Saturday, November 24, 2012

When Ego Drives Politics, Can There Be Any Hope?

We can rant all we want about the insufferable and destructive attitude and policies of the Tea Party and its fellow travelers, but truth be told, virtually all politicians are sorely lacking.  

A politician should be first and foremost a public servant ... there should be no greater interest than to serve the interests of his or her constituents and the greater public good.  And where the greater public good conflicts with the interests of constituents, politicians should back the greater public good because the welfare of the nation should always take precedence over the narrow interests of a locality.

Why is it that there are no, or at best a handful, of politicians today, and for that matter in the past, who encompass this ideal?  The short answer is that all politicians, and indeed all people, are driven primarily by their ego ... which is to say the sum of their learned experience that forms how they view themselves and the world around them.  All people and all politicians are programmed by their upbringing and societal environment to look at things a certain way.  They cannot really do otherwise.

And what is the primary lesson that our culture teaches?  Is it that we must work for and if necessary sacrifice for the good of the community, or is it that we should insure first and foremost that #1, ourselves, is taken care of first.  During much of our history there was a balance between these two messages.  But over the past 30-40 years, it has become increasingly the latter.  Everything else is secondary, at best.

When one combines the self-centeredness of politicians with their programmed view of the world, the result is often disaster for the nation they are supposed to be serving.  In the past, while politicians and people have always been driven by ego, most people were exposed to a strong centrist tradition ... for example the news broadcasts of the three networks and most major newspapers ... and that formed the core of their political learned experience.  Thus they were able to see it in their interest to come together, not on all issues but with sufficient frequency, to serve the public good.

But as the power of corporations has increased in politics and as the attitude of the people has become more extreme, especially on the right due to the emergence of right-wing cable news and right-wing radio talk shows, there remains virtually no issue on which the two Parties can come together in the nation’s interest.  The result is the total dysfunction that we’ve been seeing in Congress.  The result is a growing fissure in our society.  The public good and the interests of those most vulnerable suffer.

Our political system is a mess.  The electoral system is a mess.  Our society is a mess.  Is there any hope out of this morass?  There is no hope so long as even well-meaning politicians and people seek to find answers within the system as it exists because within those constraints there can be no real change.  There is no hope without being willing to examine the concepts that lie at the very core of our culture.  For it is these concepts that make people what they are and make our system of government what it is.

What in the world am I talking about, you might ask.  It means going back to basics.  The core moral ethic behind all the world’s great religions is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Yet there are few people, even among those who profess themselves to be ultra-religious, who practice this core ethic.  

Why is that?   The bottom line reason is that most people are insecure, both individually and as groups.  If you are insecure, you only think of yourself, not others.  Yes, many people, groups, and nations may appear to have strong egos and are full of bluster and bravado, but deep within, people whether low or high are insecure.  That’s why those on top are typically so imperious.  It’s a mask.

And why are people so insecure, even those who have “made it” in our society and have so much?  The answer is that most people were not brought up with unconditional love and compassion.  

I know this sounds very new age, but don’t laugh.  We are all cursed with the learned experience that we have to be someone other than we are, we have to be better than we are, in order to be loved and respected.  We learn this in childhood from our parents and later from our peers and the broader culture that bombards us with messages that we need to be or do more.

If on the other hand, we were all brought up with the constancy of unconditional love and compassion ... and mind, this does not mean no criticism; it means that criticism is done with loving kindness; children need direction, but there’s a way to do it and a way not to do it ... then we would not be insecure as children and we would not grow up to be insecure adults.

This atmosphere of unconditional love and compassion would not be limited to the family, but would extend to all people in the community, in the country, indeed to all mankind because we would be taught that all of humanity is one.  We are all children of the same God (if there is one), we all suffer in the same way, we all are programmed by our learned experiences to act the way we do.  No one is innately bad or evil, but history has shown that it is surprisingly easy to teach people to be bad or evil.  With that knowledge we can have compassion and love for all, even those who seek to harm us.  

This new attitude does not mean that we would not defend ourselves, as a nation or individually.  But with this new attitude we would have a chance to break the cycle of hate with love.   To show those who are insecure that they have nothing to fear from us; that there is no need to be aggressive.  And with time, this new force of love would gain in strength, encompassing ever more people and nations.  Slowly but surely the aggressive traits that we have assumed are part of the human condition would be replaced by a more spiritual perspective based on unconditional love and compassion for ourselves and for all others.

Martin Luther King said, "Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love."  To that I say, "Amen."