Posts tagged religion
Posts tagged religion
New Frames for Progressive Discourse
By Juli Davidson
February 22, 2011
So I said to myself after posting Lingua Progressiva blog III—repetition, “hello… seven chapters ought to do it.” Seven. It’s a nice, prime, sacred number. Seven days a week. Seven menorah candles. Seventh son of a seventh son. Five kids in my family of origin – two parents – means seven of us stuffed into that station wagon, looking for America. So Jules, go on now, wrap this thing up.
I’ve been fishing, weaving, particle smashing and pushing away from the GOP vs. DEM point/ counterpoint for all of Lingua Progressiva. I want to move our thinking past these two ways we’ve come up with to see the world: far right and far left. When I was growing up, the Republicans were, sure, more cautious, but they were willing to work with their colleagues in the party of FDR. Kennedy was a dazzling liberal; but he picked Lyndon Johnson as veep because LBJ knew how to make stuff happen with Republicans on board.
For me, in the mid-‘60s, the emergence of Goldwater and the John Birch Society seemed so much like pulling hard on the reins of progress and saying a fearful “no” the possibilities of our collective future. “Go back. Danger ahead,” they said, while I was, “Let’s get there; let’s walk on the moons of possibility.”
Today, “eighty percent of the talking heads on TV are conservatives,” according to George Lakoff in Truthout, What Conservatives Really Want (2.19.2011). “Talk matters, because language heard over and over changes brains. Conservatives have constructed a vast and effective communication system, with think tanks, framing experts, booking agents, vast holdings of media and training institutes turning out polished speakers. Democrats have not built the communication system they need,” hammers Lakoff, “and many are relatively clueless about how to frame their deepest values and complex truths.”
THE POWER OF A NEW FRAME
Lakoff suggests we adopt certain shared values as core, progressive ideas. None of these are heard on conservative TV or right wing talk radio. Think of these as Progressive Firsts. They include necessities, connectedness, even playing fields, responsibility to self and others, common good, people first, taxation with representation, seeking excellence, improvement of self and the world, and understanding basic human requirements. These are values many of our neighbors hold, but they don’t hear them often enough to believe there is merit here. Without constant reinforcement, they don’t believe these values will ever win the day.
The American people are the American government. Our representative democracy is made up of our designees, who manage, direct, orchestrate and upgrade our civic obligations on our behalf. What follows is a refreshing idea from a few of those nameless people. People like me and you.
Tucked into my email last week was a proposal for an amendment to the US Constitution. Called the Congressional Reform Act of 2011, it proposes we set term limits for all US congress people: twelve year maximum, either A. two six-year Senate terms; B. six two-year House terms, or C. one six-year Senate term and three two-year House terms. That would be it. Plus, Congresspeople would receive no tenure and no pension. A US Senator or Congressman/woman would collect a salary while in office and receive no pay when they are out of office.
Our representatives could no longer vote themselves a pay raise – their salaries would rise by some fair percentage; they would lose their current health care system and participate in the same system we do; they would participate in Social Security just like the rest of us. We-the-people could choose to make this happen. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven took one year or less to become the law of the land, all because of public pressure.
Here’s the justification: “Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators. Ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work. The 26th amendment, granting 18-year-olds right to vote) took only three-and-a-half months ratify. How? The people demanded it. And it was 1971, before computers, before email, before smart phones.”
YOU ARE WHAT YOU VALUE
Look, the idea isn’t perfect. But it’s the kind of idea that would change the game in Washington from favors to the powerful to solutions for the people. And whatever our connections or education or status, we are all each fully credentialed as One of the People. Credentialed solely as one of those people, I submit that there are important ideas progressives need to articulate, to own and to repeat. This new amendment could be one of them.
I found a photo posted online of a regular guy in Madison, Wisconsin, protesting to save his right to bargain as part of a group against the bosses. This man was carrying a sign declaring “These Are My Values.” Then he listed twelve attributes that make his life meaningful: they were 1. Honesty; 2. Reverence; 3. Hope; 4. Thrift; 5. Humility; 6. Charity; 7. Sincerity; 8. Moderation; 9. Hard Work; 10. Courage; 11. Personal Responsibility; 12. Gratitude. What then, Mr. Governor, are your values?
I suggest we each take an hour before bed, or slice one out of the weekend somewhere, take a deep breath, and ask, “What are my values?” I tried it last night. My values include Family, History, Poetry, Science, Reverence, Laughter, Gratitude, Commitment, Honesty, Doing One’s Best, Listening, Courage, Compassion, Creativity, the Arts, Educational Opportunity and Justice.
We owe it to our present situation, to our country’s founders and to the future of the planet to stand for the things we value. Senator Robert Kennedy put it this way, “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” I’m sure Bobby meant this equally for women.
Think, woman. Think, man. Find out who you are. Ask yourself and ask again. Find teachers, mentors, inspirers. Most of us come from a family; most of us are part of one now. These are our first teachers. They are not our only teachers.
THERE MAY BE WIDER, DEEPER TRUTHS
Remember, it was President Eisenhower who warned us to protect our liberty, our peaceful methods and goals, even our spiritual health. Do we still treasure these peaceful methods and goals? Do we have any connection now to spirit and meaning that we need to protect?
I believe that many Americans have connections to spirit and meaning that fall inside a progressive frame. Our yearnings for solutions have been called “a deep memory in the very cells and atoms of the universe.” Cosmos comes from the same root as “harmony;” perhaps all the cosmic parts are longing to move within the harmony from which we first emerged, or to realize that profound beauty anew.
Some of my teachers have expended their energy and efforts to discover deeper truths. Carl Jung defined the vast dream universe of archetypes and symbols, labyrinths and symphonies, mandalas and divine insights as “the collective unconscious.” He believed we all could key in to the truths that are waiting within our minds, underneath the day-to-day world. Alan Ginsberg believed that LSD and other psychotropics could pull away the veil that separates us from our true connection to deep cross cultural truths and underlying structures of mind and spirit.
Joseph Campbell spent a lifetime studying symbols and found similar articulation of sacred connectors from ancient to contemporary, advanced to primitive cultures. He found many writings attributed to God through holy prophets revealing God’s intention and divinely inspired glimpses by mystics and ascetics. Why then are we so tethered to a version of scripture made by a fourth century council of men? At the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) testimonies to Jesus were parsed and condemned, and The Bible was filled with exactly what this council decreed. What if Jesus was saying we are all, like Him, God’s beloved sons and daughters?
MYSTICS SENSE THE STARDUST
Fourteenth century English Christian mystic Julian of Norwich tells us we are not simply made by God; we are made of God. She finds God is mother (womb) and father (protector); the wisdom of God is deep within us, the creativity of God is at our core, and the love of God is at our deepest longing for union.
Joni Mitchell sings much the same thing. “We are stardust… we are billion year old people…” We’re made up of the stuff of stars; the elements available at the first nanoseconds of creation are the ones that make up each cell in our bodies, every synapse in our brains.
Americans from all faith and agnostic communities intuit that we owe an intrinsic debt to creation, and the weight of culpability—for the planet, for each other—cannot be thrown off forever. The German word for sin – sunda – means to separate, to sunder, to tear apart. The devil may be the great dualist, keeping us locked into the man vs. woman, black vs. white, young vs. old, GOP vs. DEM debates. Anxiety, stress, fear, worries – these separate us from fully becoming the best we can be. Naming the brokenness is the first step toward reconciliation, toward healing.
What can we do about this anxiety? “Contradictions have always existed in the human soul,” explains Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude. “But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insolvable problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison.” There is a bigger picture beyond the duality. This 20th century Christian monk found it in meditative silence.
Jesuit scholar Teilhard also believed that by cultivating our innate sense of obligation to life we can overcome fear and anxiety for the human future. For him, the basic law of right action is to liberate any conscious energy that seeks further to unify the world. This is the impulse of mind and heart that manifests itself particularly in the energy and effort a person has for creative tasks undertaken for another.
ACTION IS POSSIBLE
If you allow yourself to really hunger and thirst after the right way, hunger and thirst after a truly democratic society, a beautiful beloved community, a righteous new Jerusalem, you will not only find a way, the way will find you. Those willing to work with each other and work with the universe, first must agree to get to work. The answers don’t come free and easy. They are tough tasks for us to take on.
Is America possible? This is the question civil rights pioneer and theologian Vincent Harding asks today. Harding is Professor Emeritus of Religion and Social Transformation Project at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. “We are amateurs at this task, building a democratic nation,” he said recently on “On Being,” a public radio program hosted by journalist/theologian Krista Tippet. ”We don’t know how to come together and hear each other’s best ideas and best contributions in order to create a ‘more perfect union.’ Democracy is a way to think about what it is to be fully human. Is our purpose to be something? What are we for? How can we achieve ourselves?” There are deeper questions here.
Could there be a healing link between spiritual life and public life. The community that gave rise to the heart and voice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a community chiefly grounded in spirituality. For instance, every one near him knew he held fast to an even bigger concept than civil rights—the creation of the beloved community. Not simply civil action motivated him, but deep spiritual responsibilities. Harding, who knew King well, says, “His was an eye deeply filled with love and compassion.”
THE LAST 40 YEARS
I have experienced political highs (Nixon’s resignation, regular people stopping a huge dam project on the upper Delaware River, the Clintons’ international efforts, Tom Delay’s conviction, Obama’s swearing in) and political lows (Vietnam lies, Reaganomics, Gore’s popular win followed by two terms of Bush and his wars of aggression.) Through it all, the military-industrial-congressional complex has grown and prospered.
I had my guts ripped out in the ‘60s, when they killed Dr. King (I marched in Washington) and then Robert Kennedy (I was a volunteer) in the same year. We had been whipped into a frenzy of fear about “communists” or “black power” back then. They were ripped out again 32 years later watching the World Trade Center towers burn from a ridge in New Jersey, after which fear and paranoia got a whole new look: now it’s the guy in the turban, the woman in the burkka.
But look to the peoples of the Near East now, almost ten years later. They are showing us how to transfer power from corporations and despots without weapons, they are showing us fear is the mind killer, they are emboldening us to walk outside in a Wisconsin winter to say “No” to losing our rights to bargain together for ourselves and our families. This is the peaceful force of people, collected in a righteous cause, demanding the rights—both flattering and ironic—the human rights that our founding fathers enshrined in our young country 235 years ago.
HOPE, AUDACIOUS HOPE
The 1960s were crammed with tumult and violence. At the same time, this was a period of intense hope. Is that hope missing now? Look carefully. I think you’ll find people operating out of a sense of possibility. In Detroit, Atlanta, Watts, Philadelphia, on campuses, in synagogues and churches, temples and community centers—women and men and young people are doing meaningful work from a place of hope. Perhaps in the ‘60s it was a blanket of hope; now, we see islands of more isolated hope.
Professor Harding tells the story of some young people we might call “marginalized,” travelling from a progressive church community in Philadelphia to a seminar in Denver. After a few days, a few of the Philly kids asked him, “Uncle Vincent, why do you love us so? I realized then,” Harding explains, “they had this great capacity to know and feel love in their being, and to recognize they had power and responsibility to do something in their community that had not been done for them.
“These young people are everywhere. On the reservations in New Mexico. In Tiananmen Square. In Tunisia. In Madison. In Teheran. In Detroit. No longer hopeless, useless, purposeless, backward – these people become the creators of a new possibility of a new nation,” he continued. “Yes. Yes. America is possible. Dr. King’s beloved community is possible, as long as the older, still hopeful elders nurture the young, energetic, freshly hopeful ones.”
One of the deeper transformations for 2011 could mean change to another group of islands, the islands of whiteness where fear is alive, fear of losing control, fear that one may no longer be able to name where we are heading. This is all the more reason to figure out what might be possible in our democracy, our newly connected beloved community; we could learn to give up what we thought was solely ours, trusting the broader human spirit.
Remember, reconciliation can transform hearts and minds. This process is a good replacement for father-based, patriarchal, my-way-in-my-house islands of fundamentalist stagnation where “Truth and Punishment” still hold sway. In America’s prison system. In our difficult marriages. Our combative families. Punishment can inhibit, yes. But force and retribution cannot transform the way reconciliation can.
The only way back is the costly way of love. We have preferred the cheap way of force, in our own inner dialogue, in our neighborhoods, in our political parties, in our nation, in the history of our world. But all the weapons in the world will never change a single heart.
In the stuff of every cell, of every atom, is the desire to connect. We need one another, the presence and attention of others, the stories and fragments of others to make our stories complete.
My forbearers were educators and theologians, Scots and Huguenots. It challenges me to examine today’s national debate and filter it through my understanding. It emboldens me to speak out. It allows me to hope that you, too, will stand up. What culture surrounds your childhood, or your children? What values do you treasure?
I firmly believe the progressive voices need to be more steady, more clear. In the next breath, I don’t think we’re meant to stay stuck inside the wrestling duality of Progressivism—featuring mutual respect and encouragement, versus Conservatism—the home of the justice-seeking individual and proud self-interest. I think we’re supposed to step out into the bigger picture.
As I said before, maybe it isn’t that one side is supposed to win. Perhaps they aren’t even meant to compete against one another. Perhaps Progressivism and Conservatism are two frames meant to complement one another. Perhaps together, we the people who see things from such different frames can come together in an understanding that we each, each, hold a piece of the treasured puzzle leading to the heart and soul of reconciliation and transformation that 2011 requires.
Here we may find that better paradigm, and from it might spring a new cultural frame: Being present to each other.
END. LINGUA PROGRESSIVA I – VII. March 1, 2011
New Frames for Progressive Discourse
By Juli Davidson
February 18, 2011
Last night I saw “Race to Nowhere,” the thought-provoking if one-sided documentary about our plummeting education results compared with the rest of the world. It showed that over the last two decades, we have dictated to teachers what they can teach and how they can teach it. Our Millennial kids might better be named “Generation Stressed.” The film has sparked a bottom-up movement to refocus American education on the whole child. This movement of parents, students, teachers, administrators and citizens believes we each deserve to learn not simply the ability to memorize and regurgitate information, but to think critically, to innovate, to collaborate.
Sitting in school all day and sitting at home for hours afterwords is not only making us fat. It’s dumbing us down. Why do we stop having fun learning and playing by the age of seven, eight or nine? Why does the excitement about going to school fade as the homework, often busywork, piles on?
HEALING THE BIGGER BREAKS
Education is a public good. It benefits corporations to have educated employees; it benefits democracy to have educated citizens. Running a school is not primarily a means to financial gain. Without public funding for education, some of us will be denied an education; others will be forced into debt. Good schools, public schools and not-for-profit colleges were the cornerstone of democracy for many of our founding fathers – not the private concern of educational companies built for profit.
Five days after the treaty of Paris was signed in 1783—which officially ended the American Revolution—Benjamin Rush signed the charter founding Dickinson College. Out on the frontier of the new nation, west of the Susquehanna River in Carlisle, PA, Dickinson began affording young Americans “a useful and progressive education in the arts and sciences …grounded in a strong sense of civic duty to create citizen-leaders.”
Rush, a signer of the Declaration, found partners in Pennsylvania governor and future signer of the Constitution John Dickinson and his wife Mary, U.S. Capitol architect Benjamin Latrobe, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. With them, Dickinson College was constructed in swift fashion. Charles Nisbet, one of the great minds of his day, was named the first Principal (President) of the college. The purchase of Joseph Priestley’s scientific instruments in 1812 cemented the school’s dedication to research and critical thinking.
My paternal grandfather’s great great uncle, Robert Davidson, was the second President of Dickinson College. An outspoken pro-Revolution educator and clergyman, he and his brother John, both children of the Scottish enlightenment, were born in Maryland. And my Mother’s great great grandfather was the 17th President of the school (Robert L. Daschiell.) No wonder I got in. Yes, this is my alma mater. And my Dad’s, my Uncle Larry’s and my nephew Jake’s as well.
How we teach our children where they’ve come from so they can show us where we’re headed is everyone’s concern. Giving them tools to unlock both “doing” and being” is a necessity. A common good. A basic national objective.
In Singapore, the top 20% of high school students are offered full tuition and a stipend to four years of teaching college. Their subsequent jobs are respected and they are highly paid. In America, we can re-frame the discussion on education. The sooner, the betterer.
And unless progressives re frame the corporate “profit maximization” and call it what it is, “sanctioned corporate cruelty,” we’ll never take the needed steps to change the way our taxes and coast lines, our mountain tops and mineral treasure are added to the blessings of a very few.
CARBON-BASED LIFE THREATENED BY CARBON-BASED DEATH
For example some CEOs talk about a supposed “clean coal,” which we may instead want to call “still-deadly coal” in all our debates with our corporate brethren. Their whole game is played on a classically uneven playing field. Carbon-based fuels are deadly. Maybe we didn’t realize that 50 years ago, but like cigarettes, we know it now. At the same time, oil, coal and even natural gas are subsidized: we do not pay their true cost directly in any way, shape or form.
Tens of billions goes to naval protection of tankers; hundreds of billions subsidize oil leases; hundreds of billions pay for the repair of ecosystems (coastlines of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.) Maintenance of the infrastructure, pipelines, bridges and Interstate highways for the giant fuel trucks, higher health costs near refineries, even subsidies and artificially high prices – all benefit the merchants of burning carbon.
Here’s the best part: with all that money to prop them up, the energy companies corrupt the political process, influencing the global warming debate, and blocking the development of alternate fuels. They use their breaks against progress – we give them subsidies so they can afford to subvert our political process.
Its 2011 folks. We can re-frame it. We can demand it. We can get it done.
(By the way, how can a corporation, with its essential framework of profits for the few, be considered a “person” with inalienable rights? Hello? I’d call ours a dangerously activist Supreme Court if the conservatives hadn’t already co-opted the adjective “activist.” Citizen’s United, indeed. Sounds like Orwell’s 1984 on steroids. Looks like he was only off by 26 years.)
OUR SPIRITUAL LIVES
Stand very still, close your eyes and imagine… what if the emissaries, explorers, puritans and pioneers who came from Europe to Africa, the Americas and the Pacific Rim hundreds of years ago had this as their mission, “Look to find the light in all peoples you encounter. Bring us the wisdom of the planet.” Well now, that would have been the beginning of a different story.
But colonialism happened. And the Church endorsed killings of native cultures, witches (natural healers, mostly a women’s tradition,) infidels—Jews, Muslims, Hindis, any Others—and even the Knights Templar. As John Philip Newell points out, “We cannot undue these previous missteps. But we can each live fully in the present moment.” This awareness could start a new cultural frame: Being present to each other.
During the Bush 43 double term madness, it seemed that the idea of God being on the side of the fundamentalist Christian organizations was a given. Now, a scant two years later, I’m a newly courageous out-of-the-closet progressive, and I’m asking: “Does Jesus really love only the right-leaning Church of Foundation on the Family or other rigid, Bible-centric, dogma-heavy evangelicals? Does he love them more than progressive Christians of the Emerging Church? Or Sufis? Or Quakers? Or mainstream Muslims? Or Joseph Smith? Or my kid’s Buddhist guitar teacher?
Studying the Bible and understanding Christian church history comes in handy when grappling with the grip of Christian fundamentalism on parts of the GOP and on many voters. My upbringing was mainstream Presbyterian. Sustaining the center-Republican leanings of my hometown—Wayne, PA—was our team of clergy. In those days, these men ranged from the Princeton theologian Rev. Dr. John Galloway 1st to the strict, evangelical, patriarchal, hellfire preaching Dr. Ross Haverfield.
When Dr. Haverfield preached, all I wanted was to crawl under the pew and wait it out. His colorful and emotional reading of either Testament was heavy on the fear, heavy on the punishment and big on undesired consequences. I was sure I was on the side of the sinners, and didn’t much want to accept his version of where I was headed.
WHO WROTE THE BOOK CALLED LOVE?
Now we all know the text of his Bible, our Bible, was vetted by a mighty organization, a corporate force in its day. The Church of Rome was collecting tithes across the known world by the 4th Century A.D. If you visit Vatican City, you will feel those tithes all around you in the opulent pomp of that place. Vatican City has been the corporate meeting place for the board of directors of the Church of Rome for centuries.
However, in the year 325 A.D., called together by the great Constantine I, the global church hierarchy met not in Rome but in the Bithynia town of Nicea, which is present day Iznik in Turkey. Christian bishops, presbyters, priests, scribes, even a famous former hermit (Jacob of Nibsbis) convened in Nicea, a place easily accessible to the majority of delegates from Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Greece, and Thrace. The Latin-speaking provinces—Italia, Africa, Hispania, Gaul and the province of the Danube—were well represented. Other than Britain, Christians from the entire Roman Empire and then some—foreign places like Persia and Abkhazia (the South Caucasus)—showed up to sit down together.
The assembly in Nicea was as political as it was theological. This was the opposite of separation of church and state. This was church and state as one. And power lay near the root of the answers they came together to suss out. The issue of the day was to codify the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. They met to hammer out one answer to a 300-year-old question: are the Father and Son one solely in divine purpose, or also one in being? This idea of the divinity of Christ had long stood in contrast with the idea of Christ as a divinely-purposed messenger from the one God throughout different parts of the Roman Empire. (The divinity of Christ had been widely endorsed in the otherwise pagan city of Rome.)
The council affirmed and defined what it believed to be the teachings of the Apostles regarding who Christ is: that Christ is the one true God in deity with the Father. It has been important to me to understand that they backed into this decision by picking texts from certain eyewitnesses and apostles, and discarding others.
Nicea was the place where gospels were either green-lit or discarded as heresy. This is where Mathew, Mark, Luke and John made the cut, but the Gospel of Thomas, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Book of the Magdalene, the Sacred Book of John, the Testimony of Truth, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, the Exegesis on the Soul, the Gospel of Philip and many others were left behind. Many are now lost; some were found only recently, in the middle of the 20th century in a cave by the Dead Sea. These early works are collectively called the Nag Hammadi Library. “It is as if the very earth is casting up to us these ancient fragments,” notes Newell.
In human history, there are many writings attributed to God, to holy prophets revealing God’s intention, to visions and glimpses of the divine by mystics, ascetics, abbots and prioresses. So ask yourself this: In what other area do we tolerate and hold fast to declarations made by a fourth century council of men? At Nicea, testimonies to Jesus were parsed and condemned. The ones that told the story Rome wanted told were kept. Any messy parts were discarded.
Prior to the Council of Nicea, early Christians and their churches were sort of loosey-goosey, like today’s Democratic Party. After Nicea, the top down rule of Rome Inc. began.
NEW ANCIENT WISDOM
When we come in touch with wisdom we have lost, we are challenged. The Jewish mystics have called this encountering “new ancient wisdom.” And underlying the challenge to deal with this wisdom is a very present desire for connection.
Living together in a radically related universe, we can see evidence wherever we look for an abiding recognition and hunger for truth. One need just look at the faces of folks coming to hear Buddhist master Thich Naht Hanh speak in Edinburgh or Madison or Johannesburg or Denver to realize that there is a depth to the longing for truth and connection here. A longing that is not being fed by the household of the Church of Scotland, or of Rome, or the Dutch Reformed, or of many Christian traditions.
The Buddhist tradition teaches us to not get stuck with one notion of God. We must not feel desperate to cling to our own traditional belief systems. These systems are built on structures that phase in and out of usefulness. And “these traditions may take our eye off the experience of God. We tend to use the word ‘God’ as if we know what we are talking about,” explains Newell. “We can instead seek a direct glimpse of the Unknowable in our practices and in our actions.”
I trust you understand why I use my own history to illustrate these points. We all have stories, and they are worth a listen — each in its own time. My forbearers were educators and theologians, Scots and Huguenots. And for centuries, my people have been Americans. I hope this doesn’t make me just another flinty-assed Daughter of the American Revolution. But it does make me a red-blooded citizen. It challenges me to examine today’s national debate and filter it through my understanding. It emboldens me to speak out.
For decades I have wanted to articulate the difference between the Jesus who spoke to prostitutes and welcomed sinners, and the churches who shun people like their gay neighbors and kill women’s doctors. Lucky for us there is no accepted National Church in America. There’s church. And there’s state. They are separate. They are equal. The freedom to worship if and how we please is an American guarantee.
At the very least, the historical Jesus loved his family, his tribe, his nation and his people so much that he humbled himself before the particular least of these. Here is a guy who models our own response-ability to engage in our world and connect with our people, whoever they are. Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow him. Locust-eater John the crazy Baptist’s younger cousin from Nazareth is suggesting we get off our butts.
Up Next: the Final post in this series, Lingua Progressiva VII – stardust. Retirement, the new immigrants, humble pie and Robert Kennedy. (Here comes the promo…) Don’t miss it.
By Juli Davidson
February 11, 2011
Namaste. The holy in me honors the holy in you. Namaste to anyone choosing to read this. Yes, I even say this to Bill Maher, the atheist comedy news hound who is driven by righteous indignation. He’s got the humor and passion that makes life in a community of progressives completely bearable. I honor that holy passion. Namaste, Bill.
POINTS OF ORDER VS. PLAYING IN THE DIRT
Catholics, Presbyterians, democracies, bureaucracies, the RNC, the Continental Congress, authoritarian despots, totalitarian regimes, Mormons, parliaments, Russian gulags and the Girl Scouts of America love things to happen “in order.” Every organization, especially a big one, has rules of process. The organization works best when things progress in a proscribed manner. Things happen when there is an agreed “way” for things to unfold.
But hold on a second. If we look closely at nature, we find mud and molds and messes. We find jungle overgrowth and sulfuric pools. There’s semen and menstrual blood. Even healing takes puss and mucus to work magic. The processes of birth, conception, geology, evolution, plant life and solar systems are inherently tangled. It appears to me that all the things that come forth from passion are, well, messy.
And if we can agree that everything in the world has come forth from the unpredictable, fertile womb of nature, how can we be in the mess of being? How can we operate knowing there is disorder to evolution; knowing that to get something done, sometimes we’re going to have to stand in mud up to our knees. Point of order, indeed.
COMING INTO OUR OWN
Let’s look at the role of nature, first from a Celtic mystic, and then as written in the Koran. Ninth century Irish mystic John Scottis Eriegena revealed that “Nature is the gift of being. Grace is the gift of well-being.” For Eriegena, grace is offered to us to make us truly ourselves, not in opposition to nature, but within nature. We must delight in coming into our own, not struggle to re-construct ourselves against our earthly nature.
The Koran’s creation story tells us that God reached into the fecund muck of the earth to create man & woman. Out of the mud of the earth He fashioned them. After he breathed life into them, He requested that His angels bow down before this new creation. One angel refused. It was Lucifer, literally the “Angel of Light.” In the ultimate hubris the angel declared before God, “I will not bow down to what comes out of the earth.”
His light refused to acknowledge the darkness.
Maybe if Lucifer had honored that first man and woman, bowed to the sacred to speak a simple “Namaste” to God’s new, earth-made creation, he wouldn’t have gotten kicked off the team. We too might be more comfortable with the dark parts in each other’s soul. We too could embrace the messiness of betrayal and disease and grief, knowing they are first cousins to beauty and truth and joy.
Most of us refuse to admit we have anything to do with the dark side. And then there are the best among us – Gandhi, Reverend King, Mandala, Mother Theresa, first responders, peace corps workers—who do the opposite. They show humility – connected to the humus – and suggest by example that we not raise ourselves up over one another. The least of these, the disgraced, degraded and diseased, these are their people. These are the very same people who could use a representative government that makes a place for them at the table.
I’m talking about the weakest links in the chain of our communities. I want to get a grip on how we can let nature take the lead, how progress through humility might be the long term antidote to the world’s brokenness.
THY SELF & THINE FAMILY
First, we need to be kind, to be gentle with ourselves. We need to forgive ourselves, to keep refocusing, to trust the healing nature within. We need to let our brokenness be touched with gentleness. And the first soul we need to treat gently is our own.
In bringing ourselves out of isolation, we’ll probably have to give up our “default modes,” whether defensive, or denying, or complaining, or shifting the blame. We need to give up our traditional safe places, for example, retreating to the comfort of dismissal, agreeing to “be seen and not heard.” This is part of the cost. Giving up the safe zones where we don’t have to act.
In realizing the metaphysics of the Golden Rule, we can say “What we do to others is what we do to ourselves.” Carl Jung reminded us that “Every true and deep love is a sacrifice.” A self-offering, “sacrifare,” translates as “to make whole.” To repair our broken families, it’s going to take unmedicated* bravery to sacrifice our standard responses and click into a new paradigm. [*No, not “unmitigated.”)
Here we stand, now, in 2011, at the heart of the moment. We need to be here. Sometimes we simply need to be present. We need to quit looking elsewhere. We are each put in situations where we are supposed to give ourselves away. As conservatives talk about individual rights and the myth of the One Man Alone Seeking Justice, then progressives need an equally striking picture of the risks and rewards involved in doing something with, for and alongside somebody else. Even The Lone Ranger couldn’t get it done without Tonto, his connection to the earth and to the First Peoples.
Perhaps for me the answer is to stay focused here, at home. My family challenges my ego and my order, my picture of myself as complete and competent. My daughter is a junior in High School, seventeen; she’s doing what comes naturally – moving away from me and her Dad, finding her own way. My husband pushes, and I feed the dialogue; I play defense even when I am 92.26% at peace with myself. It takes two to become the Bickermans. So how do I not try to love him into being the way I want him to be?
Here’s a biggie: our answers are not found in solitude. It is OK to get out of our comfort zone in how we respond to the stimuli. Do not retreat to the safe place – the empty place, the isolated place. Do not wallow. Do not brood. Do not re-act. The “Old Same Place” is familiar. That doesn’t mean it’s the right place to stay.
ACROSS GENERATIONS & TRADITIONS, EMBRACING DIFFERENCES
Healing the family requires reaching out. I can connect with somebody who is in a different age group, a different thought group. Who knows? It could be our neighbors, or perhaps an Intrusive relative, or a surly tenant; the connections to my answers are all around me.
As for fear of change, we might find the willingness to be vulnerable, especially in a community of support. We have to try it on; walk around in a vulnerable state, see how it works. We have to be courageous.
The wisdom keepers need each other; remember, wisdom is available in any age person. Just ask your three-year-old. There is wisdom in young men and women – they hold part of the key. I’ve heard people ask “How Can We Bring Young People into the Political Process?” or …”back into the Church?” This is so much not the question. Instead, ask how can we be in relationship with the young people who want to be standing with us, in surprise and tears and joy, facing the changes that are coming?
As aging citizens—the baby boomers are getting ready to retire—we must be ready to pay another cost: to take up the mantle of elder and tell others about the seeds we now carry. To share our stories and experiences. If we can take a moment to re-member our selves and the truths at the heart of ourselves, then the healing has already begun.
WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT KUMBYAH?
Or for that matter, peace, love and understanding? OK campers; I won’t make you sing around the campfire, but we are being invited to love ourselves in a new way. Looking Out for Number One was the clarion call of the ‘70s. How can we best shift the axis of presence from self to the community? How do we move into acting to preserve our new connected awareness and to serve this moment?
I found a piece of an answer waiting in the Eisenhower era like the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is secret strength in the fifties—the whole world wasn’t hanging out on the patio. A big bad war had taken place; people were discovering horrible consequences on both sides. People were thinking big versions of WHY? and WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
For example, there are the seminal books of Pierre Teilhard of Chardin, a Jesuit thinker who died on Easter Day, 1955. He thought far outside the box, past our duality, while embracing the heart of new science and technology.
A friend of Einstein’s, Teilhard was one of the great minds of the 20th century. Eminent scholars elaborate about his marvelous and seductive “global vision of the universe wherein matter and spirit, body and soul, nature and super-nature, science and faith find their point of unity.” Most of his widely read and discussed works appeared only after his death—The Phenomenon of Man (1955) and The Divine Milieu (1957).
Teilhard insists that only by cultivating our innate sense of obligation to life can we overcome our fear and anxiety for the human future. For him, the fundamental law of right action is to liberate any conscious energy that seeks further to unify the world. This is the energy of human love, an impulse toward unity, an impulse of mind and heart that manifests itself particularly in the relish a person has for creative tasks undertaken from a sense of duty.
With our young adults, instead of bemoaning their attachment to their iPhones and Skype and instant messaging, we can affirm their desire to connect, to reach out to another person, to be in relationship. Right now, this impulse takes the form of blogs, social networks and online communities (of artists, athletes, mathematicians, film students.) We parents and teachers might prefer the telephone and newspaper—yes, the one made of real paper. That’s fine. But we shouldn’t hide ourselves in our comfort zone. We are being invited to transcend our safe place, to be on the mountaintop together with all generations, each holding a piece of a new harmony.
IT’S RISKY TO CARE. IT’S OK TO RISK.
President Barak Obama has said that empathy is the most important thing his mother taught him. For him, and for most progressives, empathy is the basis of democracy – caring about our fellow citizens. Its part of our job to make it clear, in our lives, votes and comments, that personal responsibility is not enough. Going it alone could be downright unpatriotic. Let’s invite our conservative sisters and brothers to scour the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and the words of the Republican president who brought us into and out of the Civil War, and find the ethical backbone of democracy.
There are emergent responses inviting us into a world of wholeness—not the self-rule of separation. Maybe self-governing means governing all the selves involved in the community, reaching out to all the citizens of the nation until all the selves are governed. A progressive might say this is a call for community solutions. Are we in this for ourselves? Are we in this for each other?
If we’re going to move forward as United States of America, and foreswear the United Corporations of America, then we better be ready to stand together for something precious. I think we can find it in each other, and deeply rooted in the ethical backbone of democracy.
Next time: Toward healing the bigger breaks, the closeted progressive, and the time when even Jesus of Nazareth suggested we get off our butt.
New Frames for Progressive Discourse
February 3, 2011
“The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” said a wise man in 1961. “The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. “
The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual? Why would this secular elder warn about pressures on our spiritual life? Remember, this was fifteen years gone, down the agonizing post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki road. We had obliterated our enemy. We had turned two cities of people, buildings, hopes, dreams, foibles and families to dust. We had ended a war; we had harnessed raw power and won the arms race.
But this was surely a victory tainted with guilt. Would someone now drop the big one on us? We built fallout shelters. And we read Niebuhr and Bonheoffer and Teilhard and tried to make sense of it.
THE COST OF LIBERTY
When I think of Dwight David Eisenhower, I always think of this farewell speech. Like some brave, latent whistle blower, he told we-the-people what was looming on the Washington horizon. Sure, we need to have a strong military. But not at the cost of “our toil, resources and livelihood;” he explained. “They are all involved, and so is the very structure of our society.
“In the councils of government,” he continued, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial-congressionalcomplex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Do you think Grover Norquist cares about unwarranted influence? Or Karl Rove? Or Dick Cheney? Or the CEO of Halliburton? Or Blackwater Worldwide (now called Xe Services, LLC)? I wouldn’t be surprised if their mission statements included the precept to “exert unwarranted influence on the spending of the American treasure in blood and capital.” I believe that is what they are about. The disastrous rise of misplaced power indeed.
“Ike” Eisenhower, brilliant WWII general and two term Republican president, pressed a warning into the national psyche during his exit speech fifty years ago. Now there’s a Republican I could vote for. At least before he let the door hit him on the way out, and while he had no election to lose, he spoke his truth as a principled man who had seen it from the inside. You got to like Ike.
PEACEFUL METHODS AND GOALS
Ike’s words indicate that aggressive global policing-for-profit was not the only role of government in the 1950s; Communism was on the rise, the Iron Curtain had fallen, Africa was throwing off colonialism, revolution was rocking Central and South America; things were not without portent and consequence.
But Ike knew part of his job as an elected leader was to keep fear at bay, to remind us that along with strength, along with the military-industrial-congressional complex, we needed to protect our liberty, our peaceful methods and goals, even our spiritual health. Do we still treasure these peaceful methods and goals? Do we have any connection now to spirit and meaning that we need to protect?
And can expressing these deep yearnings in a political context help win hearts and minds in the vast, unaffiliated mosaic of America’s independent voters?
A SIGNAL MOMENT
Here, now, in 2011, plenty of things carry portent and consequence. As I wrote in Lingua Progressiva I, the people and things of the world are known by most of us to be interconnected in very new ways. Between the subatomic and galactic connectors of scientific discovery, the influence of one environment flowing seamlessly into its neighbor, the ways people of all cultures and modes of thought are instantly interrelated on the internet—this is cellular and subatomic relatedness of a profound degree.
Accompanying this exciting new awareness of connectedness, we are presented daily with a world that appears to be falling apart.
We each see every day that the world is broken, and parts of the planet are imperiled. While we act The Bickermans and spend our energy locked in a repeating a spy vs. spy caper—our seemingly endless right vs. left, conservative vs. progressive shouting match—the brokenness inside the world’s people and natural systems presents itself 24/7, in us, our families, and our communities.
By some counts, three thousand species a week are becoming extinct. And even though the number has been coming down slowly by the decade, over 20,000 children die every day here on our planet. These things are happening in large part because of how we choose to live. Are we pretending this is not killing part of our soul? Americans of every stripe and from all faith and agnostic communities intuit that we owe an intrinsic debt to creation, and the weight of culpability cannot be thrown off forever.
BROKENNESS OF SELF & FAMILY
We have personal brokenness driving us to loneliness and depression, to acts of violence and desperation.
We find as women we are isolated. We want to fix, repair, make whole, but we think it must be done individually. We take it all on ourselves. Alone we struggle forward.
We find as men we are severed from our feelings, our tears and our complete nature. We also want to repair, make whole, sometimes through force or coercion. Alone we struggle forward.
We are families and generations plagued with separateness: parents against children, children against children, grown children against elder parents, couples against each other. We struggle with entitlement. We curse with righteous indignation. We respond with cynicism. And ultimately we take the brokenness of our family out into the world.
We struggle with the brokenness of aging. As we help parents or sibs, or should we find ourselves with older, slower bodies, we ought with some grace admit that aging has downsides. We’ve lost the wisdom keepers in our families, and for that we might re-member eventually to tell our stories to the children and our children’s children. We don’t know how to address people with differing abilities, or those who have been abused as children.
BIGGER AND BROKEN
We have cultural brokenness. We can see how 500 years of western European determinism has buried, destroyed and tried to erase all other traditions and cultures in paroxysms of patriarchy, colonialism and greed.
We see our schools fail to achieve excellence. Although conservatives frame this as “school failure,” progressives could frame this as “our collective failure,” or the failure of citizens to do what is needed to give our future leaders an excellent education. A culture of learning would enrich the planet and the nation many fold.
We find our nation’s welcoming light dimming in the face of fearful immigration policy, where “illegal immigrant” has become the disparaging norm, the frame of choice.
We see promised pensions and retirements drying up for public servants and union workers, while middle class pensions and retirement guarantees have become a guarantee of nothing.
We see our addiction to burning oil and coal sending toxins into our food and water, stressing our fragile planetary protective atmosphere, and we cannot agree on the solutions.
And where there is brokenness, is there still the hope of healing? Our healing, our family’s, our neighborhoods’, our nations’ healing begins with an awareness of the brokenness – an awareness that life is a gift shrouded in pain. Sunshine and storms. No free lunches. No free rides. No skipping the hard parts. There are costs. We know there are costs. Which costs are we willing to pay?
HEALING THROUGH PUBLIC DISCLOSURE
We can’t get there without encountering the brokenness head on.
Our neighbors in South Africa have given us a good model for healing brokenness – disclosing the truth in full community, or “Truth and Reconciliation.” Giving voice to the atrocities, bringing the dark deeds to light in a company of listeners, this process has been shown to foster real healing, moving a nation strangled by apartheid to a nation coming into a new day. It is likely that this process is a good replacement for “Truth and Punishment,” as we see for example in America’s prison system, or as we practiced in Nuremberg. Punishment can inhibit, yes. But force and retribution cannot transform the way reconciliation can.
Reconciliation can transform hearts and minds. Bill Clinton spoke recently about finding “The Better Paradigm.” Not less government vs. bad government. Not progressive vs. conservative. Perhaps he is looking for a paradigm rooted in the strength of community, using connection to work for the improvement of another, practicing reconciliation in a company of listeners.
In the emerging democratic and economic powerhouse that is modern India, I understand one hears the word “Namaste” before and after every public announcement. Namaste: The sacred in me bows to the sacred in you. In Calcutta International Airport you may hear, “Namaste. The El Al flight to Nigeria is still delayed. Please go to gate 411 for information. Namaste.” The holy in me honors the holy in you..
Yes, we are broken pilgrims here, all the while each holding grains of the sacred.
Next post: Solutions, support systems and global frames for national policies.
1Although it is quibbled over by historians, some advisors contend that in the original draft of Eisenhower’s speech, the observation was written to include the word “congressional.” In his final draft, he omitted “congressional” from his powerful complex of forces.
2Celtic scholar, poet and progressive Presbyterian theologian, John Philip Newell is a global speaker with a passion for peace in the world. His books put forth a fresh vision for harmony between the great spiritual traditions of humanity. Some of the overarching ideas about brokenness and healing from the person to the globe, stem from attending his Denver seminar on January 20, 2011.
New Frames for Progressive Discourse
January 31, 2011
I misspoke. When I called Grover Norquist a “spin doctor” in the first installment of Lingua Progressiva, I was being lazy. The guy is a “framing genius.” The point is, framing precedes effective policy. Spin is always post-policy.
The influence of language on the mindset and heartset of the receiver is the underpinning of opinion. The frequency of hearing/reading the same message with the same language may be of equal import to the words chosen. We are all experts in how this works.
A LITTLE TEST OF WORD EFFECTIVENESS AND FREQUENCY
Match the brand with the descriptor words. When you see the words in column A, they immediately bring a product or company from column B to mind:
COLUMN A COLUMN B
A. It’s everywhere you want to be. 1. IMAX
B. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. 2. VOLKSWAGON
C. Solutions for a small planet 3. HARLEY DAVIDSON
D. Have it your way. 4. WALMART
E. Good to the last drop. 5. UNITED NEGRO COLLEGE FUND
F. Think small 6. PLAYSTATION
G. Think big. 7. AJAX
H. A diamond is forever. 8. IBM
I. Buy it. Sell it. Love it. 9. DEBEERS
J. Save Money. Live Better. 10. NIKE
K. Live in your world. Play in ours. 11. MAXWELL HOUSE
L. Finger lickin’ good. 12. CLAIROL
M. American by birth. Rebel by choice. 13. BURGER KING
N. Fly the friendly sky 14. VISA
O. Reach out and touch someone. 15. M&M
P. Keeps going and going and going. 16. AT&T
Q. Just do it. 17. KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN
R. Does she… or doesn’t she? 18. UNITED AIRLINES
S. Stronger than dirt. 19. EBAY
T. Melts in your mouth, not in your hand. 20. ENERGIZER
Come on. Do you really need an Answers Box? Anyone who does, please ask; but don’t abandon your life of meditative prayer for peace in the world. We need you. The rest of us, however, watch a lot of TV. We totally know how this works.
Some of these globally recognized and trusted brands have been using the same “tag line” to describe their product for over fifty years (M&M’s & Ajax) while the newcomers who understand how it works are brilliantly up to the same game (IMAX, PlayStation). During the time I worked for MTV Networks in New York, a.k.a. my corporate years, we learned that memorable branding language couldn’t just be spot on. It had to be embraced fully for the long run and repeated for years and years. And years.
[After we dubbed VH1 the “Greatest Hits of Music Video,” we stuck with it for five years. It wasn’t “The Real Thing” by a longshot, but it got the job done. We kept at it much to the increasing dismay of the creative people in the On Air Promo department, who were good & sick of hearing it after six months.]
I’m not suggesting that the Progressives or Conservatives need tag lines. These commercial-populist examples show how deeply the master communicators understand a truth: that finding the right words and phrases, and disseminating them with extreme frequency from multiple reliable sources is akin to fashioning and using the code key leading directly into the minds of the listeners.
Add to this the power of owning the frame, and having your opponent use your frame, and you’ve begun to understand the Power Game the conservatives have mastered.
Let’s look at a few examples that show how the frames within our political discourse continue to fog up the national lens. And let’s play with some alternatives while we’re at it.
LANGUAGE PLUS CREDIBLE SPEAKER PLUS REPETITION
If we hear “economic crisis” enough times, from credible speakers, we begin to believe there’s something endemic wrong with our economic system. But what if we called it the “greed crisis?” Perhaps too many people at the top of the income pile want more. Perhaps too many in the middle want to make their way to the tippy top, and have it all? Let’s fix the greed crisis, people, and see how our economy responds.
How about someone like Alan Greenspan or Jane Goodall standing up to say, “The greed crisis and the ecological crisis are the same crisis. They are both caused by three equal factors: first, the underestimation of risk, second, the privatization of profit, and third, the socialization of loss.”1
Sounds right? Go ahead, fill in the facts for the Greenspan/Goodall fantasy statement above. If we ran with it, the national discussion might move from (1) the too-big-to-fail blame game to real reforms in banking and on Wall St., and (2) global-warming-or-not blah blah blah to crystal clear global policy.
Merely shifting the frame from “economic crisis” to “greed crisis” could bring immediate results for progressives. If enough of us pick it up. And run with it. And never answer a question about our “economic crisis” with the words “economic crisis.” (ex. “I agree we have a crisis in the management of our national treasure. But let’s call it the “greed crisis” because it springs from a lack of balance between need and …)
And what about “tax breaks?” Everybody wants one. George Lakoff suggests we call it “Public Theft” instead. What if we framed the unfair tax codes anew? What if whenever we express an opinion, or question a policy that the press or the conservatives refer to as “tax breaks” or “tax cuts,” we talk about “deliberate raiding of the public treasure,” and “stealing through loopholes” and “appropriating vis a vis earmarks?” Wait a minute. That last one is what we call it. If every time the conservatives cry about keeping the Bush tax cuts—does anyone else remember how he pitched these as “temporary”?—the progressives respond with “public theft of our national treasure,” I think the tone of the discussion might change. And eventually, some hearts and minds may change as well.
SANCTIONED PUBLIC THEFT
Try this one on. With corporate public theft written into the tax code, we the people are donating our tax dollars to pay for business perks. How’s that? Corporations all deduct their expenses from their taxable revenue as the cost of doing business. Business expenses from first class travel, super-size lunches and huge offices to the computer I’m working on right now, my cable bill and 1/8th of my household utilities are tax deductions, paid for by the average Joe. Thanks guys. The system is rigged to favor the powerful. And, apparently, me.
Remember our rallying cry: taxation with representation. We live in America. We each have the freedom to pay our fair share for necessities.Nevertheless, most tax cuts involve money being transferred from poorer people to richer people.
Why do the poor and middle class vote for candidates who will give their money to the rich, money that would otherwise pay for their necessities? One reason is the dice are loaded when the debate is framed. People don’t vote for “giving money to rich folks.” They vote against gay marriage. They vote against a woman’s right to make a painful life decision without interference from Big Brother. And in small part, the discussion has been framed to their “someday…” as in, “Someday, I’ll be rich enough to get these breaks.” Perhaps neither the not-so-wealthy nor the wealthy need to be unfairly taxed. [Triple negative = extra points.] Meanwhile, the money just keeps trickling up.Bill Clinton. You know this guy. I trust this guy. “I’m very worried,” he wrote this week, “that the majority party in the House seems to believe that the most important public policy we can possibly have is… giving me another tax cut. …To pretend that the only thing that matters is to keep taxes as low as possible and, in the process, strangle the government… defies all evidence.” It just doesn’t add up. Part of paying down the deficit has to be regaining the operating inclome from those lobbtist’s outdated wet dream corporate “Exit Here” signs for a quick exit around U.S. Route IRS 1099 Filing.
“PROFIT” PLUS “SHARING?”
Yes. Here again, we are, in 2011. Largely over the last decade, the rich have gotten a lot richer, and the poor much poorer. You’ve all seen the Office of Management and Budget reports about the top 1% or fewer of us personally owning and directing most of America’s money. Lots of us believe this is wrong, way wrong.
Lots of us believe that markets in a democracy have an ethical and an economic function. Working people who produce goods and services should be paid in line with profits and profitability. Middle class salaries have not gone up in 30 years. Take that, you top 1%ers.
This huge discrepancy in wealth is a danger to democracy. Concentration of wealth to the few means unfair access to scarce resources. Concentration of wealth to the very few means restricted access to necessities for many. It also results in grossly unfair distribution of power over the media and over the political process. If you want to be convinced, read Alexander Hamilton. Or watch Rupert Murdoch’s “news to confuse.”
STEP BACK AND LOOK AGAIN
We spend so much time in the trenches of political absolutism, it’s a very good idea to step out of the realm of the far left or far right, the blackest nights and brightest whites of It, and see all the shades of gray along with all the colors—deep, pastel, fluorescent, earthy, psychedelic and faded colors—around us. I don’t think we’re meant to stay stuck inside the dueling duality of Progressivism—featuring mutual respect and encouragement, versus Conservatism—the home of pragmatic self-interest. I think we’re supposed to step out into the bigger picture.
Maybe it isn’t that one side is supposed to win. Perhaps they aren’t even meant to compete against one another. Perhaps Progressivism and Conservatism are two frames meant to complement one another. Perhaps together, we the people who see things from such different frames can come together to fight the forces of evil.
Yes, evil. The machine that knows no ethical bounds, that owes none but its directors and shareholders: the influence over our peaceful methods and goals wielded by the American military-industrial-congressional complex.
Next week, Dwight David Eisenhower (no, really this time) education & “public servants.” Plus the “both – and” paradigm.
1 Thanks again to George Lakoff, who probably sees me* as Juli “RipOff” Davidson. I am paraphrasing him with incredible frequency. If I thought you’d read him (please, read him) I’d never have written this. I’d never hit “post” on tumblr. [*Wow. Wouldn’t it be great if he saw this blog? Please forward my link to Mr. Lakoff if he’s anywhere near your Friend’s List.]
2 Also send link to George Hickenlooper, Michael Bennett, Diana DeGette, John Phillip Newell, Harry Booth, George Allen, Jane Goodall, Bill & Hilary Rodham Clinton and Barack & Michelle Robinson Obama.
New Frames for Progressive Discourse
January 25, 2011
The act of “framing” a discussion, a debate, even a conversation, requires knowing where you stand. If you don’t believe a person’s difficult choices are his own or her own, then don’t pick up the frame “pro-life” and argue against yourself. If I use the words “pro-life” as I argue against the classic “pro-life” position, it will push the listener to hear me as “anti-life.”
If instead I talk about personal freedom in making a difficult mature call, also known as an agonizing, meaningful decision, then I underscore my own frame. I respect my way of seeing the world without reinforcing the argument against me.
Personal privacy is a constitutional right; my bedroom and my reproductive organs are my responsibility, just as your desire to carry a loaded weapon is your responsibility. Even using the proscribed “pro-choice” frame is dangerous. After so many decades of standing against “pro-life” (and who among the living is against life?), “pro-choice” sounds frivolous, almost as if “choosing” to end an unplanned pregnancy is as flip as choosing one box of cereal over another.
TWO SIMPLE PATHS
One key to more successful discourse is to understand up front that since the late 19th century, Americans have crafted two very different views of how to govern ourselves. One is the Conservative view. Here the mission is to preserve, protect and defend the moral system of individual responsibility, best realized by the backbone philosophy: “Let the Market Decide.”
For conservatives, ethical missions are not the job of the government. All sanctioned conservative solutions bear the bottom line fundamental that the market will rule. A resulting conservative frame is that government “spending” on “services” is anathema. Taking this expenditure away from the bloated halls of government bureaucrats, allowing the private sector to run these services (education, defense, infrastructure) and maximize profits in the meantime is common sense conservatism. Conserving nature, beauty, historical memory and the sacrifices of our forbearers has long been part of this path.
The other path takes the Progressive view of governing ourselves. On this hand, the mission is the protection and empowerment of all the People. Progressives believe that Americans care about each other, that there is an inherent constitutional connection between all the people represented in Washington, that all of us are created with the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That the well-being of one influences the well-being of all.
Ethical missions are the job of the government. All sanctioned progressive solutions have the underpinning of mutual responsibility, both personal and social, along with the search for excellence. This search is always seeking improvement of self, family, community, nation and shared natural systems. Here, “investing” as a nation in “necessities” that are not well-served by the private for-profit sector is common sense, while conserving nature, beauty, historical memory and the sacrifices of our forbearers.
Yes. Conserving nature, beauty, historical memory and the sacrifices of our forbearers belong to progressives as well as conservatives. No one has the edge in patriotism, in the national preservation movement or in the national respect for our real history and the sacrifices made to preserve our way of life.
NECESSITIES ARE NOT EXTRAS
As for the marketplace, the Free Market isn’t free. Sometimes it is efficient in distributing goods and services. At the same time, the market is inefficient at providing non-elective services, also known as necessities. Just look into the last thirty years at the results of our private health care system. No matter which side of the aisle you hail from, we all agree health care in America is broken to some extent.
When the trillion dollar health care insurance industry was emerging in the 1970s with HMOs and spending limits, it was in response to two things: 1) the rising costs of technologically-enhanced health care and procedures, and 2) the insight that a profit could be made for a new kind of insurance company. Not just life insurance, or auto insurance, or mortgage insurance, but now health insurance emerged to hedge our bets against illness, carrying the cost of thousands of office buildings, millions of cubicles, expense accounts of bonused executives, and expectations of private sector investors.
Those jobs are jobs, to be sure, and not to be scoffed at. But when profits and dividends are put before fair access to doctors and medicines, hospice and home nursing, catastrophic emergencies and regular pediatric wellness visits, then the necessity for health care is jeopardized anew, now under the highly-evolved, mostly unregulated, profits-for-shareholders health insurance industry.
SMALLER VERSUS BETTER GOVERNING
Ballooning agencies do not self-regulate. Entrenched enterprises from the DMV to the Catholic Church are neither great models of brilliant budget management nor of serving the people well at the bottom of the organization, often the people the organization was created to serve.
Bulky organizations require inspired statements of purpose, gifted leadership, direction and management, and constant review. Whether it’s the Defense Department, the California State College system, Ford Motors or AIG, huge enterprises will become bloated and inefficient without built-in mechanisms for regulation and improvement.
Certain groups of more conservative people respond to the waste of government bureaucracy with a call for “cutting government,” or “making government smaller,” or “gutting the waste in Washington.” I agree with George Lakoff when he points out “if our government of, by and for the people is cut to ribbons, we will still be governed, but now by corporations.” I call this model the United Corporations of America.
We already live in a country where government by corporations for corporate profit and the enrichment of investors is a reality. From the armies of Blackwater to private energy regulation to our national and local carter schools, corporations are being paid to supply necessities that were formerly supplied by government. Government by corporations features more foreclosures, more outsourcing, ineffective unions, higher prices, meaningless or non-existent pensions and very real threats to Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid programs.
“Wasteful? Then dismantle.” It’s a quick reaction, a simple fix. But is it fixing anything? If instead we approach this bloat from the progressive side, we too see the misspending of our treasure. We too see our government mismanaging missions to ensure the empowerment of all the people. But do we really want to make all the necessity systems we have created over the last century into for-profit solutions including consumer, job & environmental protection, safe food, infrastructure investments, communication & energy systems?
Do we really want to weaken, underfund or leave to the market all the thoughtful programs we have been called to put in place to bring us back from the brink of historical injustices, non-existent systems and oligarchic greed?
BACK FROM THE BRINK
Some people say they do. I do not. Necessities should never be subordinated to private profits. We can fix the bloat in D.C. without slashing away at what could be made to work better.
“The Common Good” theory tells us that our government—meaning our elected people operating for the people they represent—wants to ensure the supply of affordable necessities: safe & adequate food, water, housing, transportation, education infrastructure, medical care, care for elders & disabled, clean air. We have declared that these are not electives; they are each a Public Good.
As we move into this new progressive awareness, let’s re-member some currently accepted frames of reference we’re going to hear in the coming discussions on “how to fix a bumbling bureaucracy.” For decades, progressives have been comfortable defending “government services.” We get behind the “service economy” in contrast to the marketplace of tangible goods. We ask our young adults to consider “government service,” and we mean something like volunteering in the Peace Corp, teaching at underfunded urban schools, even serving in the military.
“Government services” is a pair of words that has come to stand for ideas that range from “government giveaways to the undeserving” to “socialism” to “icing that could be cut from the cake.” As it stands today, the multitude of sins collected under the “government services” tent sounds like “stuff for poor people and where’s mine?” Look at it this way. Government or not, “services” start where necessities end.
The parameters of the private service industry tell us as much. The service industry includes hotels, car rentals, parking lots, fast food, building contractors, architects, slow food, spas, gardening, taxis, trains, planes, house painting, plumbing, auto repair, personal shoppers, institutional food, salons, barber shops and dry cleaners.
These are things we are free to “spend” on. They are electives. If you make enough money, budget it smartly and make well-timed investments, you too can afford the services of our private service industry. Your request is their profit. This is America, people.
Arguing for” government services” just makes conservatives itchy. It’s a frame they have defined to mean unfair government money-giving to “someone who isn’t me.” The progressive frame must give up on the word “services” altogether, and take up “national basics” or “community necessities” instead.
I see this as a country where we take care of “necessities first;” where the government pays attention to the “basics,” because in certain situations people fall out of the for-profit zone into the overwhelming-debt zone. We are a country who can bail out AIG, so by the next year their executives are depositing major bonus checks again. We can bail out Ford, so that in two years they are paying back the American people with interest. We can run Social Security and Medicare to the benefit of the elders and the indigent.
The Free Market isn’t free. Sometimes it is efficient in distributing goods and services. But more often, the market is inefficient at providing necessities. Let’s refer to for-profit business as the open market, or the “fair market” or the “for-profit” market, but the words “free-market” imply no cost. At this point in time, the words “free market” have been stripped of their original meaning. The words “free market” are words progressives should not continue to select.
Government “services?” “Free market?” “Pro-choice?” “Pro-life?” Press delete. Rewrite. Repeat.
NEXT WEEK: The Greed Crisis vs. the Economic Crisis, empathy and profits, and (yes, he’s a holdover, with my apologies) Dwight David Eisenhower.
New Frames for Progressive Discourse
By Juli Davidson
With grateful thanks to George Lakoff’s Untellable Truths 12.14.10; and to John Philip Newell, Ancient Wisdom Points to New Harmony, 1.14-15.11
January 22, 2011
To the frustration of many with progressive yearnings, the Republicans are the Masters of Messaging. They speak in lockstep with their choice of words on any pending issue, pounding their point into the populace, while the Democrats are messaging naives at best. At worst, they use the language of the conservatives to kill a progressive point.
This can snuff the life out of the best ideas, ideas as good as “Let’s make taxes more fair. If we keep telling the wealthiest people they can pay a smaller part of their income for defense and education and infrastructure than the less wealthy, then the regular people will have to keep shouldering the burden for themselves and their wealthy neighbors.”
How do they do it? My juciest example is below. [Note: I just read a speech Bill Moyers made this month about fact-based reporting. He has many excellent historical examples of how the government and The Corporations are well-practiced in keeping these stories out of the mainstream. Instead, they spread “truthiness.” Here’s how they do it:]
During George W, Bush’s two terms in the White House, the GOP defacto messenger-in-chief was Grover Norquist. A skilled lobbyist and spin doctor, Norquist hosted morning breakfasts when congress was in session where he handed out Republican talking points. These points were shared with FOX News, right-leaning radio, and with any GOP spokesperson slated to face a microphone or TV camera that day. This was not just the party line, but the exact words to use, the phrase of the day, the precise language with which to pound the opposition. (See Jon Stewart.) No news cycle was too obscure, no Republican spoke without adhering to the script, and no issue went unspun.
Democrats are much more loosey-goosey, operating from a multitude of platforms and styles, just like the people they represent. Less like a corporation and more like a camp or community college, the Democrats do not operate from the top down. When the Dems are really kickin’ it, they operate from the messy, muddy grassroots, from the ground up.
And unless we want to become the United Corporations of America, or the United States of Americorp, Inc., we need to be a tad more thoughtful in how we present our case to the constituencies, the radio and TV audiences, the rest of the world and especially, to all our fellow Americans. We need to become much better at playing Our Game, the People’s Game. And we need to get more comfortable with the earthy grassroots of a game we can win.
By the time the Captains of Industry get wind of it, we could re-design the rules, re-set the teams and even out the playing field. Thanks to the Founding Fathers—and in spite of their shortcomings and ours—we the people have the tools to get this done.
TAXATION ONLY WITH REPRESENTATION
Here’s one example. To carry the placard “No Tax Breaks for Millionaires” at a progressive rally garners plenty of thumbs up from the choir. But to the unconvinced, the great independent middle of the citizenry, this reads as patently unfair. The reaction is, “Really? But I want to be a millionaire, and I think a break from Washington taking money out of my pocket is a great idea. Millionaires deserve breaks just like the next guy.”
The words on this placard sound downright ridiculous to the folks who have been letting Glen Beck bend their ear for the last decade. In a culture where everybody wants to be a millionaire, where 44 states sponsor a mega-millions lottery, “no tax breaks for millionaires” is not a winnable argument. Anyone who worked with George Lakoff’s linguistic primer Don’t Think of an Elephant, Know Your Values and Frame the Debate in the 2006 midterms or the 2008 presidential primaries/election knows better.
To take another road, we could try marching for “fair tax contributions.” We could ask our representatives to set up a tax system for fair contributions by income level. Taxation Only with Representation – this is what America’s founders fought for: representatives who could keep the playing field level for the people they represent.
WIDE SHOT: GO LONG
OK. It’s 2011. We stand at the Threshold of a New Age. Without the Mayans, without Nostradamus, even without Revelations, we can sense this new century is about seeing things in a very new way. This is the gift of our time, right now new to the world. This is our present treasure, and everybody knows it: all things are interrelated.
We experienced this viscerally in the 1969 picture of Earth from the moon. We’re all here together on this little blue globe. We hear it from our scientists – from the strings of quantum physics to synapses in molecular biology. We see it in the butterfly effect – her wings flap in New Zealand, and there is a storm brewing five days later off Eugene, Oregon. And of course, the Internet, our new world-wide town square and marketplace, has increased the speed of information and opinion between all of us geometrically.
CONNECTED slash FRACTURED
We are all connected. Our computers are connected. Our cells are all connected. The quarks that are barking up one subatomic particle are very quickly racing down its immediate subatomic neighbor. Even the emptiness of space is partially filled with dark matter, connecting our galaxy to other galaxies with a lot more somethingness than nothingness. If there are only six degrees of separation between anyone and Kevin Bacon, then a small, young person across the planet who is filled with bitterness is only six “friends’ lists” away from a tall, anglo woman who is home in her own skin in Denver, Colorado.
At the same time, along with the interconnectedness factors, we’re aware of how much we are fractured and fragmented, falsely separated from each other by belief systems, by absolutisms, by fundamentalisms. These fundamentalisms are ways of thinking about Big Things: religion, politics, traditions, cultures, national identities. Fundamentalist systems are rigid and unbending. They are full of “simple” fixes. They are usually stand-alones, a non-connected truth to which other truths must conform.
We thought for centuries we could be whole by being separate, by being dominant. We thought we could be well without the family down the street being well. So here we are, at the threshold, a “costly moment” as John Philip Newell says. “Will we pay to move into the 21st century with fear and fragmentation? Or will we pay the cost of love and community?” he asks.
There is no free ride. We each share both experiences– the connectedness and the fractures. What is our response? How high is our Response-ability Quotient? How able are we, here, now, at this moment, to choose what cost to pay?
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
As we are the people, then we are the governed. As we are the American peoples, then we are also the American government. The American representative democracy is made up of our designees, our representatives, who manage, direct, orchestrate and upgrade our civic obligations on our behalf. The government, as President Lincoln reminded us, is of the people. By the people. And for the people. Credentialed only as one of those people, I submit that below are some words and ideas (positions) progressives need to choose to own. All of these are rarely heard on conservative TV, a.k.a. “white noise news to confuse,” or right wing radio.NECESSITIES. CONNECTEDNESS. EVEN THE PLAYING FIELD. RESPONSIBILITY TO SELF AND OTHERS. EMPATHY. ETHICS. COMMON GOOD. PEOPLE FIRST. TAXATION WITH REPRESENTATION. SEEK EXCELLENCE AND IMPROVEMENT OF SELF AND THE WORLD. BASICS. BASIC HUMAN REQUIREMENTS.
These words and ideas are the seeds of newly charged progressive frames. I don’t think progressives want to line up every day with the hard-line precision of the Norquist GOP. Yet how well it would serve us progressives and our concerns to hone in on truly useful, descriptive language of our own. I’m suggesting we agree on a set of ideas, and the words that best frame them, to inform all progressive speeches, articles, bills, constituent communication, sound bites and platforms.
If we want to change minds and hearts, then we have to speak in consistent, repeated language to convey our ideas and ideals.
This set of frames will keep progressive “speech” away from fear and fragmentation, and move it ever toward connectedness and community. Celebrating and advocating for putting people first, for the basics, the necessities, the common good, community, responsibility to self and others, taxation with representation, connectedness, ethics and profits, the public good, empathy, seeking excellence and improvement of ourselves and our world while maintaining an even playing field, will give progressives a civil, articulate chance against the forces of the rightward spin.
Remember, there is no ideology of the center, just combined conservative and progressive views. The conservative views are being communicated brilliantly. The progressive views once were, and will be again.
More Next Week: Electives vs. necessities, ethics & profits and Dwight David Eisenhower.
 George Lakoff, student of Noam Chomsky (from whom he soon parted ways), was professor of cognitive linguistics at the U of Cal, Berkeley, between 1972 and 2002, Between 2003 and 2008, Lakoff was involved with a progressive think tank, the Rockridge Institute, concentrating in part on helping liberal candidates and politicians with re-framing political metaphors.
 Celtic scholar, poet and progressive Presbyterian theologian, John Philip Newell is a global speaker with a passion for peace in the world. His books put forth a fresh vision for harmony between the great spiritual traditions of humanity. Canadian by birth, he lives in Edinburgh and New Mexico with his family.