If you read my blog regularly, you have most likely noticed that I am something of an idealist. I want to see our world become a kinder, more compassionate place, and I’d like to be a part of that process by trying to embody those values in my life, by being mindful of my own thoughts and feelings and by choosing carefully what I do and say. I hate suffering, inequality, and cruelty, intentional and unintentional. It bothers me when so many people and animals in America and around the world live bleak and uncomfortable lives…and that not enough people speak up about social inequality and what to do about it. And yet, I realize that nature often appears to be cruel, indifferent, and unjust – from a human perspective.
I’m sure we all share memories of nature documentaries in which animals committed shocking acts of violence on their fellow animals. The one that comes to memory for me started out displaying a mother hippo experiencing a long and difficult labor in a river somewhere on the African continent. The baby male hippo was adorable and was swimming in the river, when his father appeared and killed him suddenly and brutally. From the hippo’s perspective, this male offspring was a potential threat to his continued reign as alpha male. Apparently hippos (or at least this particular hippo) did not experience parental pride and enjoy the notion that one day his son would surpass him on many levels. As a human parent, I want my own son to soar, and I am willing to sacrifice quite a lot to give him the best opportunities. I don’t feel threatened by his success.
But some human parents do feel threatened by their own children, and like some animals out in the wild, they do everything they can to suppress their child’s ability to survive and to thrive. My own parents were like this, so I know from experience that humans are really not so different from animals. Unlike other animals, they justified their actions by blaming me for somehow being unlovable and responsible for their behaviors. Animals just do what they do; no one holds them accountable, and if they feel guilt, we don’t know about it.
Humans can be kind and altruistic, devoting their lives to serving others and to making the world a better place for a small group such as family, or a somewhat larger community, say for their neighborhood, church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, and even for a large group of people they don’t know. Other humans feel perfectly comfortable manipulating and exploiting others to get what they want for themselves or for their group.
I really like Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for president in the upcoming elections set for 2016. Sanders has a pragmatic approach, and he is steadfast in his vision to level the economic playing field in America. Candidate Martin O’Malley shares a similar vision.
It is clear that corporations run America. It is also clear that money has become more important than human welfare in America. Corporations are run by people for whom social consciousness and responsibility are not important. The only value corporations hold fast to is to earn more profits and to hoard those profits by any means possible, and this requires avoidance of regulations. According to them, this is good business. And conventional wisdom in America accepts that to value money and profits over human and animal welfare, over the preservation of our resources and environment for future generations, is indeed good business.
Basically, business and government should be on opposite ends of the value spectrum, but today, they are not, because big business pays our elected officials who are supposed to represent our needs, to support their needs. Our government is supposed to support the collective good and to keep balance through regulation. This promotes social harmony and stability and even allows businesses to become and remain profitable under a more tempered system.
This means that government and business today both think it is more than OK to exploit workers and to force people with little resources or education to continue to live and work in conditions that could be described as day to day survival. Bank accounts don’t pay interest any more, many employers don’t offer health insurance, paid sick leave, vacation days, family leave, retirement benefits. Many jobs don’t pay people enough to provide decent housing and food for their families, and definitely don’t provide enough to pay for clothing, medical care, or any pleasurable activities.
Bernie Sanders wants to bring the role that government used to have – as a regulatory agency – to manage the desires of the rich and powerful who are driven to possess absolutely all of the wealth. Bernie Sanders knows that there is no limit to the desire of the rich and powerful to gain more money and power. He also knows that it is the job of the government and elected officials to represent the needs of all of the people who are not part of that small group. He loudly proclaims that we, as citizens, each bear the personal responsibility to be our government by speaking up for what we value, and to promote the vision we have for our country. The government is not some force outside of ourselves that is here to oppress us, as conservatives would like us to believe. We are the people, and we are the government. We just have to speak up. Government regulation and distribution of wealth more fairly promotes social stability, and great inequality supports social chaos.
Our media promotes Donald Trump because he is entertaining and brings them good ratings – more people watching means more money for them. The media, like other corporations, are not in the business of journalism with integrity. They are in the business of making money. If, as a citizen, you want to inform yourself, you need to do quite a bit of research. The presidential candidates who really want to make a difference and to debate on the real issues that are plaguing America today will not be found on mainstream television or web-sites, because they are not “exciting”, and they are not “entertaining”.
Donald Trump and other “conservatives” are out to keep all of the wealth for themselves. Ambition is a word that defines these men and women. Donald Trump will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Determination is a quality that he displays.
Conservatives pretend to promote freedom from excessive government regulation, convincing the average citizen that the government is somehow the enemy. Government regulation is an enemy to corporations who want to be unregulated, so that they can keep all of the wealth for the personal pleasure of their CEOs. Ordinary people have absolutely nothing to gain from limited government. Our personal liberties are guaranteed by our Constitution, but our conservative politicians are not in the business of protecting those rights. They want to limit personal freedoms. It’s not that they want the majority of American citizens to live in poverty. They simply don’t care. They hide their lack of caring behind thinly disguised acts of manipulation and fear mongering.
These men and women are motivated by a driving need to gain more and more wealth and will use almost any and all means to get there. Unlike the alpha male hippo, who simply kills the competition before it becomes a threat (as we see in dictatorships around the world), they use common tricks to draw attention to themselves, to brainwash citizens to vote for them. Undisguised fear mongering and scapegoating / racism is the technique that Trump has chosen so that the fearful can blame someone outside of their group as responsible for all of the discomfort and insecurity they are experiencing in their lives. Trump is exploiting a natural, biological drive in humans…we all want to feel safe, even though we also know that life is not safe.
Donald Trump is not a man who plays it safe, and I am certain he does not buy into his own words proclaiming racist restrictions against Muslims and immigrants from Central America and Mexico. He is a man who takes great risks and who does not let fear of anything stop him. He is driven by ambition to always be at the top. That is his nature.
What if the uninformed citizens of America were suddenly to discover that the Donald Trumps are (with our passive cooperation) the “enemy” – are responsible for their joblessness, for the crime rampant in American cities, for the depression and mental illness caused by the stressful lifestyle in a country in which there is little to no social security? I am not saying that the Donald Trumps of the world are “evil”. They have a particularly hungry nature with unlimited tastes for money and power. And we, the people, have allowed the greedy corporate CEOs of this country to run America with their values. They are a force to reckon with, and they exist in every time and place. It is the job of our government, and it is our own job as citizens to realize that the unlimited greed of certain individuals is not in our own collective best interest and to do something about it. What is good for the corporate CEOs of America, what is good for the Donald Trumps, the Carly Fiorinas of this world, is not in the best interest of the average American citizen.
The “enemy” is not some scapegoat. Muslims cannot and must not be blamed for our social problems, which have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism or the threat of terrorism. Illegal immigrants are not taking away our jobs; they are doing work that many Americans do not want to do and are not qualified to do.
Most Americans have never experienced what it is like to live in a foreign country, and just how difficult it is to start over from nothing. Our immigrants and refugees have so much talent, dreams, and energy to contribute to our country, which is supposed to be a haven for those in search of freedom and opportunity. Where is that freedom and opportunity today?
If our businesses put people first, they would reinvest their profits in America and not hoard those profits for their own. We have the ability to create millions of jobs in new industries to support the reversal of climate change, to create a new healthy food system, and a new healthcare system based on wellness and affordability, and not the promotion of disease. We are simply a nation out of balance with too many wealthy narcissists in power who are supporting the self-centered and greedy desires of big banks and big business in all sectors. And we, as citizens, have allowed this to happen. Not enough of us have spoken up or demanded change. We are all responsible for the current state of affairs. No one else is to blame but ourselves. Conversely, we all also have the power to create the type of society in which we would like to live and to stand up for the values we feel are most fair.
So the question of logic vs. natural balance comes up.
What if everything is running as nature intended? What if the problems, the poverty, the social inequality that we see today is the way Nature intended? What if greed and persistent ambition for some and passive sheep-like behavior by others is Nature’s way? That human nature is playing itself out, with its greed, cruelty, power struggles, need for rightness, need to blame others instead of taking responsibility for personal or collective actions?
While we, as humans, are conflicted whether or not to intervene when “nature” is cruel…should we intervene when we as humans are cruel and unjust?
And where does grace come in?
My religious friends would say that to rely on logic and humanism is wrong, and I understand their point of view. Our human perspective is limited, and we can never see but a small portion of the possible consequences of our choices. The American Heart Association told a whole generation of Americans to avoid fats to prevent high cholesterol and heart disease, and guess what? They were wrong, and they inadvertently (hopefully – or did they want a whole generation of ill people who would need to buy medications and need expensive hospitalizations?) created a whole generation of aging adults suffering from Alzheimer’s and a variety of ills caused by a low-fat diet.
If we rely on intuition, guidance from a higher source – whether it be God or nature, we also run into trouble. Everyone from every group feels like their God and their guidance is superior. Although it could also be argued that Nature or God has only one voice which speaks to each of us, if we listen, in an unique manner with words and visions specially designed for each of us. Today, around the world, we see terrible strife and cruelty caused by an excess of religious zeal. I do believe that God / Nature – our inner voice of truth – does guide us, and above all, we are given and possibly choose a sequence of challenges and difficulties to help us grow to find our talents and purpose in life.
Perhaps by accepting whatever and whomever does come into our life and choosing to see the beauty in each situation and even hardship, we find grace.
My skin shrinks when I see people such as Donald Trump, or even worse, Ted Cruz, trying to manipulate Americans to reach their personal goals. I get upset when I see Americans who listen to the media or their religious leaders without doing their own research and without thinking for themselves. What is upsetting is that so many Americans are living in a society that is not focused on creating the greater good for all people, for our environment, and yet so few of us seem to be aware of that fact. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 seems to have predicted the way of life in America today – a country where people are submerged in virtual reality while their government works to suppress all real freedoms, access to truth in a variety of forms, and all art and creativity.
Some of us are cruel, and some of us are kind. The cruel often blame the kind and abdicate responsibility for their actions. And so it goes on, seemingly forever. I have lived in a socialist country (France), and I personally experienced the benefits and drawbacks from that social system. While socialism is imperfect, from my personal experience, it is much better than capitalism. The reason for this is simple: more people are given the opportunity to live a better life in this material world. I never felt poor in France. My quality of life was great. I could afford to work part-time and be an artist. I had quality time to spend with my child and great educational opportunities for him. Healthcare was easily available and affordable. I had five weeks of paid vacation per year, and even though I made less money there than I do now in America, I could afford to go on vacations. I didn’t worry whether I could afford to buy food or not, as I do in America, where I am working full-time. In France, I could not afford to buy a house, and I didn’t have a car. Sometimes I felt lonely there, but I didn’t feel the stress of not being able to provide for my family. And I had much free time to do the things I love to do.
An economic system cannot solve all problems, but it is a reflection of what we value most as a society. Socialism values social justice and collective responsibility. Capitalism values the freedom to pursue personal wealth and the ability to be relatively free from social responsibility. These two systems are about as opposite as you can get.
What has happened in America is that the opportunity to pursue great personal wealth is now open to only a few. The logic of capitalism has reached the end of its rope. It is possible to value independence of spirit and freedom to pursue dreams and goals while valuing people over money. I highly value personal independence and personal responsibility. In fact, I feel certain that people who are inclined towards wealth could reach their goals while focusing on service to others, to the collective good. It is possible to find a compromise between capitalism and socialism. Here are some reviews to a book, Dare to Serve, by Cheryl Bachelder, which focuses on this very subject.
Above all of the isms, the ideas, the logic…above all humanity, Nature links us together. We don’t really KNOW what we are doing – as much as we try to use logic and pragmatism to solve our personal and collective problems, but our biggest choice is one that comes from the heart.
We cannot control others and how they behave or the choices other people make, in how they think and what they do. I have tried to be kind to my mother, my sister over the years. There is a great divide between us. I am now 48 years old, and they are still cruel to me and to my son. We recently made a visit to my home town, and my mother refused to see us, refused to make eye contact with her only grandson. We have not seen each other for over 9 years. They still are convinced that I have hurt or harmed them in some way, and that I am responsible for their lack of peace in life. They don’t even know me, yet they assume that I am a source of aggravation. I don’t get too upset about it any more, because I know it is not my fault. They simply choose to think a certain way and to opt out of grace. It is still mind blowing, because it makes no sense other than the thought that perhaps they cannot look into the mirror and be OK with themselves without blaming someone else for everything uncomfortable in their own lives. If Nature is right, I was born into this family for the purpose of growing my character and becoming who I am today.
And yet I choose to embrace my own life, to love myself and others, and to somehow muddle through life with a choice made in my heart: to be loving and kind to myself and to others, as much as possible. I choose to value the talents and abilities that have been given to me by God or Nature, and to honor those talents, to honor myself, by sharing myself and my talents with others. I don’t know if it will do any good, but where there is grace, there is also joy. And that has to be a good thing. The thing that makes being human worthwhile.