Friday, October 3, 2008

Presidential Candidates and Social Transformation

An anti-abortion Catholic friend is agonizing over her vote. McCain/Palin, of course, toe the Church's line on this issue, but she finds their militarism repulsive and she can't quite bring herself—yet, anyhow—to vote for the pro-abortion Obama/Biden ticket.

After some discussion I ended up with a question: how is it that anyone would believe that McCain and Palin are in any substantial way superior to Obama and Biden? McCain is a vet who doesn't seem to have recovered from PTSD. He is impulsive and ignorant of important issues. He is too old for the job—if he wins a second term he will be 80 at the end of it. There is a good chance of McCain dying or being disabled in office. Palin seems to be a charming narcissistic fanatic. She is deeply ignorant of governance. It's not clear she really believes anything she professes—she may just be interested in power. She has strong associations with the authoritarian, revolutionary, Christian Dominionist Alaskan Independence Party. Obama, on the other hand, is a well-educated politician, who has been studying for political leadership all his life. A greatly charismatic man, he wants the job and is willing to make great efforts to prepare for it. Biden is an experienced Democratic senator with a decent conservative record.

Looked at in this way it's clear who the superior choices for the office are. McCain and Palin are not, in any meaningful sense, "pro-life"—regardless of their anti-abortion stands, their careers would bring such great human misery as to wipe out any good that would do, even if one takes the view that all fetuses are people. Similarly a strongly pro-gun friend desperately defends them, and yet, while in a McCain/Palin administration they might keep their firearms, the attack on civil rights we have seen under Bush/Cheney would continue—we have never before had an administration making barefaced arguments in defense of torture—, and that friend might, in the end, even lose his guns.

A lot of effort has been spent on making people like my friends so concerned and scared about particular single issues that they forget the whole, like someone who lets their panic fear of falling lead them to die in a fire rather than making a safe jump from a window. If the anti-abortion people are right, abortion is a great wrong. But regardless of the candidates stands on that issue, even should they succeed in outlawing abortion, as elected officials that will not be most of their work. The President does not spend most of their time on moral issues. Nor, really, would we want a President to; we are electing a head of state and a chief executive, not a high priest. But people who latch on to single hot-button issues are made to forget this. The how of this is, I regret to say, very well understood—if you have mass media it is depressingly easy to create mass panic. If only we knew as well how to allay fears and give people courage! It is one of Obama's great virtues that he does seem to know something about this and to actually want to do it. But I want to write about the why, for a moment.

Focusing on panicking people and electing poor leaders is the nuclear option of civil society—it can take generations to pick up the pieces. The basis of this, apart from greed and power-lust, is intellectual rigidity. It is difficult for me to draw any conclusion other than that we are in need of vast transformations in our institutions and philosophies. Deep time, deep space, evolution, ecology—these things were not even dreamt of when the ideas our reactionaries rely on were formed. If there is to be a human future, we must begin to think about them as the basis of our social ethics. If we are to have a future, therefore, the institutions that refuse to respond to them must either change their ideas, or fade into insignificance.

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