Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Looking into our own mirrors

I cannot quite believe how deeply I feel about this.  I don't like the way I feel.  I try to argue with myself, debate; sometimes I immerse myself in the stories and strategies and data just because I am so very uncomfortable with my feelings.  But none of these things seems to be changing my feelings.

Isn't it strange that we have a rational mind, and yet at the most basic levels we can hardly control ourselves with it.  Our feelings, whether informed or ignorant, urgent or lingering, encouraged or repressed and hidden away, simply are.  Our feelings come unbidden - sometimes we welcome them.  Often we fight them, hide them, run from them. If we are disciplined and honest and introspective enough, we may be able to master them and place them in a manageable context for ourselves, but this is fairly uncommon for human beings.  Mostly, we simply feel our feelings and try to adjust our word and behavior to present ourselves in a way we can live with.  I don't like heights.  Standing on the edge of a tall building makes the back of my knees tingle.  I don't like it, don't want it, and no matter how many times I tell myself that I am not going to fall, that tingling fear insists on being felt.  Our feelings can be tested.  We can have new experiences that change them.  But we cannot just will ourselves to feel differently, no matter how hard we try.

And so, here I sit in the weeks leading up to another election, unhappy with my feelings.  But they are my feelings, and if following my feelings is not the best course, it is at least an honest course.  I have been thinking about these particular feelings for at least the last eight years, without much of any resolution or insight.  Once I was excited about politics and candidates and winning elections.  I was a young man who felt it was my duty to choose.  But is it?  I recall George Carlin saying that it is "Bullshit" when people say not voting is a cop-out.  Why?  Because, he said, if we are like him, the act of not voting has become a bigger vote - one that says "I don't want any of these guys."  That may be part of it, but for me I believe that the feelings are coming from a place even harder to resolve.  I realize that I am just tired of the endless cycle of overpromising to get elected, digging and dishing dirt on anyone and everyone who might stand between a candidate and a the office she desires.  I am tired of the spin, and the bad manners and the oversimplified solutions that everyone knows are not solutions at all.  The whole process of government has become a parody, a sort of metaphor within a metaphor for the Emperor's New Clothes.  Much ado about nothing.  To get elected a candidate must vilify others and canonize himself.  He must hang on to his 'base' voters, and therefor may not take positions of conscience on many issues.  When she does take positions, the opposition will claim she lies, or is stupid and doesn't know her plan won't work.  Of course it won't.  None of them will because there is a fundamental breakdown in the system.  I thought my duty was to vote. but I am beginning to think that the real duty of a citizen is much more basic:

1. Be courteous to those who hold different points of view.

2. Be gracious when voters choose differently than we would.

3. Vote on more than one issue, and look past the (D) or (R) on the ballot by a candidates name.

4. Accept that the very nature of leading is to cause anxiety in many people, since most of us fear or resist change.  When problems must be solved, change is required to solve them.  We must  accept that there is risk in every endeavor; live with the risk because it is the price tag for seeking to improve our way of life.

But wait.  We live in a society with so much anger and vitriol for one another that we've given good government a death sentence.  How can anyone represent a people who either get their way or call the opponent every name that can be thought up?  How can we compromise to get anything done in this environment?  Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George Bush campaigned as outsiders who would change Washington.  Did they?  How could they when it is US who makes Washington what it is?  If we hang any politician who disagrees with us on any issue, how can we blame them for listening to polls, and interest groups, and lobbyists? 

So, when I hear the advertisements, and the cocksure statements of 'facts' by campaign surrogates and candidates. when I see ads accusing this one of wanting to starve children or that one of wanting to bankrupt the future, I realize that we are getting what we deserve.  What we created with our intolerance and animus.  Life is complicated.  Governing is damn near impossible.  And governing a people split so forcefully, so vituperatively, so nearly in equal parts, is in fact impossible.  I'm not so much saying what Carlin did, that he didn't want any of these guys...I'm realizing that it doesn't matter which one of these people we get.  Until we the electorate lift ourselves out of the political muck, and accept the concepts that sacrifice, grace in defeat and humility in victory are essential to any government's ability to govern, we will get the government we deserve.  The government we create with our anger and intolerance.

I know that there are real differences in the various candidates.  I know that in many ways they (and we) can make a difference in our community, society and the world. It does matter who is elected and what policies they pursue.  But still, there is a lingering feeling in me that can best be summed up as aversion.    The whole political arena - despite what I think or want - leaves me cold, a kind of combination of 'ick' and 'meh'. 

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Sunshine on Discovery Bay

Sunshine on Discovery Bay
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