Monday, February 08, 2010

Is President Obama to Blame?

I recently received an anti-Obama e-mail with a link to a video that blamed the President for our country's current and future problems. This faulty/irrational way of thinking is a gross distortion of reality because no individual is responsible for our problems, not Obama, not Bush…no one!

Instead, our problems stem from a malfunctioning political-economic system and a misdirected culture. At its very core, our society is built on a foundation of beliefs and values that promote much of the negative side of human nature. The consequence is a political-economic system that, for example:
  • Allows money from special interests to dictate the actions of Congress
  • Repeatedly fails to fix our severely broken and unsustainable healthcare system (see this link)
  • Has created an overly lop-sided wealth and power distribution—with the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans having a larger share (about 50%) of total income than ever before (reference)—made worse by a lack of fiscal rules and regulations required to constrain irresponsibility and greed
  • Has enabled certain banks to become "to big to fail"
  • Engages in wars we can't possibly win by force (including military engagements and the war on drugs)
  • Created an education system in which American students performed worse in science and math than many other industrialized countries (reference)
  • …and so on.
Bottom line is that American political-economic system just doesn't work well for the vast majority of our citizens.

What we ought to be doing to fix our problems is focusing sincerely on reforming our political-economic system into one that:
  • Forces widespread transparency
  • Aligns the ought-tos with the can-dos
  • Provides an environment where all individuals are enabled to develop their positive potential
  • Is driven by empathy and compassion (e.g., living by the "Golden Rule" ethics)
  • Stops equating personal value (the inherent "worth" of one's self/ego) with personal wealth and power over others
  • Takes a long-term, big-picture view
  • Isn't fearful of fundamental change
  • Inhibits individuals from going into politics who are focused primarily on their own personal gains (e.g., by minimizing the money-politics connection through better campaign contribution reform and limiting politicians upon leaving office from becoming well-paid lobbyists for corporations they've helped)
  • Embraces both science and spirituality. 
Also, see this link for a discussion of convergence of 3 core healthcare reform issues: American values, personal responsibility, and pragmatic solutions.

So, what's standing in the way of such reform?

I contend that the answer, in large part, comes from analyzing this quote by Howard Zinn in a recent Bill Moyer's interview (at this link): "Democracy doesn't come from the top. It comes from the bottom. Democracy is not what governments do. It's what people do… whenever the government has done anything to bring about change, it's done so only because it's been pushed and prodded by social movements, by ordinary people organizing." And this quote takes from one of Zinn's books: "If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come, if history were any guide, from the top. It would come through citizen's movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed."

So, if things are so bas for so many, why don't "we the people" demand meaningful (aka radical) change?

Well, it takes certain ways of thinking and a good deal of motivation for people to pull themselves out of despair. They must transform their life views from being overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness to feeling hopeful, capable and having a clear direction by which they can actualize/realize their potential. This is possible, but not easy.

On the one hand, we all have the inherent capacity to change the way we think about ourselves, others, our current life situation and our futures. We can gain new knowledge and skills. We have the ability to become inspired and to act in constructive ways that enable us to develop their minds and bodies, and to attain a better quality of life.

On the other hand, the negative influences of our culture tend to foster the negative side of human nature to become dominant, which inhibit such positive thinking, learning and action. These negative influences include such things as:
  • Poor education, an unsafe living environment, racial prejudice, generations of poverty, propaganda and "spin"
  • Normal human thinking limitations (e.g., short-sightedness, over-generalization, low frustration tolerance, poor attention span, wishful thinking, close-mindedness, gullibility, misdirected focus, ignorance, influence of negative emotions, etc.)
  • Corporations who hire lobbyists to get laws passed that benefit them—i.e., creating the rules in their favor by "tilting the playfield"—which is often at the expense/detriment of the general public
  • Cultural attitudes in which "money makes the man," "winning the game is what matters" and "buyer beware" trump attitudes such as "leading a virtuous life matters," "how you play the game is what's important" and "focus on giving the consumer high value." 
And instead of supporting a "give me more of the pie" philosophy (i.e., "I deserve to be given more by the government as entitlements"), our culture should be promoting a "create your own pie" philosophy by:
  • Making available quality "ingredients," e.g., access to good education/training, availability of jobs, decent and affordable healthcare, safe neighborhoods and realistic reason for hope.
  • Promoting acceptance that the best pie a person has the potential to create will not necessarily be as "tasty" as other people's pies. That is, helping people realize that it's OK for some individuals to gain greater material rewards and power than others, as long as it's acquired in a virtuous manner (i.e., through honesty, integrity, value-creation, etc.), and as long as everyone's essential needs are satisfied (e.g., good food, healthcare, education and protection). 
It's my hope that grass-roots movements around the country focused on positive change will become powerful enough to exert the force needed to counteract the political, economic and psychological pressures preventing meaningful systemic reform. This appears to be the only reasonable way to avoid the meltdown of American Democracy.
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