For a guy who talks so much about peace, I sure don’t feel very peaceful these days. The state of our nation is on my mind, in particular politics and the functioning (an oxymoron?) of our government, and it’s got me fuming!
It goes without saying that politics is a game of power to determine who will control the mechanism of government — and in so doing set the course of our common affairs.
As with any game, people play to win. When some win, others lose. Like the cliche says, to the winner go the spoils. And to the loser? The chance to try, try again — and do whatever possible to regain power at the next election.
Ah, elections. That’s a good place to start. When I was young, I used to hear about how bad the soviet system was, offering its people only the illusion of choice, that the system was rigged to elect the candidate selected by a central ruling elite.
So what makes us think it’s any different here, just because we get two (and sometimes more) candidates to choose from for most offices? The American electorate is trained to think our choice is meaningful, but for our vote to “count,” we dutifully must cast those votes for either a Democrat or Republican. That is, unless things deteriorate to a point that we demonstrate our ire by voting for some third party because we don’t like the choices propped up for our consumption.
What’s it matter?
Propped up indeed. For while we go through a vetting process called primaries to choose which wannabe will get the chance to face off in the finals, the end result is more of the same.
Two guys (usually, at least at the top), ostensibly on opposite sides of the fence, squaring off to bash each other to make the people think they’re the one with the magic wand to fix all our ills — each pandering to public fears and desires on a whole host of issues.
Yet once elected, what changes? One group gets favored. Then another. And back again. The ship of state zig zags through history, much like a sailing vessel would tack back and forth toward a distant port.
But in this case our ship’s headed to nowhere. There is no common vision of what we want for ourselves, or where we want to be somewhere down the road.
So what we get is a mishmash of self-perpetuating policies and programs designed to fit the needs and desires of the moment — each advancing the interests of its supporters and putting down those of their opponents, at least until the other side gets its turn.
But then, rarely is any of it undone. Rather, they just keep layer on one thing after another, pretending they’re doing some lasting good in our names.
Why should we expect any different? Ours is a system of inherent conflict over who will win and who will lose. The more things change, the more things remain the same. Government grows bigger. Conflicts get worse. And the big loser in all of this is the American people who don’t know any better, thinking this is the only way it is and has to be.
Sure, there are many proposals to try to “fix” our system. Like overturning Citizens United and taking money out of the electoral process. Or trying to regulate the excesses of those whose pursuit of self-interest does harm in the process. Or ending the Fed. Or bringing home our troops. Or implementing national health care. Or imposing term limits.
But what would any of that do to change human nature that causes us to advance our own interests at all costs — thus voting in people who deliver benefit after benefit to one group or another, and keeping us in a never-ending state of war among ourselves?
Moreover, what would it do to offset the continual expansion of power of what has evolved into an omnipotent national government from the intended limited federalist system where undelegated powers were reserved to the people or the states? After all, since its inception our nation has been run by people who have used their powers to expand the power and influence of government at every turn.
Do we really expect things to change, and they’ll suddenly wake up and say, “We were wrong to want more power so we could do more good?”
Selling ourselves down the river
Some say the expansion of governmental power is a good thing, that the Constitution is old and outmoded, and needs to be thrown out or replaced so we can do more of what we want with this system everyone fights so hard to control. After all, we’ve got Medicare and Social Security for the old, Medicaid for the poor, and a host of programs designed to take the edge off life in this cold, cruel world. Why not get rid of any limitations so we can do even more? Just think of what we could, who we could serve? Or the votes we could insure we get in the future?
We’ve also got the most powerful military the world has ever seen, able to project power to (and assert our wills upon) all parts of the globe, often on a moment’s notice. Of course, that power is now wielded by an all-powerful presidency that doesn’t even need to answer to a Congress that is too weak or unwilling to exercise its constitutional duties. But why bother with such trivial details?
Why should anyone want to cut their own throat and reduce their own power? Why would anyone with any ability to get their way stand up and say enough is enough, when it’s bringing so many good things to our lives?
They don’t. And they won’t.
We’re doing exactly what Jefferson said we’d do, slowly but surely relinquishing our power of self-determination and delivering ourselves into the hands of an all-powerful government that has almost as much power now as the one our forefathers once fought a revolution to resist.
It would be bad enough if we’re doing it to ourselves. Given the power to choose, a sentient being might decide to give up that choice and allow others to choose for him. Or her.
The problem is, we’re not only saddling ourselves, but alas also future generations, with the loss of freedoms and potential for even worse abuse down the road. We’re heaping upon their backs mountains of debt that will probably never be paid off (who cares, some say?), the interest on which alone will severely restrict their choices on how and where they’ll sail the ship of state.
Then again, it’s not like it’s just started. We’ve been doing this for over a hundred years. It’s just that my generation — the Baby Boomers — have perfected the pursuit of happiness to an art form, willing to sell their souls to get everything they want, regardless of the cost.
Giving up hope
Still, what makes me saddest of all and does the most to steal my peace, is the fact that we don’t change. For at the heart of it all is human nature to put ourselves first. Our consciousness has not evolved enough for us to want to change it and balance our own needs with those of others.
We the people don’t really want it any other way. We like how things are, even if it enslaves us in the process to lives and lifestyles that don’t serve us, or the burden of an overreaching, ineffective and runaway government that few seem happy with.
We Americans seem all too willing to live in bondage, slaves to will and desire — the willingness to do whatever we can or must to get our way, to have what we want and avoid what we don’t. The loss of freedom to a system run wild pales in comparison.
So when you turn on the news and are enticed to pick sides in their silly games, just remember that what you’re doing is perpetuating a mindset of beliefs and practices that keep us in conflict, where winners and losers are the inevitable result.
When we live in a world of conflict, no one can ever be completely at peace, because they’re constantly looking over their shoulders to see who’s going to take what they’ve got or do them wrong.
I sure hope I’m wrong, that I don’t see any way to change the system into one that can better create a foundation in which peace and prosperity for all can flourish.
Then again, blowing it up and starting over won’t do much good, either.
Because until we change, until we quit trying to gain advantage and advance our own self-interest, whether through government, business, or any other aspect of our lives, nothing else will change. The political system will simply continue to be the instrument that allows us to keep on keeping on.
Maybe I should just shut up and learn to live with it. After all, I certainly can benefit myself if the right people are elected and policies are enacted.
I guess I’m just not cut out that way, though. Because even such bribery isn’t enough to sell out what I think is right for my kids and country.
And it certainly isn’t what we’re getting now.
God bless you indeed. At least, until your government does.
* * * * * * * * * * *John Dennison is a retired lawyer, peacemaker and spiritual teacher who speaks and writes to challenge the things that keep us locked in struggle and conflict.
A spiritual teacher by avocation, John also authored Whispers in the Silence — Living by the Light of Your Soul, a guide to self-knowing and the process of personal development behind most spiritual traditions.
John offers a free report, "5 Minutes That Can Change Your World," at http://bit.ly/1QwNenb, and provides coaching and guidance to awakening souls.
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