Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why is "Politics" a four-letter word?

Several people I know refuse to speak about politics. They keep their views to themselves and if the conversation goes into a territory that can be viewed as "political" they immediately stop and say that they do not discuss politics - or that the subject of politics is of no interest to them.

Some of these people are highly spiritual, high consciousness people, who think deeply about things, and have nuanced and well-read approaches to life.

And every time they bow out of the conversation, I think to myself: "Darn, I would love to have THIS particular voice as part of the debate, because he/she is so very knowledgeable, thoughtful, and nuanced in his/her views."

But their lips are zipped. They are not going there.

So being a Danish implant into American culture, I often have a bit of an outsider understanding of things that make me like an elephant in a china shop at times. Since I did not grow up here, I often do not have the cultural sensitivities that come from being immersed in a certain way of doing things your whole life.

So to me, in my outsider naiveté, politics is a subject that concerns everyone on all levels of their existence. If laws are passed that effectively take away my or my children's right to due process and free speech - this concerns me on the most fundamental level. My children's future can be influenced heavily by laws passed today on the environment, wars, and healthcare. This concerns me, it concerns my neighbors and my children on the deepest and most basic level.

Having grown up in a country that was taken over by the Germans in WWII and listening to my elders talk about the political events that led up to the war and Hitler's take-over, they all saw signs and heard voices of increasing polarization and painting of enemy portraits everywhere that were ignored. I am not saying we are necessarily in a situation that is similar to the build-up to WWII. I am also very aware of how we can create fear and manifest that which we fear.

What I am getting at is that some of the most valuable and most nuanced voices are missing from our political debates and discussions. And it is important to see our tendency to polarize and "slam each other" for what it is.

I do believe that there is a lot to be said for "being above the mudslinging" as one of my friends stated as the reason she did not want to engage in political discussions. And I can understand another one of my dear friends who simply stated that he found no place for his views as they were not along party lines and therefore made people feel "uneasy".

And here is to me something to ponder: If we have to "fall within party lines" to have a legitimacy to speak up, then we are saying that in America there are only two kinds of human beings: Democrats and Republicans (and a few lonely Independents). OK, so three kinds of human beings. But, really that is such a sad statement. This is making the subject of our common future, the plans and laws that determine our interaction a matter of tribal warfare. A matter of "us versus them". My views against your views.

The media are happy to enforce this entertaining view. Discussing politics on TV becomes a boxing match designed to get good ratings, so it needs to be sensational. Viewpoints fly across the screen like good Upper Cuts with the ultimate prize being the Sunday Punch that leaves the opposing side stuttering and speechless, flailing after the Knock Out. Extreme viewpoints are the rule. Lack of nuance and thoughtful process common place. Verbal slams abound. In this environment solutions are not to be found, because the ultimate goal in our political process, like in sports, is "winning". Winning the match, winning the debate, winning the election.

The Danish tradition that I grew up in (it might have somewhat changed by now) was based on an electoral system that had between 12 and 14 political parties in a country of 5 million people.  To arrive at any kind of forward motion, alliances had to be forged and typically this would have to happen across the middle. The common ground was often where one could move forward. Any party would have to give a little in order to get something. This was the basis of negotiation and sometimes it worked great, other times it was less successful. BUT as a general rule, the participants in the political process were able to have lunch together, hear each other out, establish where they could come together on points and where they had to draw a line in the sand. There was a great deal of spirited debate, but for the most part it had to be based on a level of information and knowledge that allowed for nuances and grey-tones to appear in the process.

In our basic two-party system, we have increasingly become masters of talking points and easy solutions. Us versus Them. The other side are slimy socialists or crusty neocons. We are holier than thou on our side, whatever side we are on. And not surprisingly there is very little progress made in an environment where the main focus is to stump and debilitate your "enemy". Any thought of actually being in the same boat and needing to arrive at viable solutions for all is considered a sell-out or throwing in the towel...

In America, if we talk politics, we talk to the ones that we agree with. If we were to discuss it with one from the other side of the aisle, then the only model we have for this is one of warfare and disagreement.  Where are the discussion clubs that further understanding and cooperation? Where are the debates that have the candidates say: "Wow - you have a great point there, and may I piggy-back on that to see what we might arrive at"? We have no role models for this kind of debate - and maybe the closest we get is on PBS, which of course has few viewers as it is not "entertaining".

In America we want to see blood in our debate. We want to sit in the Gladiator ring and turn our thumbs down and watch the opponent die in agony. And who really wants to enter into this ring of madness to be poked, stabbed and drilled but the foolhardy and those seeking to pick a fight?

So what can we do to start speaking to each other across party lines, across diversions of faith, across lines of wealth and influence?

How can we develop a language of inclusion and understanding?

How can we independently stop looking at the other side as the enemy - but simply as our brothers or our sisters with different backgrounds and different views?

How can we independently find our voices and feel safe enough to express them?

And feel safe enough to expand and grow in our understanding rather than to view it as "admitting that we were wrong"?

As I ponder these questions, I continue to speak up from my current understanding of things. And if I grow and change my mind - then I will celebrate this rather than look at it as a defeat.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Shadow Over America

President Obama rung in the New Year by signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011. Happy New Year indeed, America. In it are provisions that were in place in the Patriot Act, and that have now been solidified, giving the President the power to indefinitely detain American Citizens on American soil without right to due process.

The current president did issue an apologetic signing statement that was meant to reassure us that he would not interpret and implement the indefinite detention of American citizens as long as he is in the White House. So if Obama loses the election we are left with... say... President Santorum - or Romney - or Gingrich to decide what HE wants to "interpret and implement". And of course should Obama be re-elected, this signing statement can always be revoked and changed as circumstances dictate.... This is definitely a possibility! And not a very reassuring one at that!

I do believe we are marching goose step by goose step in a direction of corporate/governmental - military/industrial pseudo-democratic rule. What is up? People on the left might see it as the influence of decades of poorly regulated policies allowing the corporate agenda to penetrate and corrupt all levels of our political machinery. People on the right might see it as special interests from unions and a general tendency of big government to take away the influence of the people on their own destiny.

We can argue the validity of each side until we get hoarse. But I want to go a different route. Just a thought experiment that might add another perspective on the many reasons that might have influenced the many causes at the root of where we are now.

If we look to the American psyche of the past decade and a half, it has concerned itself greatly with " The War on Terror, Operation Enduring Freedom (originally called "Operation Infinite Justice"). These phrases were all coined to justify the need for our troops to engage in fighting a war against a faceless and nationless enemy, a small group of hoodlums who had conjured up the devious plot that was executed on 9/11. So we went into Afghanistan, then Iraq. We all know the absurdity of these wars by now. Or most of us acknowledge the absurdity at least. Quickly the tone was changed from the almost biblical overtones of "Infinite Justice" to "Enduring Freedom", and the trajectory went from being about fighting Al Qa'ida (because they were certainly not in Iraq - at least not when we went in there) to being about "ending tyranny in the world". President Bush aptly mentioned at this same occasion upon his reelection in 2004 "that the force of human freedom" was the greatest weapon against tyranny and hatred." Sounds great, right?

Well, according to C.G. Jung and his findings on the human psyche, we all carry a shadow. We carry this shadow with us but few of us are fully aware of it. On the contrary, most of us wish to only see the facade of our persona, the happy face we show the world. On some level this is who we really want to be, but necessarily not who we truly are.  The facade refuses to deal with the dark secrets, the hidden desires, the old pain or the feelings of inferiority. These unpleasantries get repressed to the shadow. Hidden away in our unconscious awareness our shadow continually attempts to get our attention by a certain level of sabotage - hidden agendas and obscure actions.  Jung's theory is that as long as we refuse to confront our own inner pain, fear, hurtful memories, we will keep projecting it out onto others. Thusly we get incensed when we encounter elements of our own psyche that we are failing to own up to ourselves. We want to bomb, hurt, create a crusade, or simply argue into smithereens against those who remind of us our own hidden aspects. And so it pushes our buttons, because we have decided that the aspect we are seeing in others, is an aspect we do not (want to) have ourselves.  We want to believe that we could NEVER do that - and the fact that someone else is doing it, means that they activate our anger, our hatred and our fears, because they precisely remind us of what we want to run away from about ourselves. Only, we are not aware.  And the more we try to convince ourselves that the enemy is without, the more annoyed, incensed and angry we get at those who somehow remind us of our own darkness. We project all our repressed fear and anger onto them - and might want to eradicate them off of the face of the earth. When this aspect is active in  a group mentality this very tendency is thought to be contributing factor to the collective cause for many a crusade, conflict and war. We fear that the fact that our enemy, who ever he/she/they may be, by their simply being in the world somehow will make them come and take us over. Well, in reality, part of what we really fear is our own shadow that we are working so hard to repress.

Now, if you think you have figured out where I am going with this - let me assure you that I am not someone who believes 9/11 was an inside job. I do not buy into this kind of conspiratory speculation. Also I want to point out that not all fear is founded in "running from one's own shadow". I am simplifying here to clarify the point I want to make.

So let me super impose the Jungian analysis approach onto what I see in our current situation - I believe it is thought provoking and sheds light on some of these recent developments. So bear with me here:

If our national persona's facade is the "freedom loving and injustice fighting" aspect, then what is it we as a nation were repressing to our shadow? What part of our own "tyranny" were we running from and projecting onto others as we saw theirs? (Please note that there was plenty of real and serious tyranny with both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein as rulers. This is irrefutable to me. Their level of tyranny and torture is well documented and absolutely horrific in nature). Yet what part of our past national collective guilt is  founded in taking over the land and kiling off many of the Indians? What part of our guilt regarding our forefathers and their cruelty in how they treated the issue of slavery might be activated here? What other layers of guilt and self-loathing might lie dorment in our national psyche? When Bush affirmed his second-term victory by stating that: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands" what is he really saying in Jungian terms? I see a point can be made for the fact that he was projecting our National fear of tyranny out onto the world at large. As long as there is tyranny anywhere in the world, was his case, we cannot be safe from it here in the USA. In other words, as long as there is a shadow side "out there" it will constantly irritate and provoke our own discomfort and inner fear of tyranny here at home.

Another aspect of our shadow is that it constantly sabotages our endeavors. It will try to get our attention - try to get us to integrate it at all cost. Try to get us into coherence and awareness of our full potential (as there is often great gifts bottled up, hidden and repressed by our shadow.) So as it is trying to get our attention, what does it do? Well often, we will go about manifesting our shadowy fears by our projections. Of course we hated the tyrannical and dictatorial mindset of the Taliban/Bin Laden that created the horrors of 9/11. Easy to understand! Yet by failing to look at what might be an appropriate and adequate response, we became reactive. We went into blind rage and shocked and awed the world with our antics. We hated so much that in our blind focus on eradicating tyranny elsewhere, we ended up activating the seeds of it here at home. First by giving the war religious over and undertones. Almost a crusade of (Christian) democracy pitted against the evildoers, who were Muslim (or Socialists). Then we changed our focus and claimed to be perpetrators of democracy, lone cowboys riding into the sunset of liberation and self-sacrifice. Since we were not seen as liberators or heros abroad, the fear came home to roost. It manifested itself in the newly enacted Patriot Act in which the Bill of Rights and Habeas Corpus were restricted, changed or in places even made redundant. In our fight against the shadow projected out onto our enemies, we effectively activated the beginning of something that looks uncannily like a dictatorial police state here at home. The notion was at the time that the Patriot Act was to be a temporary power grab to protect our citizens.  It has however been extended every year since, and what President Obama signed, with his tail between his legs on New Year's Eve of 2011, was in effect a law that made the unchecked powers of the President over his people a permanent fact of life. This aspect of our shadow is now signed in ink and has left the President's table to live permanently and overtly in our midst.

Since January 1st, 2012 we are now effectively living in a country in which the President has the power to declare any individual or group of his choosing a threat to our country and indefinitely lock them up without right to being charged with a crime nor the right to due process. I am not saying we stone people now like the Taliban does or gas our citizens like Hussein did, yet we have taken steps in a direction that has the potential of being a very slippery slope for our democracy and our freedom at large: By giving our President, who ever he is or will be, a part of what is in a tyrannical dictator's arsenal: The power to choose who gets to go free (who is "with us") and who gets to be jailed for speaking their mind (who is "against us").

We have become a bit like that which we sought to fight. We have stared ourselves blind on our brothers shadow and therefore it has shown itself in part right here in our own everyday reality. In our fearful projections we have assimilated parts of that which we swore to fight. Like the "family values" politician who is caught in a bathroom stall seeking seedy pleasures, like the peace activist who bombs car lots at night, or like the born-again preacher who is discovered to be frequenting the whorehouse, we have found in ourselves part of that which we sought to eradicate.

The NDAA is now the law of the land. Signed, sealed and delivered - and it is now ours! There is a small group of bipartisan senators that are suggesting that we change the language of the NDAA to exclude American citizens. If you have not done so yet, please support this initiative.