Monday, October 13, 2008

The Change We Need

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. - Barack Obama

As John McCain’s so-called “campaign” continues to degenerate to a series of unfounded, vitriolic, and inflammatory accusations against Barack Obama as a person, perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on the one thing both sides seem to agree on: change is needed. That, at least, is an idea that seems to resonate.

So what kind of change do we need?

Let's begin by reminding ourselves that when a complex problem needs to be solved, there are virtually always more than two ways to go about it. Unfortunately, here in America, our democracy is firmly locked into a two-party system. Anyone outside the two mainstream organizations who makes a serious run for public office is viewed in one of two ways: a hopelessly unrealistic idealist (at best) or a crackpot who can’t fit into any of the established niches (at worst).

There have been times when this either-or system seemed to work well—usually when the country has been threatened by outside forces and, like a fractious family, came together in a spirit of “one-for-all-and-all-for-one.” That happened during World War II and, perhaps most recently, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

During times of relative peace and prosperity, however, we Americans tend to be led around by the nose by people—be they Presidents or pastors—who are passionate, or even fanatical, about one idea. Everyone is labeled either “pro” or “con,” “right” or “wrong,” “with us” or “agin us.” When things go wrong—as they most certainly have, in every aspect of public life, in recent years—we waste precious time and resources laying blame and trying to defend the old, tired ideas espoused by our own party.

So here’s the change we need: a president who’s not a traditional Democrat or Republican. Who brainstorms with anyone who has the brains, background, and creativity to offer viable solutions. Who can build consensus. Who can inspire ordinary people to participate in whatever way they can, large or small. Who is skilled at listening to all sides of an argument and forging a compromise that’s better than the status quo and that everyone can live with.

Focusing on one idea is a convenient substitute for thinking, and stirring up hate and contempt for people with different points of view is much easier than doing the intellectual work necessary to solve problems. Any lack of progress can be blamed on those idiots on other side of the equation who persist in not seeing things our way.

So as a nation, we need to stop being defensive, blaming others for our mistakes, and avoiding responsibility. We need to grow up. And we need a leader who inspires us to do that.


Aaron said...

"So what kind of change do we need?"

I'm very glad to hear someone framing the question this way. From the outside looking in on both campaigns it seems that too often it is simply the need for change that is emphasized. Change, in the abstract, is a value-neutral thing. As Heraclitus rightfully pointed out, it's impossible to step in the same river twice. As for whether the second river is better or worse than the first, well, that's a question that depends entirely on particulars.

Honestly, I think that the question of just what kind of change is needed is what that's not getting asked enough.

As for myself, I don't think that either of the front-runners are trumpeting the sort of change I want. Which isn't to say they're equivalent. Obama's the stronger candidate all the issues I really care about save Second Amendment issues.

Unfortunately that says less about how great Obama's platform is and more about how disastrous McCain's promises to be.

Citizen Jane said...

Thanks. Aaron!

Anonymous said...

I find your piece very insightful. Allow me to partake in the discussion.

The emphasis in your entry seems to be based around the idea of a "leader" inspiring the collective whole of a "nation". This leader will listen to all sides and make informed decisions not based on some mythical party-sanctioned platform, but rather upon sound, sentient judgment.

While this is a very fair question and one that should, no doubt, be asked with an upcoming election, I find that it may not get to the root of the issue. The question perhaps should be: Is there such a thing as a leader who can dictate using unbiased, thoughtful and responsible ideals and then act upon them accordingly?

My response to this is a resounding "no." Humans, by their very nature, must be biased. We are born with the innate ability to see one side as being good and the other, bad. Now, what one person sees as being good can, and often does, differ wildly from what the other does. Again, I believe this is merely nature at work and always it shall be.

Given the two above criteria, we must assume that all beings on this planet make certain judgments and given the thousands of judgments we will make in our lives, the probability that two beings will agree on every issue they come upon in their lives approaches they smallest of decimals.

The issue that makes these two behaviors so eternally frustrating is that often they are defended and fought for with little to no regard for any logic that may lie within them. This enforcement of fallacy runs the gambit from why some love the color blue more than any other to some opinions genuinely absent of all logic, such as racism, sexism and many other -isms. Sadly, those that preach in favor of the latter group will state that they are the righteous ones, and that those who think otherwise are just ignorant. Additionally, if you were to ask those in said camp why they feel so strongly, the response will often be: “We just do.”

A reflection must be observed here: humans are, for the most part, illogical. We attempt time and time again to be so and occasionally, thanks to the sciences, we can be. We have proven that 1+1=2 and maggots do not form through the rotting of meat. All the facts in the world, though, will not convince all. Some people will defend the most illogical of statements to the death and try as we may, there is no way to stop them.

We must not forget that the most hair-brained of ideas, throughout the course of human existence, have ended up forming the very basis of theories and laws that dictate our current excursions into science, mathematics, governance and so on. Mill was especially emphatic on this issue in his writings, explaining that we cannot silence those we believe are wrong. Rather, we must let them speak, so that we may either disprove their prattlings or learn from them and become all the wiser for it.

The danger lies not in the unstoppable nature of people to differ from each other, no matter paid to the grace or heinousness of the sentiment. Rather, the sinister brew is culled when one is allowed to wield power other the many and pass judgment on the judgments of others, in that they are either right or wrong.

Within the realm of humanity, rarely is this the case. If I were to approach you (or anyone) on the street and state that I believed the world to be flat, you would most likely disagree, uneasily slip past me and go about your day. See? No harm, no foul. When we deal with each other on even ground, no one's rights can be trampled on. We can disagree, argue, who knows: it could even come to fisticuffs. However, in the end, no matter the outcome, what you and I believe will remain between you and I. We cannot enforce one thought process upon another human being.

This equality, however, is completely tossed aside when we deal with governance. Referencing my earliest point, that in fact no human is free from an instinctual desire to judge, when one is given power over another, everyone will in some way "lose the argument.” This will depend on the topic at hand and who is holding the scepter. However, the fact remains that no matter who is president, or prime minister, or what have you, we shall have some (or a great number of) beliefs foisted upon us and will be coerced, under threat of fine or imprisonment, to conform to said decrees.

There is not, and there won't ever be, one person on Earth who can rule taking all beliefs into consideration and make only purely logical decisions. While the natural response may be to say, "Well, then we'll just incept the logical ones," who will be the judge of that? The president? The people? Perhaps some religious leader?

The ultimate point of my argument is to say that there cannot ever be a human fit to dictate his or her judgment onto others and enforce it by law. The best we can do, then, is to spread this power far and wide, and in the process, much like a limit in math, approach the individual as closely as possible. The less power a single being has, the weaker he or she is to enforce his or her code.

Yes, true, we don't have an absolute monarchy in the United States. Still, is an oligarchy that far from a totalitarian regime? Besides that, what difference does it make if no matter who holds the gold, the purveyance of government in our lives continues to grow? With the right, you will find your personal liberties wane, while your financial rights will be diminished by the left.

This wouldn't matter nearly as much if we could go back to a clean slate after every presidential administration. Then, those that felt slighted by who used to be in office would get one-hundred-percent of their original, unfettered rights returned to them; no harm, no foul.

Sadly, though, this is hardly the case. They collect our rights; day in, day out, bill after bill, court case after court case. The effect, then, is cumulative over time. Once we give up a right to decide how our children shall be schooled, how our money shall be spent, how our bodies shall be protected, we never get that freedom to decide back. A decision will be made by those in charge, addressing how said issue shall be dealt with and that is that. Sure, it can be overturned and rewritten, but from that day forward, choice is privy to the desires of those in power, and much more often than not, we, the people, just accept it as such and move on. This is what has, and continues to happen, to our great, democratic society.

It would be hard to lie at this point in my writing to say that I am anything but an ardent libertarian. The fact is I do not trust the government. The smaller and more localized the better; this I believe to be true. The closer you can keep an eye on those in charge, the closer you can watch how our rights are being tampered with. Still, in the end, when certain people are given more power than others, in the way of how we are to run our individual lives, it is an inevitable death for humanity as a whole; some are just slower than others.

The kind of change we need cannot come from any person, party or congress; it can't come from any Supreme Court decision or Appellate judge ruling; it can't come from a "Committee for America's Children" or "Citizens for Citizens." The change must come in the rising up of the individual, the reinstatement of self-reliance, of independence, of liberty. The change must come in the realization that a person can follow through on their dreams and that no one has any right to stand in their way. The change must come with the verification that the strength of a society is not derived from a torso-less face that hangs, framed so perfectly, in every post office across the land, but rather from the very hands that built the nation in the first place.

We must acknowledge that all the power in the world lies in the individual and that is where it must reside, not in some marble heuned behemoth thousands of miles from Anywhere, USA.

Those deemed fit to rule seem to have forgotten that they serve at our pleasure. All I can say is I am far from pleased and I know I am not the only one. We must wrestle back what has been taken from us and bastardized so callously. We must refuse to be seen as just a voting bloc or a set of social security numbers, but rather as individuals, all with a million different hopes, dreams and aspirations.

This nation must return the power to judge, to decide and to act to you and I and every other citizen X.

This, and only this, is the change we all need.

Citizen Jane said...

Hello, and thanks so much for your comments! You seem to speak for a new point of view in America--one that that may emerge as a true alternative to the traditional two parties.

I agree when you say that "all the power in the world lies in the individual and that is where it must reside." Perhaps we would disagree about what role government must play in structuring and harnessing that power. But I do see something happening in America today that should give hope to all concerned--new voices are being heard and respected, and they are not always the voices of the rich and powerful.

Jokes will be made about the third party to last night's debate, "Joe the Plumber." But the facts remain that the ordinary, everyday American citizen is participating in this year's election like never before. Partly that's the result of the amazing advances in technology that now allow us to communicate in entirely new ways. I also think it's partly the result of one candidate, Barack Obama, who has demonstrated throughout his career profound respect for each and every human being.

It is that respect for ordinary citizens that has brought Obama to the forefront of this election. In casual conversations, I've been told by many people that they've donated money for the first time to a national candidate, watched a debate for the first time, or taken some personal action based on recommendations from the candidate's populist campaign.

While we won't do away with government any time soon, I'm very hopeful that in the years to come, people of all persuasions will be heard and respected and no one ideology--or "idiot-ology," depending on your point of view--will rule the land.