To the Thunder On The Right, from Trump to Cruz to your run-of-the-mill fundamentalist bigot, we can add the Cheering On The Left as BernieFans engage in their Mutual Admiration Society. With all that noise, it’s difficult to simply contemplate where we are, where we’re headed, where we should be headed and how to get there.
Where we are:
A world artificially (and deliberately) divided into Have and Have-nots, the obscenely wealthy and the appallingly destitute at the extreme ends. The Middle Class traditionally served as a buffer between the two, but that role is becoming illusory as that group founders under debt and reduced opportunity.
Where we’re headed:
For ecological and sociological disaster – with the pedal-to-the-metal. If you doubt it, you haven’t been paying attention. If you think ‘science and technology’ can save us, you’re deluding yourself.
Where we should be headed:
This is a matter of some dispute when taken abstractly, as most politicians and pundits approach it. At a less abstract and more personal level, most people would simply say they want a better life for themselves and for others. While they would likely disagree with each other on what constitutes ‘better’, if life were reduced to its most basic level, there would probably be almost total agreement. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good place to start.
How to get there:
Ah, the $64 Dollar Question (for those old enough to remember the original). Frankly, I don’t have a lot of faith that politics (in the usual meaning of the word) offers any answers. If anything, politics is what got us into another fine mess.
(Stan and Ollie escape on a stolen tandem bicycle, ride into a railroad tunnel and encounter a train, but emerge riding unicycles. Rather apropos for the GOP debates, eh?)
Broadly defined, politics consists of the process of how we relate to others. That we have redefined it to consist of the activities of specific organizations is part of the problem. It is no accident that the Founding Fathers had a sharp distrust of political parties, correctly recognizing that they would quickly become more concerned with advancing their own interests than the interests of their constituencies or the country at large. They had seen what political parties had done to Great Britain (and what religion had done to much of the world).
If the political process is useless (at best) or compounding our difficulties (as usual), we must consider other options. We might, for example, contemplate which arrangements seem to work most successfully in transpersonal relationships. Humans, like many animals, including all primates, are social creatures. And it is remarkable that through thousands of years of human existence, groups of 100-200 people seem to function most effectively to the benefit of the group. Dunbar’s number comes up in looking at tribes, clans, villages, etc. Wherever life is reduced to its basics, survival and prosperity depend upon people getting along well together. The Founding Fathers numbered 140-150 and there were other figures not generally considered FF but quite influential – Boudinot, Gallatin, Monroe, Paine, Webster, etc. As a group, they functioned well and effectively – and they knew each other and understood their inter-relatedness.
The significance of Dunbar’s number is that it approximates the limit to the number of people I can know well and have a close personal relationship with; the number of people I have to consider and care about; the number affected by my actions and whose actions affect me. In other words, with a group of this size, everything is personal. (Maybe Tip O’Neill’s dictum “All politics is local” should be read as “All politics is personal?)
Digression: …and if you don’t take things personally, you might as well be dead…. 😀
One of the complaints many people have about ‘modern life’ is the impersonal nature of so much of our activity. A thousand Facebook Friends somehow isn’t very satisfying, is it? How about we consider building a life around 100-200 people? In our current society, it would be difficult to limit our interactions to such a small group, but it is quite possible to minimize our activity beyond that group. And when circumstances make it appropriate to act in larger numbers, each group could contribute a few members to another group which would be
limited to 100-200 individual representing 100-200 groups. And larger groups of people are organized via small groups. (Even the traditional ‘Chinese Army’ is broken into manageable units. 😀 ) Yes, it would be delegating upstream, the way political representation was intended to work (and we still pretend works, though we know otherwise) and thus is ‘re-inventing the wheel’. However, since the current wheel has sprung a leak, may be it’s time to re-invent it; to arrive at a different mechanism of designating our representatives, a mechanism based on a different way of looking at ourselves and others.
After Ragnarök, the world was repopulated by Líf and Lífþrasir, a pagan Adam & Eve. I suggest we rebuild our own individual worlds at a smaller level, focusing 90% of our time and effort on our mini-society. The remaining 10% would still require attention, of course, but our lives would not be 90% consumed by involvement in processes which do not work to our benefit, in groups too large to function effectively.
One of the chief obstacles to ‘downsizing’ is that so many of us are so embedded a a too-large world. I have no problem trusting my welfare to a group of 150 like-minded people but I am less sanguine about my dependency on thousands of strangers, none of whom know or care about me and many of whom would gladly work to my detriment. I personally am working toward a life in a much more localized community. I do not expect to live as ‘well’ re the trappings of modernity, but I expect to live a much more satisfying life.
As far the 10% of the Big (and evidently Unavoidable) Political Picture is concerned, the question for me is which politician – if any – gives a shit about me and mine for our sake rather than his/her sake. Who shares my values? In a career spanning 50+ years, I hired or vetted many prospective employees, with various levels of credentials. I pretty much ignored résumés and hired based on three things: Integrity; Intelligence, Enthusiasm. I never had reason to regret a choice. I see many politicians with Enthusiasm and some with Intelligence. But my first criterion is in short supply, isn’t it?
It’s time to reboot society.