American Intellectuals’ Widespread Failure to Stand Up to Billionaires and Authoritarian Power

By Robert Jensen, AlterNet, July 5, 2013

This article is an excerpt from Robert Jensen’s new book, We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out  available in print and on Kindle.

Excerpt

…Why is the majority of intellectual work in the United States not challenging but instead helping to prop up the unjust distribution of wealth and power, and the unsustainable extractive/industrial system? Both intellectuals and the people who provide the resources that allow intellectuals to work should ponder this crucial question. I am not suggesting that to be a responsible intellectual one must agree with me on all these issues, that anyone who does not agree with my approach to these issues is a soulless sell-out. My argument is that if we take seriously the basic moral principles at the core of modern philosophical and theological systems we claim to believe in, in light of the data on social injustice and the serious threats to ecological sustainability, these questions should be central in the work of intellectuals…a sharp critique of intellectuals as a social formation is warranted…This analysis focuses on those doing intellectual work with the most privilege and the most autonomy. Ideally, we pay intellectuals to help us deepen our understanding of how the world works, toward the goal of shaping a world more consistent with our moral and political principles, and our collective self-interest. What are the forces that keep people, especially relatively privileged people, mute in the face of such a clear need for critical intellectual work?I suspect that a desire to be accepted by peers is at least as powerful a motivation for intellectuals to accept the status quo. Humans are social animals who generally seek a safe and secure place in a social group, and there’s no reason intellectuals would be different…. When one’s professional cohort works within the worldview that the wealthy and powerful construct, the boundaries of that world seem appropriate. Curiosity about what lies beyond those boundaries tends to atrophy. Those forces have been in play for a long time, but another potentially crucial factor is the way in which confronting the reality of injustice and unsustainability can be morally and psychologically overwhelming for anyoneIntellectuals are in the business of assessing problems and offering solutionsWe are told that it is “realistic” to capitulate to the absurd idea that the systems in which we live are the only systems possible because some people like them and wish them to continue. But what if our current level of First-World consumption is exhausting the ecological basis for life? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that take that lifestyle as non-negotiable. What if real democracy is not possible in a nation-state with 300 million people? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that take this way of organizing a polity as immutable. What if the hierarchies on which our lives are based are producing extreme material deprivation for subordinated people and a kind of dull misery among the privileged? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that accept hierarchy as inevitable. The ultimate test of our intellectual abilities is whether we can face the possibility that there may be no way out of these traps and yet continue to work for a more just and sustainable world…to be a responsible intellectual is to be willing to get apocalyptic, and the first step in that process is to give up on the myth of neutrality. Intellectuals shouldn’t claim to be neutral, and the public shouldn’t take such claims seriously.

Full text

Given the considerable resources in the United States spent to subsidize intellectual work, why are so many intellectuals—journalists, academics, writers—not critiquing the many hierarchical institutions and not highlighting the disastrous consequences of these systems? Why are so many intellectuals instead providing support for the institutions and systems? Why is the majority of intellectual work in the United States not challenging but instead helping to prop up the unjust distribution of wealth and power, and the unsustainable extractive/industrial system?

Both intellectuals and the people who provide the resources that allow intellectuals to work should ponder this crucial question.

I am not suggesting that to be a responsible intellectual one must agree with me on all these issues, that anyone who does not agree with my approach to these issues is a soulless sell-out. My argument is that if we take seriously the basic moral principles at the core of modern philosophical and theological systems we claim to believe in, in light of the data on social injustice and the serious threats to ecological sustainability, these questions should be central in the work of intellectuals. Based on my experience as a journalist, professor, and political activist—a life in which I have always worked in intellectual professions and interacted with many other intellectuals in various settings—I have learned that the story is complicated but that a sharp critique of intellectuals as a social formation is warranted.

First, let’s recognize that intellectual work generally comes with considerable privilege. That does not mean that intellectuals don’t work hard, make sacrifices, or feel stress. But in general, intellectuals are compensated well for work that is not physically hazardous and can be rewarding on many levels. There are many intellectuals-in-training (graduate students) and underemployed intellectuals (adjunct faculty) who face overwhelming workloads and few perks, and so we should be cautious about generalizing too much about the category of “intellectual.” This analysis focuses on those doing intellectual work with the most privilege and the most autonomy.

Ideally, we pay intellectuals to help us deepen our understanding of how the world works, toward the goal of shaping a world more consistent with our moral and political principles, and our collective self-interest. What are the forces that keep people, especially relatively privileged people, mute in the face of such a clear need for critical intellectual work? The first, and easiest, answer is individual self-interest—the status and economic rewards that come to intellectuals who serve power. Upton Sinclair put it most succinctly: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

No doubt some intellectuals make calculations about how to use their abilities to enrich themselves, but in my experience such crass greed is relatively rare. I suspect that a desire to be accepted by peers is at least as powerful a motivation for intellectuals to accept the status quo. Humans are social animals who generally seek a safe and secure place in a social group, and there’s no reason intellectuals would be different. Even when concentrated wealth and power do not threaten people with serious punishments, the desire to be a well-regarded member of an intellectual community is a powerful conformity-inducer. When one’s professional cohort works within the worldview that the wealthy and powerful construct, the boundaries of that world seem appropriate. Curiosity about what lies beyond those boundaries tends to atrophy.

Those forces have been in play for a long time, but another potentially crucial factor is the way in which confronting the reality of injustice and unsustainability can be morally and psychologically overwhelming for anyone. As the documentation of human suffering and the threats to ecological sustainability accumulate, in an era when multiple communication channels make it easy to be aware of more and more of this information, that awareness can seem to be too much to face. The desire to rationalize the suffering and imagine an easy escape is easy to understand.

Rationalization #1: Justifying Hierarchy

When humans suffer in extreme situations, such as war or natural disasters, most people in most situations find it easy to care and respond. When the suffering is ongoing and apparently endemic to the systems of the world, staying connected to that suffering is more difficult. In such situations, it can be attractive to find ways to justify hierarchy and the resulting suffering, rather than to challenge power.

There is wide consensus on the values that are central to constructing a decent human society: justice, equality, compassion, honesty, opportunity, sharing. It is difficult to imagine such a society without these basic elements: (1) the belief in the inherent dignity of all human beings; (2) a sense of solidarity with at least those in one’s community, if not beyond; and (3) a commitment to achieving a rough equality so that everyone has access to the material requirements for a decent life. That list does not assume that people are morally perfect or perfectible, but instead articulates common aspirations for ourselves, others, and society.

How do we explain the fact that most people’s stated philosophical and theological systems are rooted in concepts of equality, solidarity, and the inherent dignity of all people, yet we allow violence, exploitation, and oppression to flourish? Only a small percentage of people in any given society are truly sociopaths, those who engage in cruel and oppressive behavior openly and without a capacity for empathy. In my experience, the most common way in which people make their peace with that contradiction is to accept the claim that hierarchy and injustice are inevitable, and that the best we can do is try to smooth off the rough edges of such systems. The process can be summed up like this:

–The systems and structures in which we live are hierarchical.

–Hierarchical systems and structures deliver to those in the dominant class certain privileges, pleasures, and material benefits.

–People are typically hesitant to give up such privileges, pleasures, and benefits.

–But, those benefits clearly come at the expense of those in the subordinated class.

–Given the widespread acceptance of basic notions of dignity, solidarity, and equality, the existence of hierarchy has to be justified in some way other than crass self-interest.

–One of the most persuasive arguments for systems of domination and subordination is that they are “natural.”

So, oppressive systems work hard to make it appear that the hierarchy — and the disparity in power and resources that flow from hierarchy — is natural and, therefore, beyond modification. If white people are naturally smarter and more virtuous than people of color, then white supremacy is inevitable and justifiable. If men are naturally stronger and more capable of leadership than women, then patriarchy is inevitable and justifiable. If rich people are naturally clearer-thinking and harder-working than poor people, then economic inequality is inevitable and justifiable. If the strong are, well, stronger than the weak, then the strong will rule.

As John Stuart Mill noted in his argument for women’s rights, “[W]as there ever any domination which did not appear natural to those who possessed it?” For unjust hierarchies, and the illegitimate authority that is exercised in them, maintaining their naturalness is essential. Not surprisingly, people in the dominant class exercising the power gravitate easily to such a view. And because of their power to control key intellectual institutions (especially education and mass communication), those in the dominant class can fashion a story about the world that leads some portion of the people in the subordinated class to internalize the ideology. A social order that violates almost everyone’s basic principles is transformed into a natural order that cannot be changed.

Rationalization #2: Celebrating Technology

Facing the ecological realities is even more overwhelming. People once spoke of “environmental problems” that seemed limited and manageable, but now the questions are about whether a large-scale human presence on the planet will be viable within the foreseeable future. An honest assessment of the state of the ecosphere is frightening, and it is easier to believe that the world’s systems can magically continue rather than thinking about how radical changes in those systems are necessary — and how even with such radical changes there is no guarantee that we can avoid catastrophe.

That frightening possibility is why the culture in general, and intellectuals in particular, are quick to embrace technological fundamentalism, a form of magical thinking that promises a way out of the problems that the extractive/industrial economy has created. Technological fundamentalists believe that the increasing use of evermore sophisticated high-energy advanced technology is always a good thing and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences of such technology eventually can be remedied by more technology. Perhaps the ultimate example of this is “geo-engineering,” the belief that we can intervene at the planetary level in the climate system to deal effectively with global warming. Given massive human failure at much lower levels of intervention, this approach—which “offers the tantalizing promise of a climate change fix that would allow us to continue our resource-exhausting way of life, indefinitely”—is, quite literally, insane.

Those who question such “solutions” are often said to be anti-technology, which is a meaningless insult. All human beings use technology of some kind, whether stone tools or computers. An anti-fundamentalist position does not assert that all technology is bad, but that the introduction of new technology should be evaluated carefully on the basis of its effects — predictable and unpredictable — on human communities and the non-human world, with an understanding of the limits of our knowledge. We have moved too far and too fast, outstripping our capacity to manage the world we have created. The answer is not some naïve return to a romanticized past, but a recognition of what we have created and a systematic evaluation to determine how to recover from our most dangerous missteps.

But the technological fundamentalists see no reason to consider such things. They have faith in human cleverness. The title of a recent book by an environmentalist—The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans—sums it up: Technological fundamentalists believe humans can play God and control an infinitely complex universe with enough competence to save not only ourselves but the planet. There’s nothing new about that arrogance. In 1968, Stewart Brand began the Whole Earth Catalog with that famous line, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” Four decades later, with the evidence of human failure piling up, Brand remained the loyal technological fundamentalist, arguing that his suggestion had become an imperative: “We are as gods and HAVE to get good at it.”

Our experience with the unintended consequences of modern technology is fairly extensive. For example, there’s the case of automobiles and the burning of petroleum in internal-combustion engines, which give us the ability to travel considerable distances with a fair amount of individual autonomy. This technology also has given us traffic jams and road rage, strip malls and smog, while contributing to rapid climate change that threatens sustainable life on the planet. We haven’t quite figured out how to cope with these problems, and in retrospect it might have been wise to go slower in the development of a system geared toward private, individual transportation based on the car and spend more time considering potential consequences.

Or how about CFCs and the ozone hole? Chlorofluorocarbons have a variety of industrial, commercial and household applications, including in air-conditioning. They were thought to be a miracle chemical when introduced in the 1930s—non-toxic, non-flammable and non-reactive with other chemical compounds. But in the 1980s, researchers began to understand that while CFCs are stable in the troposphere, when they move to the stratosphere and are broken down by strong ultraviolet light they release chlorine atoms that deplete the ozone layer. This unintended effect deflated the exuberance a bit. Depletion of the ozone layer means that more UV radiation reaches the Earth’s surface, and overexposure to UV radiation is a cause of skin cancer, cataracts and immune suppression.

But wait, the technological fundamentalists might argue, our experience with CFCs refutes your argument—humans got a handle on that one and banned CFCs, and now the ozone hole is closing. These gases, which were once commonly used in air-conditioning, were regulated in 1987 through the Montreal Protocol, which has reduced damage to the ozone layer. The oldest and most damaging CFC coolants have been largely eliminated from use, and the newer hydrochlorofluorocarbons that are now widely used have little or no effect on the ozone layer. That’s all true, but unfortunately we now know that the HCFC gases contribute to global warming. Scientists estimate that up to a quarter of all global warming will be attributable to those gases by 2050, so that “the therapy to cure one global environmental disaster is now seeding another.”

So the reasonable question is: If the dangerous HCFCs that replaced the dangerous CFCs are replaced by a new chemical that appears harmless, how long will it take before the dangerous effects of that replacement become visible? There’s no way to predict, but it seems reasonable to ask the question. Society didn’t react to the news about CFCs or HCFCs by thinking about ways to step back from a developed world that has become dependent on air-conditioning, but instead continues to search for replacements to keep the air conditioning running.

Intellectuals are in the business of assessing problems and offering solutions. Technological fundamentalism allows intellectuals to offer solutions that don’t threaten existing institutions and don’t make demands on society in general, which allows intellectuals to retain their status and level of comfort, at least in the short term. The obvious problem is that if we look only for “solutions” that don’t disturb existing systems, and those existing systems are unsustainable, then our solutions are at best irrelevant and at worst will exacerbate the fundamental problems and make it harder for people to imagine new systems.

This is not an argument to abandon all attempts to improve technology, stop exploring ways technology can contribute to a healthier planet, or halt research on renewable energy. A sensible approach to our cascading ecological crises is to pursue multiple strategies that mitigate the worst of what exists today while planning for a radically different tomorrow. Technological fundamentalism is dangerous because it encourages us to focus on the former and ignore the latter.

The problem, succinctly stated: When intellectuals limit themselves to inquiry that stays safely within existing systems, they are being unrealistic. That claim turns the tables on establishment intellectuals, who routinely criticize more radical colleagues for not being realistic. But imagine that you are riding comfortably on a train. You look out the window and see that not too far ahead the tracks end abruptly and that the train will derail if it continues moving ahead. You suggest that the train should stop immediately and that the passengers go forward on foot. This will require a major shift in everyone’s way of traveling, of course, but it appears to you to be the only realistic option; to continue barreling forward is to guarantee catastrophic consequences. But when you propose this course of action, others who have grown comfortable riding on the train say, “Everybody likes riding the train, and so telling us to get off is not realistic.”

In the contemporary United States, we are trapped in a similar delusion. We are told that it is “realistic” to capitulate to the absurd idea that the systems in which we live are the only systems possible because some people like them and wish them to continue. But what if our current level of First-World consumption is exhausting the ecological basis for life? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that take that lifestyle as non-negotiable. What if real democracy is not possible in a nation-state with 300 million people? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that take this way of organizing a polity as immutable. What if the hierarchies on which our lives are based are producing extreme material deprivation for subordinated people and a kind of dull misery among the privileged? Too bad; the only “realistic” options are those that accept hierarchy as inevitable.

The ultimate test of our intellectual abilities is whether we can face the possibility that there may be no way out of these traps and yet continue to work for a more just and sustainable world (more on that later). That is not easy, but to be a responsible intellectual is to be willing to get apocalyptic, and the first step in that process is to give up on the myth of neutrality. Intellectuals shouldn’t claim to be neutral, and the public shouldn’t take such claims seriously.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/books/widespread-failure-intellectuals-stand-authoritarian-power-america

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-jensen-1
[3] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/148195847X/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER
[4] http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BAWQO84
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/apocalypse
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/jensen
[7] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

A Values- and Vision-Based Political Dream

by Benjamin Mordecai Ben-Baruch, Tikkun, Winter 2011, December 21 2010

Excerpt

We need leaders and organizers to inspire people and communities to act on their values and hopes. We need help articulating our values and vision of the ideal future. Right-wing successes have been achieved by appealing to peoples’ fears, hatreds and prejudices. But the politics of hope is stronger than politics of fear. Imagining our future based on our highest ideals can mobilize us to overcome the paralysis of fear and hatred.

The politics of hope is not issue oriented, and people who share the same values and vision often disagree on the issues….[people] have been misled into believing that their freedom and empowerment resides in “free markets” and that the government is Big Brother and something to fear. They have become paralyzed by their fears. The irrationality of these fears makes us vulnerable to demagoguery. We need to go beyond issue-oriented politics and the politics of fear to a public discourse focused on articulating our vision for the ideal future and what that future would look like. We need a vision of a society without the injustices of poverty and social inequality. We need a dream…

Most Americans will understand that the kind of America they want to build is quite different from that of the new Conservatives and the neo-liberals.

But we need clarity. We need help articulating our values and vision. We need help exposing the contrary values and vision of the neo-liberals, clericalists, religious Right, and ultra-capitalists. We need to overcome the politics of fear. We need to go beyond issue-oriented politics. (And we need to go way beyond cyclic party and electoral politics.) We need to engage in the revolutionary politics of hope. We need to build a social movement of people inspired and mobilized to act upon hopes and dreams.

Full Text

We need leaders and organizers to inspire people and communities to act on their values and hopes. We need help articulating our values and vision of the ideal future. Right-wing successes have been achieved by appealing to peoples’ fears, hatreds and prejudices. But the politics of hope is stronger than politics of fear. Imagining our future based on our highest ideals can mobilize us to overcome the paralysis of fear and hatred.

The politics of hope is not issue oriented, and people who share the same values and vision often disagree on the issues. For example, people are not inspired by a proposal for a universal single-payer health care system. People are inspired by believing that a future they couldn’t imagine is now possible. Many opponents of “Obamacare,” (the recent health insurance policy reform legislation) value providing health care to all who need it and want a future in which such care is unproblematic. But they have been misled into believing that their freedom and empowerment resides in “free markets” and that the government is Big Brother and something to fear. They have become paralyzed by their fears. The irrationality of these fears makes us vulnerable to demagoguery. We need to go beyond issue-oriented politics and the politics of fear to a public discourse focused on articulating our vision for the ideal future and what that future would look like. We need a vision of a society without the injustices of poverty and social inequality. We need a dream.

Similarly, when we explore Jewish attitudes toward Israel we find a high level of agreement on basic values that is hidden by the nature of discourse. The real difference among most American Jews is the extent to which they believe that Israel, the regional military power, is threatened. We see a polarization between those who fear for Israel’s existence and hence are paralyzed from even dreaming of a better future and those motivated to act on their dreams.

When we establish a politics of hope, a political discourse of values and vision, then most Christians will see that they do not share the values and vision of the “Christian Right.” Most Jews will see that they do not share the values and vision of Israel’s political leadership. Most Americans will understand that the kind of America they want to build is quite different from that of the new Conservatives and the neo-liberals.

But we need clarity. We need help articulating our values and vision. We need help exposing the contrary values and vision of the neo-liberals, clericalists, religious Right, and ultra-capitalists. We need to overcome the politics of fear. We need to go beyond issue-oriented politics. (And we need to go way beyond cyclic party and electoral politics.) We need to engage in the revolutionary politics of hope. We need to build a social movement of people inspired and mobilized to act upon hopes and dreams.

Benjamin Mordecai Ben-Baruch is a former principal in the United Hebrew Schools of Metropolitan Detroit and currently serves on the board of directors of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and also of the Progressive Jewish Voice.

Ben-Baruch, Benjamin. 2011. A Values- and Vision-Based Political Dream. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.

http://www.tikkun.org/article.php?story=winter2011ben-baruch

Obama Inaugural’s Liberal Definition of Rights

By Michael Kinsley, Washington Monthly, January 22, 2013

Excerpt

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.”…both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government…First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom..This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone…

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you…There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.”…So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now…

Full text

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

Full text

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

President Barack Obama’s on Monday made — or tried to make — two different points, both concerning the definition of “rights.” Although couched in the kind of president-ese appropriate to such an occasion, both goals were easy to spot, and both are parts of a solidly liberal vision of society and government.

People have been looking for the real Barack Obama — principled (maybe dangerously principled) progressive or deeply (maybe disappointingly) moderate compromiser? This speech makes the answer clear.

First, Obama added a chapter on gay rights to the official story of America as a continuing experiment in expanding freedom: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” Women’s rights, blacks’ rights, gays’ rights. From now on that’s our story, and we’re sticking with it.

This almost offhand reference by the president to a 1969 gay-rights riot as part of the grand procession of American equality and civil rights is itself a milestone. From now on, the boilerplate Fourth of July rhetoric of all politicians, or at least all Democratic politicians, will cite “black or white, men or women, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight,” and they will leave out the last pairing at their peril. (A genuine contribution of George W. Bush’s presidency was adding Muslims to the roll-call of American pluralism. One now says, “our churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Following Obama, one will refer to “our gay brothers and sisters” who deserve to be “treated like anyone else under the law.”)

Positive Rights

The president’s second fascinating gloss on the concept of rights has to do with negative and positive rights. In the U.S., when we think of rights, we think mainly of negative rights: rights against the government. The Bill of Rights is largely a list of things the government may not do to you. It may not prevent you from having your say, or praying to your own God, or living unbothered in your own house. It may not discriminate against you on account of race, religion, and so on. But it has no positive duty to feed or house you.

There is another view of “rights” that sees them in positive terms, as obligations of society to all its citizens. The right to education, to food, to a job, to health care, and so on. These are the kind of rights that engage Obama.

“We the people,” he said today, “still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Like the other kind of rights, these rights can exist in theory for years or centuries without being realized in practice. That’s one reason that the struggle is never-ending.

Of course, being a politician, Obama claims that his vision of society is uniquely American. His critics, by contrast, have tried to nail him as a European intellectual (two fighting words). In truth, his vision of a properly run society is closer to the European model than, say, Representative Paul Ryan’s. But voters seem to prefer Obama’s. Or at least the voters were given the opportunity for the Ryan model and turned it down.

Obama said: “A modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.” And, “A great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Who disagrees with that? Yet our particular great nation is letting its railroads and highways rot and does only a mediocre job of protecting people from life’s worst hazards.

Central Philosophy

Perhaps we now know why Obama took up health-care reform at the beginning of his first term, even though there was other stuff (i.e. the financial crisis) going on, and his advisers (the ones on his payroll and those in the news media) were saying, put it off. Decent health care for everybody isn’t just a nice thing to have. It’s central to Obama’s philosophy of government.

So Obama does have a vision — articulated pretty clearly if not explicitly in his speech today. Society, through its proxy, the government, should provide the individual with a higher level of protection from hardship and catastrophe than it does now. Government should also invest in public goods such as highways and education, which will also grease the wheels of commerce. Even global warming and the deficit get shoehorned into the framework of problems the government must deal with so individuals can be free to live their lives as they choose.

The president said, “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.” It has? If so, it sure caught me napping. I think we are fairly untested, and it’s hard to share the president’s optimism. But he gets paid to be optimistic.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2013/01/obama_inaugurals_liberal_defin_1042537.php

A Time for ‘Sublime Madness’

Published on Monday, January 21, 2013 by TruthDig.com by Chris Hedges

Excerpt

The planet we have assaulted will convulse with fury. The senseless greed of limitless capitalist expansion will implode the global economy. The decimation of civil liberties, carried out in the name of fighting terror, will shackle us to an interconnected security and surveillance state that stretches from Moscow to Istanbul to New York. To endure what lies ahead we will have to harness the human imagination…It is the imagination that makes possible transcendence…“Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it,” wrote James Baldwin. “Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead.”

Full text

The planet we have assaulted will convulse with fury. The senseless greed of limitless capitalist expansion will implode the global economy. The decimation of civil liberties, carried out in the name of fighting terror, will shackle us to an interconnected security and surveillance state that stretches from Moscow to Istanbul to New York. To endure what lies ahead we will have to harness the human imagination. It was the human imagination that permitted African-Americans during slavery and the Jim Crow era to transcend their physical condition. It was the human imagination that sustained Sitting Bull and Black Elk as their land was seized and their cultures were broken. And it was the human imagination that allowed the survivors in the Nazi death camps to retain the power of the sacred.

It is the imagination that makes possible transcendence. Chants, work songs, spirituals, the blues, poetry, dance and art converged under slavery to nourish and sustain this imagination. These were the forces that, as Ralph Ellison wrote, “we had in place of freedom.” The oppressed would be the first—for they know their fate—to admit that on a rational level such a notion is absurd, but they also know that it is only through the imagination that they survive. Jewish inmates in Auschwitz reportedly put God on trial for the Holocaust and then condemned God to death. A rabbi stood after the verdict to lead the evening prayers.

African-Americans and Native Americans, for centuries, had little control over their destinies. Forces of bigotry and violence kept them subjugated by whites. Suffering, for the oppressed, was tangible. Death was a constant companion. And it was only their imagination, as William Faulkner noted at the end of “The Sound and the Fury,” that permitted them—unlike the novel’s white Compson family—to “endure.”

The theologian James H. Cone captures this in his masterpiece “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” Cone says that for oppressed blacks the cross was a “paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” Cone continues:

That God could “make a way out of no way” in Jesus’ cross was truly absurd to the intellect, yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk. Enslaved blacks who first heard the gospel message seized on the power of the cross. Christ crucified manifested God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the “troubles of this world,” no matter how great and painful their suffering. Believing this paradox, this absurd claim of faith, was only possible in humility and repentance. There was no place for the proud and the mighty, for people who think that God called them to rule over others. The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.

Reinhold Niebuhr, as Cone points out in his book, labeled this capacity to defy the forces of repression “a sublime madness in the soul.” Niebuhr wrote that “nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’ ” This sublime madness, as Niebuhr understood, is dangerous, but it is vital. Without it, “truth is obscured.” And Niebuhr also knew that traditional liberalism was a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism, Niebuhr said, “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.”

Niebuhr’s “sublime madness” permits the rest of us to view the possibilities of a world otherwise seen only by the visionary, the artist and the madman. And it permits us to fight for these possibilities. The prophets in the Hebrew Bible had this sublime madness. The words of the Hebrew prophets, as Abraham Heschel wrote, were “a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven.”

Primo Levi in his memoir “Survival in Auschwitz” tells of teaching Italian to another inmate, Jean Samuel, in exchange for lessons in French. Levi recites to Samuel from memory Canto XXVI of Dante’s “The Inferno.” It is the story of Ulysses’ final voyage.

“He has received the message,” Levi writes, “he has felt that it has to do with him, that it has to do with all men who toil, and with us in particular.” Levi goes on. “It is vitally necessary and urgent that he listen, that he understand … before it is too late; tomorrow he or I might be dead, or we might never see each other again.”

The poet Leon Staff wrote from the Warsaw ghetto: “Even more than bread we now need poetry, in a time when it seems that it is not needed at all.”

It is only those who can retreat into the imagination, and through their imagination can minister to the suffering of those around them, who uncover the physical and psychological strength to resist.

“… [T]he people noticed that Crazy Horse was queerer than ever,” Black Elk said in remembering the final days of the wars against the Indians. He went on to say of the great Sioux warrior: “He hardly ever stayed in the camp. People would find him out alone in the cold, and they would ask him to come home with them. He would not come, but sometimes he would tell the people what to do. People wondered if he ate anything at all. Once my father found him out alone like that, and he said to my father: ‘Uncle, you have noticed me the way I act. But do not worry; there are caves and holes for me to live in, and out here the spirits may help me. I am making plans for the good of my people.’ ”

Homer, Dante, Beethoven, Melville, Dostoevsky, Proust, Joyce, W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson and James Baldwin, along with artists such as the sculptor David Smith, the photographer Diane Arbus and the blues musician Charley Patton, all had it. It is the sublime madness that lets one sing, as bluesman Ishman Bracey did in Hinds County, Miss., “I’ve been down so long, Lawd, down don’t worry me.” And yet in the mists of the imagination also lies the certainty of divine justice:

I feel my hell a-risin’, a-risin’ every day;
I feel my hell a-risin’, a-risin’ every day;
Someday it’ll burst this levee and wash the whole wide world away.

Shakespeare’s greatest heroes and heroines—Prospero, Anthony, Juliet, Viola, Rosalind, Hamlet, Cordelia and Lear—all have this sublime madness. As Theseus says in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.

“Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it,” wrote James Baldwin. “Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead.”

© 2012 TruthDig.com

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/21-1

Why We Love Politics

By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, November 22, 2012

We live in an anti-political moment, when many people — young people especially — think politics is a low, nasty, corrupt and usually fruitless business…“Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner. The movie portrays the nobility of politics in exactly the right way. It shows that you can do more good in politics than in any other sphereThe challenge of politics lies precisely in the marriage of high vision and low cunning…Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public good….

Full text

We live in an anti-political moment, when many people — young people especially — think politics is a low, nasty, corrupt and usually fruitless business. It’s much nobler to do community service or just avoid all that putrid noise.

I hope everybody who shares this anti-political mood will go out to see “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner. The movie portrays the nobility of politics in exactly the right way.

It shows that you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere. You can end slavery, open opportunity and fight poverty. But you can achieve these things only if you are willing to stain your own character in order to serve others — if you are willing to bamboozle, trim, compromise and be slippery and hypocritical.

The challenge of politics lies precisely in the marriage of high vision and low cunning. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” gets this point. The hero has a high moral vision, but he also has the courage to take morally hazardous action in order to make that vision a reality.

To lead his country through a war, to finagle his ideas through Congress, Lincoln feels compelled to ignore court decisions, dole out patronage, play legalistic games, deceive his supporters and accept the fact that every time he addresses one problem he ends up creating others down the road.

Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public good. This is a self-restrained movie that celebrates people who are prudent, self-disciplined, ambitious and tough enough to do that work.

The movie also illustrates another thing: that politics is the best place to develop the highest virtues. Politics involves such a perilous stream of character tests: how low can you stoop to conquer without destroying yourself; when should you be loyal to your team and when should you break from it; how do you wrestle with the temptations of fame — that the people who can practice it and remain intact, like Lincoln, Washington or Churchill, are incredibly impressive.

The movie shows a character-building trajectory, common among great politicians, which you might call the trajectory from the Gettysburg Address to the Second Inaugural.

In the Gettysburg phase, a leader expresses grand ideas. This, frankly, is relatively easy. Lots of people embrace grand ideals or all-explaining ideologies. But satisfied with that they become morally infantile. They refuse to compromise, insult their opponents and isolate themselves on the perch of their own solipsism.

But a politician like Lincoln takes the next step in the trajectory. He has to deal with other people. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” does a nice job celebrating an underappreciated art, the art of legislating.

The movie is about pushing the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives. The political operatives Lincoln hires must pay acute attention to the individual congressmen in order to figure out which can be appealed to through the heart and which through the wallet.

Lincoln plays each potential convert like a musical instrument, appealing to one man’s sense of idealism, another’s fraternal loyalty. His toughest job is to get the true believers on his own side to suppress themselves, to say things they don’t believe in order not to offend the waverers who are needed to get the amendment passed.

That leads to the next step in the character-building trajectory, what you might call the loneliness of command. Toward the end of the civil war, Lincoln had to choose between two rival goods, immediate peace and the definitive end of slavery. He had to scuttle a peace process that would have saved thousands of lives in order to achieve a larger objective.

He had to discern the core good, legal equality, among a flurry of other issues. He had to use a constant stream of words, stories, allusions and arguments to cajole people. He had to live with a crowd of supplicants forever wanting things at the door without feeling haughty or superior to them.

If anything, the movie understates how hard politics can be. The moral issue here is a relatively clean one: slavery or no slavery. Most issues are not that simple. The bill in question here is a constitutional amendment. There’s no question of changing this or that subsection and then wondering how much you’ve destroyed the whole package.

Politicians who can navigate such challenges really do emerge with the sort of impressive weight expressed in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. It’s a speech that acknowledges that there is moral ambiguity on both sides. It’s a speech in which Lincoln, in the midst of the fray, is able to take a vantage point above it, embodying a tragic and biblical perspective on human affairs. Lincoln’s wisdom emerges precisely from the fact that he’s damaged goods.

Politics doesn’t produce many Lincolns, but it does produce some impressive people, and sometimes, great results. Take a few hours from the mall. See the movie.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/23/opinion/brooks-why-we-love-politics.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121123

Is This Election A War For America’s Soul?

by Richard Crespin, Forbes, The CSR Blog, 9/21/2012 

Decoding South Park’s Lessons for Voters

What South Park & the Ancient Greeks can teach us about presidential elections

Over the Labor Day holiday, our house was overrun — I mean blessed — by the arrival of my in-laws. Conversation stayed mostly banal but suddenly turned political when my brother-in-law summed up his view of the present election as a choice between two different versions ofAmerica. Is America a place that helps me when I can’t help myself or is America a place that lets me become the person I work to become?

He’s not alone. The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll picks up this theme of two competing versions of America, drawing a distinction between “…the president’s vision of a country that emphasizes community and shared responsibility,” contrasted with a vision of “…self-reliance and individual responsibility, a distinction at the core of the debate between the Republican and Democratic tickets about the proper role of government.”

Both Mitt Romney and President Obama, inadvertently or not, underscored which version they support, with Governor Romney telling an intimate gathering of supporters that he stands with the self-reliant in opposition to those that rely on government and then State Senator Obama calling for redistribution of wealth “…to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”

How we frame this question, though, is more important than the answer, because the nature of a question dictates its answer. The question — as posed by my brother-in-law, the New York Times, and the candidates — is about a change in the absolute condition, the very definition, or soul, of America.

It’s a flawed premise, a flaw perhaps best articulated by Trey Parker and Matt Stone from the cartoon SouthPark. In their retelling of American history, they demonstrate that it is the fact that these visions compete that gives America its strength. The tempering influence of the doves allows the hawks to claim a righteous cause when going to war. Our self-reliant ethic prevents our communalism from dulling our competitive edge.

We not only need these two visions in constant conflict, we need them to continuously trade places in power. A better restatement of the question facing us in this election is which version do we need in power right now?

The temporary nature of the question makes it possible to do two things: first, concede the legitimacy of the other side during the election, and second, come together enough to make progress after it.

When we cast things in absolutes, we make it impossible to compromise. It’s the absolutist part that makes the Israeli-Palestinian question so intractable. If it was simply an argument over “land for peace,” then the matter could be put to bed quickly. Just make the trade. But if God told me that land is mine, then to compromise is to sell my soul, to betray God.

Same thing in the present election. If I’m voting about the very nature of America, then by definition no matter which side I pick, the other side must be a bunch of heretics with ideas dangerous to the soul of America. Tamping down the permanency of the question means that I’m really just choosing between which of my own instincts to give the lead at the present moment.

Looking at the question this way, the decision comes down to this: are we in a time of crisis — like the Great Depression or WWII – that requires collective action and shared sacrifice? If so, then we take one course for now and when the crisis is over, we can revert back to self-reliance and shameless pursuit of selfish interest. If not, if we simply find ourselves in a bad economic cycle, then we just need to take certain steps to kick-start growth.

Regardless of which conclusion you draw, by rephrasing the question and emphasizing the temporary nature of the decision we preserve the legitimacy of the other side and leave enough room to work together regardless of the outcome of the election.

Any one who seeks to casts these decisions in terms of absolutes should look both at the modern Middle East and the Ancient Greeks. The modern Middle East, with its tendency to rapidly degenerate any question into violence, shows what can happen when the ability to compromise disappears. The Ancient Greeks show us what happens when we overreach, trying to win too much. Greek tragedies followed the cycle of koros – hubris – ate – nemesis.

The tragic hero, having gained great power, would get greedy (koros), grow over-confident to the point of overwhelming arrogance bordering on moral blindness (hubris), go mad with power (ate), and then get brought low (nemesis). In our modern setting, I’ll pick on Karl Rove. He set out to create a “permanent Republican majority” and now we watch as the Republican party becomes a reductio ad absurdum shade of its former self: representing a smaller and smaller sliver of true believers.

I pick on Mr. Rove as an archetype. These tragic heroes exist on both sides of the aisle, pulling us into a continuing spiral of hardening absolutist positions. The only way out is by reframing the original question.

Agree with me, disagree with me. Join me at the UnConvention at the COMMIT!Forum. The party to change the world. Forbes readers save 15% when the enter ID Code FORBES12.

Transformative Ideas

Get Apocalyptic – The Case for the New Radical By Robert Jensen, YES! Magazine, posted on Alternet.org, May 28, 2013 

We May Be Wit­ness­ing the First Large Global Con­flict Where Peo­ple Are Aligned by Con­scious­ness and Not Nation State or Reli­gion By Naomi Wolf, Al Jazeera Eng­lish, Posted on AlterNet.org, Novem­ber 1, 2011 - …Suddenly, the United States looks like the rest of the furious, protesting, not-completely-free world. Indeed, most commentators have not fully grasped that a world war is occurring. But it is unlike any previous war in human history: for the first time, people around the world are not identifying and organising themselves along national or religious lines, but rather in terms of a global consciousness and demands for a peaceful life, a sustainable future, economic justice and basic democracy. Their enemy is a global “corporatocracy” that has purchased governments and legislatures, created its own armed enforcers, engaged in systemic economic fraud, and plundered treasuries and ecosystems…

A vote for the future or for the past?

5 Things to Make Large-Scale Behavior Change

Obama’s challenge: Thinking big

The Big Theories Underwriting Society Are Crashing All Around Us — Are You Ready for a New World?

2048: Humanity’s Agree­ment to Live Together — 5 Ways to Achieve World Peace and Pros­per­ity by J. Kirk Boyd, May 12, 2010

Vision: As the Amer­i­can Cap­i­tal­ist Econ­omy Craters, Promis­ing Alter­na­tives Emerge, By Gar Alper­ovitz, The Nation, May 26, 2011

A Val­ues– and Vision-Based Polit­i­cal Dream by Ben­jamin Morde­cai Ben-Baruch, Tikkun, Win­ter 2011 - We need leaders and organizers to inspire people and communities to act on their values and hopes. We need help articulating our values and vision of the ideal future. Right-wing successes have been achieved by appealing to peoples’ fears, hatreds and prejudices. But the politics of hope is stronger than politics of fear. Imagining our future based on our highest ideals can mobilize us to overcome the paralysis of fear and hatred. The politics of hope is not issue oriented, and people who share the same values and vision often disagree on the issues….[people] have been misled into believing that their freedom and empowerment resides in “free markets” and that the government is Big Brother and something to fear. They have become paralyzed by their fears. The irrationality of these fears makes us vulnerable to demagoguery. We need to go beyond issue-oriented politics and the politics of fear to a public discourse focused on articulating our vision for the ideal future and what that future would look like. We need a vision of a society without the injustices of poverty and social inequality. We need a dream…Most Americans will understand that the kind ofAmericathey want to build is quite different from that of the new Conservatives and the neo-liberals. But we need clarity. We need help articulating our values and vision. We need help exposing the contrary values and vision of the neo-liberals, clericalists, religious Right, and ultra-capitalists. We need to overcome the politics of fear. We need to go beyond issue-oriented politics. (And we need to go way beyond cyclic party and electoral politics.) We need to engage in the revolutionary politics of hope. We need to build a social movement of people inspired and mobilized to act upon hopes and dreams.

Healing or Stealing? by Paul Hawken, Commencement Address, University of Portland 2009.…you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating.…Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades…what I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world…Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world…Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power.…The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history…We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable…Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past…This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened…

The Idea That Brought Slav­ery to Its Knees by Adam Hochschild,Los Ange­les Times, Jan­u­ary 25, 2005

Gar Alperovitz’s Green Party Keynote: We Are Laying Groundwork for the “Next Great Revolution” By Amy Goodman, Democ­racy NOW! 16 July 16, 2012

The Elu­sive Big Idea by Neal Gabler, New York Times, August 13, 2011

Telling the World a ‘Big Story’: RD in Con­ver­sa­tion with Karen Arm­strong by Lau­rie Pat­ton, Reli­gion Dispatches.org, Jan­u­ary 4, 2010

The decade we didn’t see coming

Nine Ways Our World Changed During the ‘00s by Sarah van Gelder , Decem­ber 31, 2009 by YES! Magazine

A New Con­scious­ness For a World In Cri­sis by Jes­sica Roemis­cher, Enlighten­Next