When This Is, That Is

Exploring the world of conditionality

The Sadness of Victory

 

I’m grateful Barack Obama won reelection. Of the two candidates he is the more principled and the one more able to understand and address the needs of the entire country, not just the other 47%. In spite of the powerful propaganda that says he has done nothing during the past four years, Obama has a long list of accomplishments to his credit. But I’m not writing to extol his accomplishments and virtue or cheer his reelection. I’m writing about sadness.

Yes, I’m grateful that, as a country, we did not pay the ransom demanded by the Republican party, which has held the president—and the country—hostage since Inauguration Day, 2009. It says a lot about our collective national character. But Obama’s first term brought another aspect of our national character into the world spotlight. What it exposed is very ugly and destructive. 

When Obama took the electoral vote, I felt a surge of relief. But I feel no joy or excitement. I feel no momentum moving forward. I feel sad about the whole thing. I’m sad because we will have four more years of resistance and obstruction from the House of Representatives—all for the purpose of preventing one man from doing the job we elected him to do and denying him any credit for the good he’s done and will strive to do. I’m sad because we must endure four more years of  hatred spewing forth from Limbaugh, Coulter, Palin, Hannity, Beck, O’Reilly, Rove, Trump, Breitbart, and so many others whose sole purpose is to foment dissension and even revolution.  

A world free of differences of opinion is not possible, nor is it desirable. In a reasonable society, people can overcome their differences, find a balance, and work together for the greater good. The fomenters of hatred, dissension, and revolution do not have the common good in mind. They may talk about the Constitution, but they don’t believe in we all the people. They may point to the Declaration of Independence as an inspiration for revolution, but that document is built on reason, not on hatred. 

No good will ever come from speech fueled by hatred. Never—no matter how tightly wrapped in a flag of patriotism or supported by a cross of religion—will speech steeped in hatred be a force for good. Never. It is always a force for evil. Freedom of speech is an American hallmark. But what happened to integrity and responsibility? It’s sad that we’ve given so much power to hatred. Very sad. 

I don’t believe that all those who supported Mitt Romney were inspired or influenced by the evil speech that is so prevalent today. But millions and millions of people were and are, and the world knows it.  

Had Mitt Romney won the election, we could have expected profound changes—for good or bad—in law and the economy. We will never know. Certainly, we would have had relief from the hateful, misleading diatribes that masquerade as truth. But all that is superficial compared to the deeper character flaws that would yet be festering within our national psyche had the election turned out differently.  

But it’s Obama and not Romney who is president. What comes next depends on what power we, as a country, will give to the hate mongers and obstructionists. I just can’t bring myself to feel very good about any of it.

Electing for Truth

electing for truth—
discernment and wisdom
are trustworthy guides
to peace and clarity

 

chasing shadows of
greed and hatred—
the deceived
cycle through endless delusion

9/11, Hurricanes, Elections, and Change

During a conversation with a friend soon after September 11, 2001, I compared the al-Qaeda attacks to a major natural disaster. The difference, I said, was our collective reaction. Suppose a tremendous earthquake had toppled the World Trade Center. The destruction would have been widespread, with thousands more people killed. Would there still be this angry, vengeful response which had already begun to grip the country?

My point was lost, however, because equating the 9/11 attacks with a natural disaster evoked its own kind of angry response. After all, other people did this to us. Our anger and thirst for vengeance were justifiable.

There is an old Zen story where a man is fishing from his boat on a fogbound lake. Through the mist he senses another boat coming directly at him. The startled fisherman shouts an angry warning. As the oncoming boat strikes, the fisherman curses the other. Quickly, the mist clears and the fisherman realizes the boat that rammed him is empty and adrift. Embarrassment replaces his anger.

Why is it that when other people, rather than nature, are the cause of our misfortune our reaction is different? I think it’s because, first, we believe other people should know better (as we always know better). Second, even though we can mitigate the effects of nature to some extent, we can and should control the actions of those human beings who would thwart, threaten, or harm us. Third, if we can’t control the actions of those who would thwart, threaten, or harm us, then we can justify doing whatever necessary to deter, punish, or avenge. And of course, somebody must pay. 

Religious beliefs entwine natural events with references to acts of God. We like to know why bad things happen. If the cause isn’t human, then it must be divine. If the cause is divine, then who are we to question? Historically and psychologically, God provides a needed explanation for the otherwise inexplicable and helps make tragic natural events easier to bear. Religion tangles things further when disasters become for us God’s judgment and retribution for things other people do, justifying one group’s destructive acts against another.

It’s ironic how easily so many of us accept natural disasters as God’s judgement on others, but when science tells us the progressively worsening changes in our global climate are the result of human activity, many of those same people deny it’s happening and call it a hoax.

Regardless, we humans and our descendants will have to live with and adapt to whatever climatic changes come our way. Ten, twenty-five, 100 years from now, no one will care that Al Gore was right and Rush Limbaugh was wrong about global warming any more than we care today that Galileo was right and the Church was wrong about heliocentrism.

Over eons of time, earth’s climate has changed in many inhospitable ways. The world has seen massive earthquakes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, and volcanic eruptions. But these events never matter unless humans are in the picture. It’s all about us, isn’t it? We humans are right in the middle of this swirling ocean of change that goes on and on. We are part of it, and we have adapted. So far.

Political and social change are as inevitable as changes in weather and climate. Societies manage themselves by creating governments, religious institutions, and other social structures, but over time these have and will change as we continually adapt to new circumstances and conditions. Social and political development and evolution are unstoppable. People do what they will to control their environment, survive, and—if possible—prosper. Sometimes what we humans do in the name of control, survival, and prosperity is grand and life-affirming. Other times it cruel and inhumane. It’s always been like this. It’s the nature of who we are and what we do.

When I told my friend my thoughts about the 9/11 attacks being no different from a natural disaster, this is what I had in mind. As individuals, the hijackers committed a singularly evil and unjustifiable act of violence. But it was just another tragic event in a very long list of examples of man’s inhumanity to man that has been part of the cycle of life and death on earth for thousands of years. Eventually, what happened on September 11, 2001, will have all the emotional impact as the events at the Alamo. Remember the Alamo?

Had we been more vigilant (and we could have been), we may have prevented or lessened damage of the events of 9/11. But there are some things we cannot prevent. We can’t prevent droughts, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, or arctic meltdown. We can’t always prevent other people from doing us harm (remembering that we are “the other” to someone else). We cannot prevent change, we can only live with it.

Hurricane Sandy pounds the eastern United States, and its powerful effects will be far-reaching. People are doing what they can to protect themselves and their property. Some will fare better than others, depending on many unpredictable factors. When it’s over, some will celebrate their good fortune of surviving another massive and destructive natural disaster, others will curse their misfortune and mourn their losses. Either way, as a country, we will clean up and carry on.

Yet another hurricane awaits off shore. When it strikes, it will rake the entire country. Unlike Sandy, this hurricane, which has been brewing for many years, is entirely human-caused. But like any hurricane it is unstoppable. We’ll have better information about areas of damage by November 7. When the skies clear, some of us will celebrate survival-as-victory, others of us will react with grief and anger at our misfortune. I hope the damage is manageable and that the inevitable post-disaster pillaging and plundering are minimal.

Some interesting things I found when researching this essay are here:

http://www.beliefnet.com/News/2005/09/Katrina-Gods-Judgment-On-America.aspx

http://christiannews.christianet.com/1215711636.htm

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2012/0919/Massive-Arctic-ice-melt-far-surpasses-previous-record

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