When This Is, That Is

Exploring the world of conditionality

Two Post-election Scenarios—Neither One Bright

grover norquist quoteTwo weeks ago, a friend of mine shared this photo-quote on Facebook. I started to write a snarky comment but deleted it. I realized I had much more to say about the quote than I could cover in the two or three sentences that would quickly get lost within Facebook’s short attention span. Instead, I came here and spent the rest of the day researching and exploring some ideas around the topic. When finished, though, I couldn’t bring myself to push the Publish button. I hadn’t expected to come to such a gloomy conclusion. I tried to brighten things up a bit—put a more positive spin on things—but I just couldn’t write my way out of the Orwellian box canyon I’d created for myself. 

But after a few days it began to feel as though I’d left something undone. I have other topics I want to write about, but it seems a landslide has blocked my path. I got the idea that writing this preamble may help with some of the backhoe work. We’ll see. Meanwhile, what follows are the thoughts triggered by what Grover Norquist said about the coming presidential election.

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The history of the United States offers several examples of internal threats that had the potential to destroy or do massive harm to the country through the power of hatred and divisiveness. The Civil War is at the top of the list. More recent examples include the labor movement, Civil Rights movement, and Vietnam War.

So, I want to be careful about saying we’re in the darkest of times and on the brink of a mighty disaster. Yet maybe we are.

We’re approaching the election of a president. It’s something we’ve done every four years, more or less, since George Washington was reelected in 1792. Presidential elections are contentious events, with all candidates insisting they know what’s best for the country and that they have the right qualities and skills to lead the country into the future.

But it seems that strong leadership in the Executive branch is not all that important to those who would back one of today’s contenders. The Republican/Tea Party does not care who is elected, as long as it’s not Obama. This news is a few months old now, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it. For those of you who think Obama is a fascist, take a look at this story by David Frum. David Frum, if you don’t know, is a conservative Republican, so this can’t be construed as liberal propaganda. Grover Norquist, if you don’t know, is the political activist who got most Republicans in the 112th Congress to sign a pledge affirming they would not raise taxes. Read the pledge and see who signed it here

This is what Grover Norquist said in February at the 2012 CPAC convention, before Mitt Romney looked like the sure winner of the Republican nomination:

All we have to do is replace Obama. …  We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. … We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate.

In other words, all the Republican/Tea Party needs is a paper-signing puppet who will do what he is told. It appears Mitt Romney may be that puppet. Meanwhile, Norquist—through his pledge—has a firm hand on the controls of the Legislative branch. A Romney presidency will lock it in, unless the Democrats make significant gains in Congress.

And what would a Romney presidency look like? I’m no political analyst, but the word “austerity” comes to mind. The rich will get richer, and the poor (from the middle class down), well, poverty is just another word for nothing left to lose. The same policies that supported Enron’s fleecing of thousands of pension funds and savings accounts, and that brought down the economy in 2008, will prevail. The economy—and the environment—will be pillaged for corporate gain. Then what? Will the masses rise up against the plutocracy with weapons more powerful than placards?

Yet many hold out for Barack Obama’s reelection. What are the consequences if Obama does win? I fear it will different from the usual acceptance of “four more years” of any recently reelected incumbent, notwithstanding the impeachment hearings of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

The Tea Party came into power in 2010 as a direct response to Obama’s presidency. Never mind that it has done everything possible within the law (forget ethics) to thwart Obama. Since the rise of the Tea Party, there has been lots talk of armed revolution. Armed revolution! Examples are herehereherehere, and here. Isn’t that enough? These are not conspiracy theories from the fringe. These are real people advocating real events. They are angry and afraid, and they do love their guns. We very well could have an armed insurrection on our hands if Obama is reelected. All it takes is someone to fire the first shot in the right place and at the right time. See the first example above.

I don’t like being so cynical and pessimistic about the future of the United States, but this is the way it seems to me. This feels like it’s more than just another election where after it’s over, we’ll all go back to the mall for a nice day of retail therapy. It feels more like war brewing. And regardless of which side wins, the losers will be all of us within the middle and lower classes. But isn’t that the way it is in all wars?

Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd*

Collage of notable shepherds

How can you tell the good shepherds from the bad?

The word sheeple has been around for at least 60 years as a derogatory reference to people who are docile, foolish, and easily led—like sheep to slaughter.

There is a paradox here, because sheeple applies to absolutely no one. Stop anybody on the street and ask, “Are you docile, foolish, and easily led?” and you will see what I mean. We’re all to smart for that.

But what about the Christian metaphor of the Good Shepherd? Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the one who will tell us (his flock of sheep) right from wrong, keep us safe from harm, give us good counsel when we are confused, and wrap us snugly in the warm folds of his robes on that last, darkest, and most frightening night of the soul. Is this a case where people choose to be sheep?

Well, not all people will be sheep. Like Jesus, there are some others who stumble into—or seek out—the role of shepherd. They are smarter and more intelligent than the flock they aspire to lead. Some of them take on the role of shepherd out of love and compassion for the poor sheep, who, by their nature, are truly helpless. Others aspire to the role of shepherd out of the delusion they know what’s best—for themselves, for sure—and will take the flock by whatever means they can. Some of them will even lead their flocks directly to the slaughter-house.

All shepherds and hopeful shepherds have a message for the flock. But the sheep may have difficulty discerning among those who would help them from those who would harm them. Many people, like sheep, don’t have—or don’t utilize—the capacity to discern the truth. They are unable to make skillful decisions about what’s in their own long-term best interests and the best interests of those who share the pasture. Because, like sheep, they can know only what their immediate instincts tell them. And the instincts of sheep aren’t very good. Can a sheep recognize the butcher as he walks into the pen with a loaded rifle?

But we’re really not sheep. And it is possible to separate the good shepherds from the bad shepherds—if we’d really care to take a close look at them and listen carefully to their messages. Listening carefully doesn’t mean hearing what we want to and not hearing what we don’t.

• Is the message filled with compassion, hope, love, tolerance, and concern for the welfare of everyone in the flock? Or is the message filled with hatred of “the other,” fear that “the other” will take what’s “yours,” and intolerance of anyone who doesn’t accept the message?

• What’s the overall demeanor of those who would aspire to lead you? How do they live their lives—not just when they are in the spotlight, but when no one is looking? Are they kind, gentle, and honest;  are they authoritarian, overbearing, and deceptive; are they generous and humble, or greedy for money, fame, and power?

• Are they wise or deluded?

Although it may take a long time and will require some effort, truth can be found.

Provided truth is what you really want.

The photo collage is of some notable shepherds, some of whom are speaking to their flocks. Can you tell the good ones from the bad ones? If so, how?

In the picture are, in no particular order: the Buddha, Jerry Fallwell, Benazir Bhutto, Idi Amin, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Anwar Sadat, Jimmie Carter, Menachem Begin, Mother Teresa, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Rush Limbaugh, Nelson Mandela, Joseph Stalin, Pat Roberson, Dick Cheney, Aung San Suu Kyi, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King, Mao Zedong, Mahatma Ghandi, Barack Obama, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Dorothy Day, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jim Jones, Mitt Romney, and Jesus, who is shone once as the Good Shepherd and again preaching the Sermon on the Mount.

Please forgive me if your favorite—good or bad—is not in the picture. There are so many.

*This is a rewrite of an article first published here on February 27, 2010. I think it’s as timely today as it was then. The original post was inspired by a story sent to me by someone suggesting that Barack Obama is leading the United States down the same path as did Adolf Hitler lead Germany (that story has since been removed, but there are plenty of others out there).

A Small Case of Ignorance

ignoranceI live in a suburban residential area where the speed limit is 25 mph. In the neighborhood is a middle school, where the speed limit drops to 20 mph at the beginning and end of the school day, when children are arriving and departing. One morning, as I was leaving the neighborhood and approaching the school zone, I saw ahead of me two boys walking along the sidewalk. One of them wore a hoody that obscured his peripheral vision. The other was intent on some electronic device—a phone or game. Neither showed any sign of awareness that a car was coming toward them as they sauntered across the street right in my path.

No, I didn’t hit them. I noticed them in plenty of time and anticipated what they might do. 

On the surface, this is just one of thousands of examples of child-like behavior. It’s the kind of thing kids do, and it’s why the speed limit is decreased in school zones. There are kids everywhere.

On a deeper level, it’s just another example of ignorance. And here I don’t use the word to mean stupid. I mean ignorance of reality, ignorance of what is really happening. Those boys were ignorant of an approaching car and ignorant of any danger. With their lack of vision and occupied with their distractions, they simply weren’t aware of what was happening around them. 

But at what point in a child’s life does he or she cross the threshold from a state of ignorance to a state of awareness? Sixteen? Eighteen? Twenty-one? As I noted above, the speed limit is reduced in school zones because kids are everywhere. And those kids need to be protected from drivers who’s awareness is impaired by thousands of distractions, drivers who may be ignorant of what’s going on around them.

There is no built-in threshold a person automatically crosses from ignorance to awareness. Indeed, many people remain ignorant of reality their entire lives. They like their hoodies and their distractions, and they are unaware that the world is anything otherwise. It is their reality. 

But there is a reality outside the distractions, just as there was for the boys who walked in front of my car as it was heading toward them.

Questions:

• Can you think of one or two adult instances where you saw the foolishness or danger in someone else’s behavior, but they could not see it?

• If so, is it possible that others can see the foolishness or danger in something you are doing but can’t see?

• If there is a state of “the way things really are,” is it possible to be in it?

• If so, how do you get there?

• What do you think?

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