Archive for the ‘Contemporary Issues’ Category

414. Up Or Down?

I sometimes watch Ancient Aliens, but in my own defense, it’s purely for entertainment.  I don’t know if we’ve been visited by aliens and I don’t think the people on that show know either.  But they come up with some pretty creative ideas, and that’s more than I can say for most shows.

I have a good friend, though, who takes Ancient Aliens so seriously that he pays to visit the websites of several “talking heads” who regularly appear there.  It seems they only tell part of the story on TV; there’s a lot more to the alien story, and this information is available to anyone willing to pay.

Recently my friend told me that the human race is poised to “ascend” to a higher level of consciousness.  Soon we will all – thanks to our “space brothers and sisters” – transform into wise beings with powers rivaling the gods (or aliens, I guess, since these people have just replaced “gods” with “aliens”).

In looking at the state of humanity – at least in this country – I see few signs of consciousness evolving but many signs of it devolving.  The arc of human history has generally bent towards increasing levels of consciousness and with it advances in civilization.  But today civilized behavior seems little more than an impediment to promoting one’s own agenda.  Where once civilization rested on a foundation of objective truth, today one selects whichever “facts” further one’s ends.  Where once we enshrined a system of written laws to ensure justice for all, now our Constitution is merely something to brandish at one’s political enemies.  Everything from gross immorality to blatant illegality is blithely ignored when one’s own party is in power.

For thousands of years Western history has been the story of the struggle of morality against immorality, of justice for all rather than for an elite few, of striving to find truth through reason and observation.  But not today.  So despite what the aliens say, I don’t see that we’re advancing.

Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco has spent his career studying evil.  To him evil arises from “the absence of imaginative sympathy for other human beings.”  In other words, evil is deliberately ignoring the suffering of others, a human tendency ALL civilizations have struggled to evolve beyond.

Today, though, it’s fine to stop protecting air and water quality to win votes from coal country.  Today it’s fine to ignore mass shootings to win votes from those whose personal insecurities require unrestricted access to a range of deadly weapons.  Who cares about the people who’ll suffer as a result.

And I have to wonder – what about those who rather than ignoring suffering inflict it deliberately?  Those who hide behind Holy Scripture so they can discriminate?  Those who separate families, keeping children and parents locked in separate cages many miles apart? Even those who overpay for plastic straws just to make ocean pollution worse. Deliberately inflicting harm would seem to go well beyond Professor Delbanco’s definition of evil as simply ignoring the suffering of others.

Those who claim to speak for the aliens say this is all part of humanity’s evolving spirituality.  If they do speak for the aliens, then one nagging question has at least been answered – aliens are, indeed, evil.  More likely, though, these alien interpreters – like politicians – simply profit by saying what their followers want to hear.

Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to decide – is our collective consciousness trending up or down? The fate of civilization may well depend on getting this answer right and then acting – and voting – accordingly.

410. Divide And Conquer

I recently received an interesting fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant.  It reads “It’s doing good with what you’ve got that lights the morning star.”

“Doing good with what you’ve got” reminds me of what Teddy Roosevelt told a group of struggling farmers over 100 years ago – “Do what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got.”  Farmers struggle a lot, so an intrinsic self-reliance – as Roosevelt was advocating – is a big part of why farmers are still around today.

Farmers are not just good at doing what they can with what they’ve got, they’re also good at doing good with what they’ve got, which is another reason we still have farmers and small towns.  As self-reliant as farmers are, there’s also no one quicker to lend a hand.

Farmers embody the best of both sides in our nation’s political divide – the self-reliance that’s a hallmark of traditional conservatism and the willingness to help those in need that’s the bedrock of traditional progressivism.  And there’s nothing wrong with this – I suspect most of us possess both of these qualities to varying degrees, but because we do vary in how we balance self-interest with the greater good, our nation has become alarmingly polarized.  Conservatives decry helping the less-fortunate because ‘people need to stand on their own two feet.’  Progressives, however, sometimes go so far in helping the disadvantaged that they remove people’s incentive to take responsibility for themselves.

Farmers understand that we all must do our best to take care of ourselves – it’s an extension of taking care of one’s land, one’s crops and livestock.  But because farmers know that no matter how hard one works, life sometimes hands you things you can’t overcome on your own, farmers never hesitate to help a neighbor in need.

I’ve come to believe that the conflict between helping one’s self and helping others has been deliberately stirred up by certain special interest groups seeking to benefit their narrow interests at the expense of national unity.  Politics is more about marketing than anything else, and marketing tools have evolved to the point where significant demographic segments can be manipulated not only into buying products they don’t need, they can be manipulated into supporting – or opposing – political policies based upon how issues are framed – described and presented – and bundled together.  After all, what do abortion, gun rights and tax policy really have in common?  Yet people on opposing sides of any of these issues are usually on opposing sides of the others as well. And there are powerful forces in our society that know if they can bundle their issue with one of these, they can get voters to support their interests, often without even realizing it.

Our nation sprang from strong agrarian roots, but we’ve drifted far from those roots, especially in the last 100 years.  Maybe it’s time for a hard look back at where we come from.  And maybe, by doing so, we can regain an appreciation for that age-old agrarian understanding that our society is strongest when we each do “what we can, where we are, with what we’ve got” AND when we help others overcome circumstances beyond their control.

Lots of things come in bundles, from phone and Internet services to Chinese food and fortune cookies.  But political issues need to stand on their own.  Maybe, if we can somehow start evaluating political policies on their individual merit again, we can begin to wrest control of our government back from the special interests whose unceasing divide and conquer techniques are tearing this country apart.