So much of what I see discussed in polite political circles emphasizes the mundane, the temporary, and what is clickable. This is profitable but not ethical. At least, this is my view.
I’m no longer simply going to gainsay that, it is a waste of my time and yours. Instead, I’m going to do my best to deliver realpolitik, or political philosophy, with a hammer, which is my method in all my other work.
So, here is my version of the state of things as I see them.
We care more about what politicians say and tweet, than we care about the primary indicators of the health of political system: employment, stability, crime, and national security.
We care very little about the grandest idea in US history: that of a more perfect union.
We care very deeply about proving our side right, the other side wrong, and very little about the concept of right, and wrong.
We care very much about diversity, in theory, on postcards, and advertisements, and very little about diversity, in practice.
We increasingly care little of our neighbor in general, thanks primarily to the miracle of Facebook. It has connected the world, and helped facilitate, with the most advanced technological precision, the building of metadata walls around us all. “Thou shalt be aware of no other God except thyself” – is in effect the standard design of social media. We have the world at our fingertips, but silicon valley has discovered that the great plurality of us prefer to simply see images of ourselves, information that serves our ideology, and, the principle American pastime, offense and outrage.
But, in the rare case where we do care about our neighbor, it is coming under ever stricter conditions: do they agree with us politically? Are we the same skin color? Do we revere the same holy book? Are you vegan?
Today, perhaps more than ever, love thy neighbor, remains a revolutionary act.
Today, perhaps more than ever, judging people on the content of their character, remains a revolutionary act.
And no, it is not they who have failed to live up to the heights of our moral ambition. It is us.
Of all the challenges in America today, there is none greater, or even comparable, to our lack of personal responsibility for the things we actually put into this world.
I mean this principally in the spirit of one of the greatest moral texts of the 20th century: The children’s book titled “the Little Red Hen.” We all want to eat the bread, but few want to bake it. This is a parable for many things, the most important of which is the recognition that rights bear responsibilities.
We all want healthcare: but we don’t want to follow the rules to be healthy
We all want affordable education: but we demand that universities become our families, security guards, counselors, motivational speakers, life coaches, and in some cases, sovereign arbiters of the law.
We all want less hate on the internet: but we love throwing the first stone.
Today, perhaps more than ever, being the change you want to see in the world, remains a revolutionary act.
Today, perhaps more than ever, turning the other cheek, remains a revolutionary act.
I am reminded of a tweet I saw the other day from someone who I greatly respect, Dr. Geoffrey Miller. It was a poll that asked “If it shut down for two weeks, which shutdown would cause the most disruption to your daily life?” The options were: Netflix, Twitter, Amazon, and the Federal Government.
I didn’t vote. Because a 2 week shut down to any of these would cause no disruption to my life.
Ought this not be a goal? Both individually and for a political system that truly wishes to form and be formed as a more perfect union? A people dependent on things that far outside their own mind, body, and spirit are unlikely to grow, build, or find happiness.
“We are more interested in making others believe we are happy than in trying to be happy ourselves.” – La Rochefoucauld
“If we can’t find contentment in ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.” – La Rochefoucauld
This is true, now, more than ever.
Maybe it’s time for a new spirit of US politics
Ask less of what your country can do for you, and more of what you can do for yourself.
Ask less of what your country can do for your neighbor, and more of what you can do for them.
Ask less of what your country can do for everyone, and more of what you can do for anyone.
But don’t confuse me for a libertarian. I am a realist, an aspirational realist.
I believe in government, what it can do, how it can be useful, and that it can and should be effective and efficient. I believe in our global institutions, also. For all their faults, and for as obnoxiously loud as 2018 was, by most records, it was the greatest year in the history of the world.
But I don’t want things to stay this way, I want them to get better. I believe this is done like the Roman God Janus – to look backward and forward; plus the advice of every grandfather and grandmother I’ve ever known – to keep your nose clean and your feet firmly planted on the ground; and finally to aim high, only and always.