President Obama said in his 2012 victory speech that “we are not as divided as our politics suggests”. He also argued that we are more united than our politics makes us think we are. Finally, he hinted that we are more diverse than our politics suggests. All of these are important truths.
However, President Obama failed to take the next step, the step that would make all the difference in the world, the step we must make through which we come to recognize how changing our political system will enable us to creatively use both our diversity and our common ground to generate public wisdom.
It is painful to watch the thrashings and lurchings of our quasi-democratic country, particularly during the spectacle of a presidential election. Our political system takes our vast diversity and, with tremendous verbal and ideological violence, mashes it down into two opposing forces. At the same time, it splits our vast common ground and fences it off to separate and solidify those two opposing armies.
After all, it is far easier to win a victorious majority if there are only two options, two sides, two ways of looking at the world. If there are three – or, heaven help us, thousands – winning a majority suddenly seems impossible to achieve.
Yet those two options, those two sides, those two worldviews are false – always. The passionate dichotomies that seems so solid to us as the warlike electoral fervor grows are mirages, hallucinations, cloud shadows. The categorical flags around which we rally, the castle boxes into which we gather in solidarity are simply not real; they do not stand up to close scrutiny, any more than the generalizations of racism and sexism do. They seduce us into the thrall of potent and degrading oversimplifications of who we are and how we think and feel and what is really possible for us as a people, as a community, as a world. They are prisons masquerading as knowledge and power.
Puppeteers pick up these cords of division – these dis-cords firmly rooted in our minds, our fears and our longings – and move us to take up our positions for battle, oblivious to the vast expanse of possibilities in, among and around us all and to prepare ourselves to trample them into the embattled mud.
To say that our country is of two opposing minds is to doom us to strife and to squandering the magnificent riches of our diversity and our deep commonality.
Used maliciously, our diversity divides us. Used poorly, our diversity confuses us. Used well, our diversity pours forth grist for the mill of dialogue, wisdom and possibility – a mill that rests on our common ground and turns our lives in the direction of our common destiny.
It is time to change the systems that impoverish us, that hide and suppress the true abundance that we are and that we can make together. It is time to
- temper the power of money in politics, economics and governance – with campaign finance reform, regulation and taxation of speculative financial transactions, sharing and gifting, crowdfunding, the maker movement, alternative economic indicators, and more…
- expand the role of nature and the future in politics, economics, and technology – with public benefit corporations, the precautionary principle, renewable energy, permaculture, biomimicry, Seventh Generation rights, natural capital, empowerment of women and youth, scenario work, and more…
- bring greater choice, integrity, and wisdom to the electoral process – with full universal suffrage; instant runoff voting (aka preference voting); voter-verified paper trails; citizen panels (like the Citizen Initiative Review*) that review candidates, initiatives, and political advertising; and more…
- use the tools we need to hear and see ourselves and each other for who we really are, and reality for what it is – with quality dialogue and deliberation*, transpartisan initiatives*, evolutionary psychology, nonviolent communication*, meditation, science, systems thinking, and more…
- nurture self-governance at all levels – with citizen deliberative councils generating an authentic voice of the whole*; peer-to-peer networks generating mutual benefits and collaborations; World Cafes and Open Space “unconferences” generating vibrantly self-organizing communities*; subsidiarity placing functions at the lowest level where they will be successfully performed; and more…
- create distributed infrastructure for positive responses to disturbance and crisis – with conversations*, games, social capital, stories*, networks, redundancy, localization, possibility journalism, positive deviance, evolutionary perspective*, choice-creating process*, and more….
You may be unfamiliar with some of the things on this list. If so, look them up. You may know additional initiatives that could transform our systems of politics, governance, and economics and the cultural worldviews that underlie them. If so, share them as comments to this blog post.
The point is that we in the US have just been through one more terribly wasteful and frustrating electoral exercise. And after all the angst and treasure have been spent, we find ourselves in pretty much the same state we were in before it started. In a few years we will repeat this futile, draining exercise, and repeat it again, and again, and again. And each time, major minority populations will be distraught over the results and set to work to undermine the winners – which they will someday do, virtually inevitably, as the political pendulum swings.
Meanwhile, the crucial issues of our age will flounder in the soundbites and competitive gaming, about as far from wise solutions as Alpha Centauri is from Manhattan.
I invite you to consider the folly of this. I invite you to consider how it could change if we chose to focus on transforming the systems through which we make our collective decisions on issues, policies, candidates, budgets, individual and community choices…
Truly, some issues are too vital and dangerous to delay any further. I invite you to consider that, for that very reason, it might be wise to set aside most issues for the moment – even those incredibly major ones, even a bit – to focus on changing the systems that make it so hard to handle ANY issue well. If we don’t, these urgent issues will NEVER be handled properly.
And if we do, we will have a wise democracy and a civilization that just might be able to sustain itself with considerable verve and meaningful abundance.
* The starred items above are where I’ve been focusing my own work for the last two decades. However, I believe in the importance of all of the items on those lists. From my perspective, the strategic litmus test for systems change is this:
Will this approach or initiative change the way things are set up in our society so that we have a far better chance of generating wisdom and well-being and much less likelihood of automatically generating suffering and destruction?
Our challenge is to shift our attention from the suffering and destruction (which pull so powerfully at our consciences) to the systems that cause that suffering and destruction (which are largely invisible if we don’t know how to see them). We just need to realize how hopeless it is if we don’t make that shift, and how incredibly hopeful it is if we do…