Tuesday, April 23, 2019

What We Aren't Talking About

There are many critical issues we could be discussing in lieu of the scandal or outrage of the day.

Instead the bully in the bully pulpit is following the well worn path of demagogues and totalitarian leaders throughout history.

Attacking verifiable reality, endless repetition, magical thinking, self-deification, othering, the creation or exploitation of crises - are all tools in the totalitarian leaders toolbox. The one we are dealing with in the U.S. currently, has a 21st century tool allowing him to manipulate the media like a cat chasing a laser pointer (I always thought that was cruel to do that to cats).

What could we be discussing if we hadn't been sucked into the latest outrage over a tweet or ignorant comment?

Hmmmm....maybe 999 other things.

For starters -

Why is it that European countries can provide their citizens with education, pensions, health care, modern transportation systems, parental leave, and guaranteed vacations? What would U.S. citizens gain and give up if we were to move towards a more social democratic form of government.

In the U.S. we have pressing issues of homelessness, addiction epidemics, obesity, childhood poverty, poverty in general, rise of paramilitary, white nationalist and white supremacist groups - what's our plan for the future?

Education from pre-K to post high school, college debt, working and middle class wage stagnation, infrastructure, voting rights, money in politics, dysfunctional government, consumer protection, discrimination, gun violence, dying communities, privacy rights, the future of our democracy - the list could continue...but what's our plan for improving any of these?

Among all these challenges climate change stands alone as a direct existential threat to the humans, plants and animals that inhabit earth.

Even as challenging as all these things are they are what a professor I had once called "delicious problems". That is - hard problems, complex problems, but for informed, confident, problem-solving and brave people like U.S. citizens - not insurmountable problems. We need the right leaders to help guide the way.

We'll have to work together on these things as citizens of one nation and as inhabitants of one earth. What solutions are possible will need to be worked out but I can say with 100% certainty that they won't come in the form of a tweet.

In his book On Tyranny Timothy Snyder writes,
"In the politics of eternity, the seduction by a mythicized past prevents us from thinking about possible futures. The habit of dwelling on victim-hood dulls the impulse of self-correction. Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems. Since the crises is permanent, the sense of emergency is always present; planning for the future seems impossible or even disloyal. How can we even be thinking about reform when the enemy is always at the gate?"    

Changing the conversation from fictional crises to real crises will be an uphill battle given the political and economic incentives to keep people distracted, angry or afraid. Step away from the screens every so often to read some long-form writing, talk to real people, get outside (I'm giving myself a pep talk).  

Speaking of keeping it real. 

The song (trying to make it real) Compared to What performed by Les McCann and Eddie Harris at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969, on the album Swiss Movement is one of my favorite songs. I first heard it when I was working a summer job in the Grand Tetons about 45 years ago, and my roommate from New York introduced it to me. He was an experienced rock/mountain climber and would hand-roll and smoke cigarettes while we were climbing...oh to be young and foolish. Now I'm just old and foolish....but still loving life.

It's best listened to nice and loud...on a good stereo....or maybe better yet in the Grand Tetons if you happen to be in that vicinity sometime.