I sometimes hear progressives saying “It’s time for us to get angry; it worked for the Tea Party.” It also defines the Tea Party, and is among the reasons I oppose the Tea Party. I’m not saying that there’s never cause for anger; I’m saying that it should never be allowed to define us.
Instead, we should define ourselves first, and act in the world in service to that ideal, rather than allow ourselves to be defined by our frustrations, by some negative reaction to the world around us. Let others be the chest-thumping mindless apes. Someone has to strive to be the sentient beings, who lead the way toward something better.
What does it take to be sentient beings? A commitment, a desire, a discipline, an endless hunger to grow and aspire and invite and attract others to do the same. Let others thrive on their calls to arms; let’s instead engage in a call to minds. Let’s instead engage in a call to hearts. Let’s instead engage in a call to souls. We have called enough to our baser nature; it’s time to call to our nobler one.
This may be getting repetitive, and for that I apologize. I enjoy, more than anything, to tease out some hidden insight, some novel perspective, some aspect of the dance of nature around and through us that is not obvious, but is worthy of attention. But some things are less delicate, less unfamiliar, but no less worthy of attention for being mundane.
One such thing is our need to move, in as organized and passionate a manner as possible, in the direction of becoming advocates for a discipline that can be more effective, on multiple dimensions, than the sham of activism in which we are, in general, now engaged.
Some may recognize that this isn’t the first time I’ve referred to social institutional shams. I used the phrase “Kabuki Theater” not long ago to describe professional development workshops in public education, which are largely rituals of signifying a commitment to doing better rather than engaging in the actual discipline of doing better. But it is not a defect relegated only to ossified bureaucracies; it is a defect also found in our most passionate social institutional rites. No, the faces are not impassive in the shams of activism, but the results are as hollow.
WE ARE ABLE TO DO BETTER!!!! I can’t emphasize that enough, or often enough. We can do better. Just as for millenia humanity exercised the power of the mind through the haphazard accumulation of cultural belief systems, finally stumbling upon a methodology that unleashed its powers in phenomenal new ways; just as there was a time when trials by ordeal were all the rage, giving way to systems of law whose procedural discipline seems excessive to those who don’t realize what a triumph it really is; so too can we do better in every sphere of life, in every aspect of our endeavors.
The value of discipline, of methodology, of procedure, is not a new discovery; it has been a hallmark of spiritual and philosophical schools throughout history. The quest for nirvana may seem trite today, but it is no less compelling, no less authentic, than it was two and a half thousand years ago. It is, in essence, some shade of nirvana that we seek, some spiritual success realized through our own ability to tame our egos and realize our full potential in the process.
We do not necessarily have to sit in the lotus position and chant “om mani padme hum” to be, in essence, exercising a discipline that liberates the human spirit. We can, instead, escape the illusion of activism that is blindly invested in a superficial cycle, the endless trials by ordeal, of changing leadership and representation, and embrace in its place the realization of an activism that is more profound, more effective, and more compelling.
I have already sketched out what that discipline looks like (see, e.g., A Proposal, The Ultimate Political Challenge, The Voice Beyond Extremes, The Foundational Progressive Agenda, “A Theory of Justice”, The Battle of Good v. Evil, Within & Without, The Battle of Good v. Evil, Part 2, and “Messaging” From The Heart of Many Rather Than The Mouth of Few). But words are cheap, and acting on them is essential. To those who are already involved in this effort (e.g., “the coffee party”), let’s form bridges among our groups, form new groups, draw in new members, link to groups that are somewhat different in nature (e.g., Kiwanas,Rotary, church groups, HOAs, PTAs, park districts, school districts, everyone who is organized to do good works of any kind), trying to transcend rather than deepen the ideological divides, trying to create common ground rather than merely to smite enemies (and by doing so ensure that they remain enemies), building more hubs and spokes in expanding social networks all coalescing around the will to do better.
There are those who are quick to say that the opposition is not reasonable, and that trying to reason with them is the mistake that they are so angry about. And I say, the world is subtler than that. I do not argue that there is no place for hardball politics; I only argue that not every place is that place. I do not argue that there are not irrational and intransigent ideologues opposed to progress; I only argue that not everyone across the ideological divide is such a person. The real political battle has always been, and remains, the battle over the middle, over those who are not raging ideologues, over those who can be swayed. Such people are not swayed, but rather are repulsed, by raging ideology. While the Tea Party may seem to have been successful by trying to sway them with contorted faces and angry slogans, what they really did was to coalesce a base, and alienate the middle, at exactly the same time that many on the left thought that the smartest thing to do would be to alienate the middle as well, and thus lose the opportunity to be the only attractive political force left.
Obama won not because there was a huge mandate for expansive government, but rather because there was a huge mandate for hope and reason. Not everyone defines those virtues in the same way, and not everyone stayed on board as the policies themselves involved more government involvement than they were comfortable with. But hope and reason, not rage, are the truly attractive forces, the ones that attract not those who are already full of rage, but rather those who are not and don’t want to be.
So let’s recover that force, that momentum, that Obama unleashed in 2008. Let’s recover a commitment to hope and reason. Let’s agree to be slower to refute and quicker to consider; let’s agree to strive to find the words and attitude that resonate with those who can be swayed. Let’s agree to be reasonable, and humble, people of goodwill, working together to do the best we can. And let’s make that an attractive place to be. Real, and sustainable, progress depends on it.
Contact me, here or by other channels, if you’d like to be a part of an effort to organize along these lines. All reasonable people of goodwill have a responsibility to work as hard at turning this vision into a reality as others, all across the political spectrum, work at obstructing it.