"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Real Change

David Michael Green's recent article "How to Squander the Presidency in One Year" portrayed Obama as follows: "It's almost as if he were a Republican sleeper politician in some party politics version of the Manchurian Candidate, planted to arise on cue and destroy the Democratic Party from within."

The truth is that there was no need for a Manchurian candidate - the Democratic Party had already been destroyed from within. We voted for Obama because we wanted to believe that the possibilities that once seemed so real were still alive. Obama skillfully packaged this longing while being savvy enough to know whom he actually served. We progressives, on the other hand, chose to cling to our illusions that genuine social change was possible under the current power structure and the shattering of our illusions accounts for the bitterness of DMG's articles.

I also agree with the likelihood of his future scenario. It feels like we're locked in our seats on a train flying like a bullet toward a new age of slavery and superstition. If the only political options were the ones recognized by the American political system, then perhaps the despair shown by DMG would be justified. But I don't believe it is.

There are alternative political possibilities, but to realize them the first step is to abandon the obsessive focus on Obama. DMG says he no longer cares about Obama, but he obviously does or else he wouldn't blame the failure of an entire political system on him. The roots of this crisis go a lot deeper than the lack of leadership of one man, even the President.

The assumption seems to be that the American system is not so sick that one man in the right position of power could change it. Unfortunately, it is, but we'll never get a chance to truly test out the theory because the system is set up so that such a man or woman could never get close to the Presidency.

The focus on the failures of the Democratic Party masks a continued faith in the American system. Some of us believe that the American people are great enough to reinvent their system of government and that is exactly what's currently needed: to recognize that the system of government founded 200 years ago was flawed in ways that can no longer be fixed and to accept the challenge of creating a new system of government based on fulfilling human needs and recreating a flourishing human and natural ecology.

Before we can understand what needs to be done to achieve this new government, we need to analyze the roots of our current impotent political psychology. In the words of Paulo Friere, "The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibility. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion." - Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

In other words, the root of our passivity is our internalization of the oppressor. The media constantly paints images on our imagination with the colors of power, beauty, wealth and happiness, but these images are images of oppression. They represent a psychological infiltration that plants the oppressor within us, with whom we wish to identify because it is the only image we have of powerful and free human existence. We want to be like the dominator because of our longing to live according the standards of real humanity which we secretly nourish behind a facade of resigned cynicism.

But as Friere says, "Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift." Alienated forms of religion often play their traditional role here, promising a magical solution to our longing for a life suited to our actual human capabilities, virtually all of which are wasted by a social system blind to anything but exchange value. By promising such a life in the afterworld, these religions endorse the reign of the current order. They teach us that we must accept this world with all its injustices. Though we may add a ray of hope here and there, the message is "Here we have no abiding home. We are sojourners in this world of darkness, citizens of a heavenly world that will one day sweep this one away ..."

Thus the order of oppression is blessed by God who encourages us to flee this world and all its wiles. But something in our conscience can't let us rest in this cowardly heaven. Something tells us that real humanity doesn't close its eyes in the face of human suffering and flee into imaginary solace. Real humanity has something to do with struggling toward freedom, but the only culturally acceptable images of freedom are those of wealth and power. So we consent internally to the oppressor within and seek to realize our humanity in the only socially acceptable way.

So the path to freedom begins with taking a risk for freedom. That begins the process of building the psychological resilience necessary for freedom. Taking a risk means speaking up for justice when you fear that those you are speaking to will treat you as a fanatic or a fool. You can already hear their cynical laughter, but you speak anyway, not afraid of losing their esteem. It means speaking up for the insights and moral beauties that you have been given the privilege to witness in yourself or others. It means accepting the silence of those who wish to continue in their cynical acceptance of the "real world" which has no place for your insights.

You know that you are moving toward freedom when you can say with Gandhi "Truth is God" and you can serve him even in total solitude, perhaps all the way to death.

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