trapped within a never-ending web of thought-patterns -- which is a trivial way to live. Such triviality leads to the semi-civilization we now have (there is no true civilization anywhere on the planet): a chaotic mish-mash of truth and lies, science and superstition, with no standard of truth, only competing systems of propaganda.

Einstein said that you can’t solve a problem on the level of the problem. We need to go to a meta-level to solve the problem. The meta-level we need has traditionally been called “spirituality” – which is a misnomer, because it implies that there is some “other,” “better,” “more spiritual” reality or state of consciousness. In truth, the answer has always been right here, right now -- at the center of our very being -- but has been obscured by the multitude of distractions and false beliefs that cloud our clear perception of reality.

I recommend Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, which is perfectly suited for TV-addled American consumers, frantically going nowhere at half the speed of light. The book is very basic but most importantly, Tolle’s techniques really work. Tolle recommends that people focus on becoming consciously present at all times; “waking up” as it were. This has got to be the ultimate mental discipline. It seems like such a simple thing, almost trivial. But most people will find themselves constantly forgetting to be consciously present. They’ll constantly drift back into uncontrolled thinking. Those who persist will find that ultimately the distractions start to fade more into the background, and life takes on a new and more vibrant quality. And this is only the beginning. As the Good Book says, “For now we see through a glass darkly, but later we will see more clearly.” I can’t think of a better way to achieve the fundamental transformation we so desperately need.


Blogger Andrew said...

For a good take on the Anti-Christ try this new book. Its called The Flame Of Heaven. Excellent. Has anyone else read it?

12:18 AM  
Anonymous Jacques Conejo said...


Your reminder that over 58 million of our national brethren did in fact favor "more of the same" is an important and disturbing one.

I tend to forget that.

Here's a little blurb that might help to explain it:

Research by New York University and UCLA researchers appearing in Nature Neuroscience shows that liberal or conservative leanings may come down to cognition rather than conviction.

In the experiment college students across the political spectrum were instructed to tap an M whenever it appeared on a computer monitor and to ignore a W that appeared about 20 percent of the time while an electroencephalograph recorded brain activity.Data showed that students who identified themselves as liberal scored higher for accuracy and were almost five times as likely to show activity in brain circuits associated with conflict, suggesting a strong capacity for dealing with change and novelty. Meanwhile, conservative students were better at blocking out distracting new information which may lead them to favor structure and tradition.

I'd imagine that we all share a bit of both ways of thinking, and that each way brings advantages and disadvantages

I appreciate also your acknowledgment that "We're all culpable". I admire your courage and awareness in reminding us that "self-exemption" is not an option when it comes to accepting responsibility for our human condition.

I believe that writing what you do, in the way you do, serves all of us. All of us.

Your last paragraphs define the possibilities of new ways, new tools of perception that might enable us to move toward a better
way of being.

Your candid evaluation of what is, problems and solutions is a gift to all of us....

Thank you....

7:21 AM  

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