Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | October 19, 2010

Unsoaped, Unslipped, Unboxed

Folks seem to get wound up about this and that come election time. This year’s no different. Despite what we’re hearing, the world won’t end one way or the other. There’s a lot of mileage for forecasting a repeat of 2007 and 2008’s avalanche, and those that missed seeing it are still hoping to get it right next time. So before election day comes, relax, take your time, and do your best. This isn’t something to panic about. Honest. The fact is somethings are broken, but a lot more aren’t.

No, I’m not some Pollyanna or Scarlett convinced that tomorrow will make it all better. But I will say that the next generation is a great generation… even now… and I’m excited about where they will lead us tomorrow, but that’s a ways down the pike. But  it does seem as if there’s a lot we have to do and a fair amount that has to change. But just as it took us a long time to get into this, it is going to take a long time to get out of it. There are no short cuts we haven’t  already tried. We may find an opening here and there, but we need to be deliberate about what we are doing as a people if we are to get anywhere. And this begins by understanding where we are and where we are headed.

No, we’re not headed down a rat hole. Who knows? We might already be there. But that’s not really the point. My sense is that if we screw our heads on right – which I think they are pretty much there already – then I think it is fairly transparent that we’re at or near a critical point because an increasing number of people seem increasingly clear things need to change because they aren’t getting better. This realization doesn’t stop everything, but it stops the headlong sense that things are always this or always that, and re-introduces the notion of complexity to our decision-making.

We aren’t really at a decision point. Yes, we may have decided we need to head in another direction, but we may not actually be at an inflection point. By this I mean that we may not yet be at a point where we can re-influence the direction in which we are headed. So things may continue along the present course for a while. Face it, the present course has a fair amount of momentum to it already, and this means things could continue to look worse in spite of actually beginning to get better. Yes, they are getting better because if you’re reading this far, you may already believe that it needs to do so. And that’s the sort of start we can build on.

See the thing in my view is that those looking for our leaders to fix things simply don’t have a good understanding of American history. There’s a story that’s told and written, but the real story is always something different, and it is one that depends on each and every one of us… the so-called little people. We’re little because it is convenient for others to think of us this way, and in truth, many of us like to excuse our responsibilities for each other and for what is going on simply by agreeing and letting someone else… one of the “big” people… make all the decisions, claim all the credit, or whatever it is they do… even when we know that whenever it gets decided, we’ll actually be the ones putting our shoulder’s to the bag.

Problem is that the big people actually spend all their time trying to figure us out. Or at least that’s what they’d have us believe. That’s why they do all this polling. But it may also be they really do only what they want and take polls just to see if we notice, or whether we’re giving them any credit. The exercise reminds me of the mice in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that ran the world by purposely messing with the results of all our scientific experiments. Makes the Heidegger principle irrelevant if the data isn’t passive but actually controlling the results so that so-called intelligent people will be misled. Mind you, I don’t believe in conspiracies and don’t think this is what is going on, but at times, I find it amusing to imagine that it is.

The problem is simply that we are disconnected from each other and so our big people are content to pursue their own interests rather than the interests of those they are elected to serve. In fairness, we haven’t and don’t bother with telling them much about our wants and needs, so they listen to whomever will talk to them. And if those talkers have interests of their own – even at complete variance to ours –  we shouldn’t be surprised. Corruption is a problem, but it isn’t the main problem.

The problem as I see involves some simpler fixes than we think. You can probably name your own, and they’d be just a legit, but since this is my blog, and I’m writing, well… here are my thoughts:

Number one: Term limits has its problems, but the more time passes, the more clear it is that whether you like the right or left doesn’t matter so much. Both folks in fact come into office highly motivated to serve their constituents with the intent of making their country better. They don’t necessarily agree with each other, but that’s not the end of the day. Different point of views strengthen rather than weaken our democracy if we let it function. But the longer folks are in office the more they get out of touch and lose their motivation. They put it on cruise control. And as they get out of touch, they spend more trying to figure us out again. It was natural at first because they were one of us. But leadership separates the leader from the led. There’s no getting over this. And so the only course is to allow them to experience renewal through a period out of office. We don’t seriously need to give folks a permanent leave…. we can simply require a term or two out of office.

Number two: Democracy needs a few fixes to work better. Those fixes aren’t necessarily changing the system so much as changing ourselves. I have three main ideas, but there’s a zillion more we could add without a lot of rigmarole. I’d note that there’s not a single one of these ideas requires a constitutional convention or amendment. Look at Prohibition and ask yourself… do we really want to go there? Do we really want to define marriage, science and all the other pet and boogeymen out there as part of a new constitution? No, I didn’t think so either. Oh we may THINK we might, but once we open the can of worms, we better be ready to put the contents we don’t use in the freezer.

First fix to the Democracy thing: We may need to decide whether we are asking for too much Democracy. How much do we want? Do we really want to elect judges and dog catchers? and let the complexity of judging a zillion different types of people in a zillion different types of positions distract us from making elected officials accountable to the ballot box? What is the best use of our votes? Foreign folks tend to point out these things, and FWIW, they may be on to something. Less is sometimes more.

Second fix to the Democracy thing: We may need to understand how to make ballot boxes work. We ran into the arcane nature of voting in 2000, but we really haven’t done much to fix the system. Our turnouts are abysmal. Do we care? Should we consider voting holidays? Should we fine people for not voting?

Third fix to the Democracy thing: if we need to drum up interest by making elections more competitive, can we end gerrymandering by requiring recognizable geometric shapes and keeping the integrity of districts as much as possible so that a place and an election mean something with some measure of consistency? Can we open up the election system so that is not controlled by the two party duopoly? I’ve looked at minor parties – and let’s face it, today these guys all assume they won’t win and tend to focus on providing protest votes rather than real alternatives. But somehow, one of our parties needs to go the way of the Dodo and make room for a whole new place so that the other “surviving” party can find it’s path to renewal. Otherwise, it’s just not happening.

These may be sufficient to change some of the character of our democracy and make it reflect more of the will of the people. And yes, I know there seem to be quite a number of Orthodox folks out there who think we should have a King or Emperor or something ridiculous, but let’s just not get crazy. Seriously. History is full of mostly terrible rulers. Those that weren’t terrible were mostly horrible… as in horrifying. Yes, there were a handful of saints. Five thousand years is really a lot of time… seriously folks there should have been a lot more, and the fact that there weren’t should suggest the genetic dynasty thing just isn’t a good idea.  Too limited. If Eastern Europe had discovered constitutional democracy, requiring an entirely different history of course, we might have had saints speak of it rather than the emperor or king, and so there would be a precedent for those that seem to need that sort of thing. So I agree with Churchill that this doesn’t make democracy a winner… it’s just less bad than the other options.

But it can be made better. And that begins with acknowledging that maybe that the new testament commandment to render to caesar has more dimensions to it. In a democracy, we may in fact have more obligations rather than the less we all would prefer. Yes, I’m suggesting this means that our responsibility to our brother may involve serving in the government and taking our voting responsibly. I’ve always voted. I can’t say it has amounted to much more than a lot of regret. I could have done a better job, though under the present system it wouldn’t have made much difference I’m afraid… and for most of the reasons cited above. But I do think the present crisis stands as the beginning of a new day in the way that the Pullman Porter strike began the inexorable march to Civil Rights. It’s a long hard slog ahead.

So what do we do to prepare both ourselves and the next generation? And I’m burying this at the bottom precisely because it is the crux to making the whole work. The truth is that we just don’t talk to each other anymore as fellow human beings. We live and think separately. We seem to talk endlessly… even blog our thoughts. But it amounts to little of real interaction. We’re too separate. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that our dysfunctional leadership reflects our own dysfunction. But there may be a fix.

Number Three: We change our public chemistry. We haven’t always been this way – dysfunctional. Our parents and grandparents generation sacrificed together. Universal service. Selective service ended this and began the great dysfunction. We went separate ways. And this has to end, not just for all of us together, but for each of us. Citizenship should require a basic term of national, universal service. No more birth alone does it.  Anyone who comes here does it. Anyone who is born here does it. We all serve. Many have already done so, given up their lives, given up their bodies, and the rest of us merely complain and strut but do nothing. Those who have served had done their part. The rest of us need to step up. Every new youth, every new immigrant should do time. Those of us missed in the past because we weren’t eligible, asked or excepted should be required to step forward. If someone is old, they step up on weekends, on their vacation time, or whenever they can work it out. But no one gets a pass. Yes, there’d be an accreditation for certain types of work that would qualify, and unlike our forebears, it would include a wide net. But we’d nail it down and run with it. Service to your country and to one another… not to feel good, or do good, but to do the basics of being part of the human race. It would give us all something in common…. something we could all complain about, but in a certain way, also something to take pride in… building up each other and rebuilding our country.

And it is in the fire of this sort of effort that people learn by working together that folks from different places and different walks of life learn to work and talk to each other as real equals. Not as equal on paper but not equal in life; not as more equal than others, but as folks we know, and as folks we’ve worked with, can respect and even enjoy without having to be the same. And it is this that made our country great once upon a time and can do once again. Folks will say it only did this for white people… and it is true, but that door is open where once it wasn’t. And in truth, it wasn’t open even back then because there were as many shades of white back then as there were other colors… and you can read that the Hungarians, the Italians, the Irish, the Germans… these folks all had to fight to be given a place at the table. This is or was the way, and we gloss over what were seen as real differences in their time to our peril. But we can do this.

E Pluribus Unum was, is and can be real if we work to make it so. If not? Then it seems as if we’re all agreed to be more of a problem than a solution. And we might as well write our own epitaph. So that’s my two or three bits. I’ve not found a politician anywhere who’ll come along on this sort of adventure, but when I try it out on folks, I get told it sounds like a stump speech. I think there’d be a groundswell for something concrete, but what we need is someone with the sense and brass to move the ball forward. Me? I’m merely an idea man. And with this claim, I’ll add only one more: If we are going to fix this nation – and the truth is that we are going to be involved in trying whether we want to or not, whether we like it or not, and whether we even realize it or not. And so if we are, and we going to do it as Orthodox Christians – even as individuals rather than as part of the Body, we might begin with ourselves and learn to work with each other, our different jurisdictions, and come together in a common synod. We can do this. It is all a part of a common christian calling. And then we might actually have something to offer. Imagine that!


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