Tuesday, June 29, 2010

WHY CAN'T WE TALK THINGS OUT?

A rather conservative Republican friend (yes, I'd like to believe such a thing is possible!) recently responded to me that maybe they couldn't love me anymore, if I insisted on giving any props to Obama -- he who apparently can do ABSOLUTELY nothing right (according to the conservatives).  Perhaps it was because I had just pasted a video of Rachel Maddow's rather intelligent listing of statistics on Facebook.  Ms. Maddow listed both many of the legislative achievements of Ronald Reagan (a lot of which would be frowned on today by many of the same conservative pundits who praise Reagan as their god), as well as a listing of legislation passed (imperfect or not) during the time Obama has been in office so far.  No matter if you agreed with the bills or not, just in terms of scope and activity it was actually an impressive list--countering many of those who feel our President has been inactive so far.

[My crime, in case you don't know, is not being one who dismisses his accomplishments.  Either that or it was my response to the "fracking" activities of the natural gas companies in this country, as explored in the excellent (and literally incendiary) documentary, GASLAND by Josh Fox, currently on HBO this month.]

But this post is not about natural gas or about Obama or even a specific ideology.  It's about what's happened to us as a people--a people who feel we can't talk to each other anymore if we have opposing viewpoints.  It seems that rather than come together to find mutual ground to solve really crushing problems--health care, the economy, the environment, energy, disasters (both man-made and natural)--we are suppose to stomp off to our corners and pout, convinced that ONLY we are right, only WE know the answers, and we are to brook no further discussion.  My way or the highway, as they used to say.

The place where we are, as a people, is a sad and lonely one.  We appear to be so bruised that we are unwilling to touch one another, lest we hit a sore spot.  Any ideology is just an idea--one that can be abused.  Yet to discuss pros and cons on either capitalism or socialism is anathema---rational thought is disdained, no look allowed at what positives can be drawn from either, and god forbid we admit that any theory or theology can be spoiled not by its pure practice but by the greed and corruption of those running the ideology.  It's like those who must have blind faith--you either accept it whole cloth or you reject it, and no intelligent compromise can be reached.  It's as if we've jumped back to the 1950s, and just a word, like "communism" invokes such fear and hatred that people become irrational, versus being able to discuss it as merely an ideology, an approach to a problem.  Like the mere mention of a word, an "ism," will corrupt your body like a social disease.  The contradiction--that we wish to preserve our cherished rights, like freedom of speech and thought and yet we wish to quell all voices and opinions other than our own--is depressing and even scary.

Can't we come to some consensus?  Or does that mean that WE don't win?  It is my personal belief that if we have any function on this planet at all, we are supposed to leave the place better than when we found it--and lately, we seem to be failing that mission miserably.

Especially strange to me is the idea that nobody should have ideas that fall somewhere in between the polar extremes, even though surveys of the American people show that we are nowhere near as polarized as the pundits and politicians wish us to believe.  We all want to be able to afford our homes, take care of our families, be able to work and be compensated, be prepared in case of a medical emergency or natural disaster.  The "how" is as variable as people are varied, but does that mean we can't discuss things in an effort to come to consensus?

I never expect everyone will agree with everything I say or think, I never have--but when I bring an idea with an open heart and, further, open ears and the door just gets slammed in my face?  I'm stunned.  I am a spiritual but not specifically-religious person, yet I believe only he who is without sin should cast the first stone (which means all gravel pits are safe for the time being).

All ideologies, democratic or socialistic, conservative or liberal, are only as successful as their inability to be abused.  It is greed that destroys ANY system.  My conservative friend fears that what she's worked so hard for will be taken away and re-distributed, apparently to those whom she's been told don't deserve it.  And further, it is assumed that I, as a relative liberal, wish to distribute and give away everything willy-nilly.

I believe that people should get to keep what they've worked hard for and deserve some security, as part of the guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuits . . . as John Locke wrote many years before we were even a nation.  But the limits should be that OUR pursuit should not destroy the pursuits of others, that our endeavors should not destroy what others are equally entitled to partake in and enjoy.  That those who stockpile rather than let anyone else have their share ARE wrong and greedy, and that those who damage our systems and our environments for their own gain at the expense of others ARE doing harm.

We form a social contract as a society to protect and enhance our lives and to equitably protect our rights.  It is then our job to do the best we can within that social contract.  The annihilation of others' rights is wrong, no matter what religion or ethical code you follow.  All should have equal rights, not some more than others (as was written on the barn wall in Orwell's ANIMAL HOUSE).  How we individually do within those parameters is up to the individual--and those who make no effort to contribute should indeed pay a price.  But those who are incapable of participation in the dream, either through frailty or through the deliberate actions of others, should not suffer the consequences.  That is not part of the ethic we supposedly believe in as a people.  Survival of the fittest was an idea Darwin explored in nature, but he was not suggesting that we consciously go out and crush those we don't want to win.

And my friend was right--blame should not be the order of the day.  But we are ALL accountable for letting abuses go by, and the mess we are in did not just begin in the past two years but were many, many years in the making.

So yes, I hope my conservative friend will still "love" me, even as we agree to disagree.  Because if we can't, the isolation may just be unbearable--and the ultimate destiny, unthinkable.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010