During the most recent pre-election campaign months this past summer and autumn, I experienced much grief, frustration, and anger as I observed the dance of the politicians. Often I exclaimed, “It's the blind leading the blind!” As with almost every election (federal, state, and local) in the last two decades, I seriously considered not voting at all, but, as usual, I voted. One of my biggest frustrations with this last election was that the major candidates focused on war and didn't address that issue, or any other issue for that matter, very deeply. I agree with Chris Hedges, a war correspondent for more than two decades who has been present in conflicts all over the world, when he stated that:
…the election became about war as glorious enterprise—war as reporting for duty, war as noble, war as a test of manhood and courage. And while physical courage is often on very impressive display in war, you almost never see moral courage, which is very different, because it requires standing up to the crowd—often opposing those around you—and in that opposition being shunted aside.1
Before and since the last election, I have had many passionate and heated discussions with friends and family, and what we all end up agreeing upon is that the world is a mess. The problems are so vast that we feel compassion for most any leader on any level of government—city, county, state, and federal—and realize that it would take individuals with extraordinary intellect, experience, wisdom, and moral courage to even begin to address the numerous problems that are inherited by any politician.
I realize that the word politician has negative connotations for many, including me, but in this text I am using it to stipulate any individual who is actively engaged (or desires to be) in the running of a government. With this very general definition, politicians come in all sizes and shapes of morality and immorality. It is the responsibility of those of us in the electorate to determine which politicians are true statespersons and which are not. I use the term statesperson to specify an individual who exercises political leadership wisely and without narrow partisanship.
Over the years I have observed in my perusal of the media that all over the world—in every country, in every religion, in every culture—there are politicians who are low-down slime-bags, there are politicians who are statespersons, and there are those who may have good intentions, but who don't have the experiential, intellectual, and spiritual ability to be true statespersons, or they are in a system that is so dysfunctional and corrupt that they are unable to do much in the short period of time they are in office. Unfortunately, among politicians there is a grave paucity of statespersons and an almost equal distribution between the slime-bags and the good-intentioned but, unfortunately, victims of a selfish system that allows those with evil intentions to wield their power in politics.
Do I sound radical? Well, maybe I am a little. I don't want to over-simplify very complex, multi-layered issues, but in order to make some points I have to do some simplifying and generalizing.
Parker Palmer—writer, teacher, senior associate of the American Association of Higher Education, and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute—writes of elected and appointed politicians who “had gone into government animated by an ethic of public service” but who very quickly began to experience “painful conflicts between their values and power politics.”2 Being divided between a deep sense of moral ethics and political instincts is not only found in politics, but in all areas of society—business, education, science, medicine, entertainment, the arts, and religion (just to name a few). The grave problem is that in order to survive, all too often individuals—with a sense of morality and compassion, with a desire to serve others through a political position—have to compromise their higher ideals and sense of rightness in order to stay in their positions of influence.
The Business of Living
in a Corporate-run World
In a world where most societies and nations are built upon a foundation of multinational corporate control (or, at the least, powerful corporate influence), the underlying motive for most decisions is profit—regardless of the costs to society and the environment. In 1864 Abraham Lincoln prophesied that “corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow…until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed.”3 That was 141 years ago!
In an article entitled “This One Simple Reform Would Change the Whole World,”4 Jurriaan Kamp states: “The corporation, a business firm with shareholders, is without a doubt the engine of modern capitalism.” Kamp goes on to give a brief history of the formulation of corporations, which started in the sixteenth century, and their growth into what they are today. The first multi-national corporation that formulated limited liability (in the early 1600s) was Holland's Veerenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), better known as the Dutch East Indies Company.
Limited liability, which is firmly fixed in the legal system today, detaches a company's ownership and management from holding moral and social responsibility for any mishaps by limiting the risk of losing more than their initial financial investment. The laws formed over the centuries to protect business interests now provide opportunities for profit at all costs—costs to the consumers and society at large. So, as is pointed out in “This One Simple Reform Would Change the Whole World,” today a selfish company (and most are) can focus on getting the most profit regardless of the social costs. And that kind of behavior from companies is accepted as status quo, as normal and acceptable!
Currently laws allow a company—which is ultimately a group of people who jointly work to get something done—to carry out an absurd, inhuman decision that each of those involved would never get away with in his or her private life….An individual who consciously does harm to another runs the risk of landing in jail. But if a corporation causes the same damage, the consequences are minimal….Society, the general public, is left with the damages and the company simply continues with its activities under new management.5
Though a few of the numerous corporate crimes have been exposed over the decades, it has not caused enough public outrage to elicit serious changes in the laws or the political system. Why? Because, frankly, the “era of corruption in high places” that Abraham Lincoln warned about a century and a half ago is very much of a reality in most nations. All aspects of society (including religion), especially in Western civilization, are now rooted in corporate influence, which is mostly profit-at-all-costs-motivated. So, these materialistic values that rule most businesses rule the consciousness of most people.
Corporate corruption is inter-related with corruption in every other area of society—personal, political, legal, religious, medical, and so on. Unethical business values permeate all areas of Western civilization.
I'm not implying here that business or capitalism or profit in and of themselves are evil or wrong, but they are wrong when money is made immorally, without ethics, at the expense of individuals and society. Even more horrifying is that immoral and unethical practices are considered acceptable and even legal, just part of the “way things are.”
The Disease of Self
The conclusion that individuals with spiritized (not necessarily religious) minds come to is that most problems in our world come from selfishness, on a personal level as well as on all societal levels. I realize that sounds too simple for a multi-layered, complex, highly technical dominant society, but sometimes, in order to get to the root of those numerous, overwhelming problems, going to the very basic foundation of what something is built upon is the beginning of moving towards real, deep problem-solving. Let's face it, we live in a profit-motivated, selfish civilization that, frankly, strongly influences the rest of the world, and, in reality, controls most of what goes on in the world. Yes, yes, there are individuals, groups, organizations, and facets of government whose motives are less selfish and based more on service for the betterment of all of humankind, but they don't seem to rule the world, not yet anyway. And of course there are businesses and corporations that contribute much to the well-being of individuals and civilization, and there are those who indeed use money as a tool for improving the lives of others. But, as long as laws are formed and implemented that protect people in “high places” of power from having to be morally and socially responsible, personal and societal corruption will just become more entrenched in the consciousness of most people, for selfishness (with all of its manifestations) will be the accepted norm.
The United States of America was founded on certain “inalienable rights,” including the right for individuals to pursue happiness. Unfortunately, without spiritized values that align with divine pattern, the perusal of happiness can become selfish—absorbed with self, not balanced with a sense of responsibility and service towards others. Michael Nagler, Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Berkley and author of The Search for a Nonviolent Future, has this to say about U.S. society:
American culture, overwhelmingly that of the commercial mass media, creates in millions of people a self-centered, materialistic worldview, which in turn strongly supports a totalitarian politics. Egocentric politicians appeal to the egotism in each of us. When that egotism is inflated, narcissistic “leaders” (they are really more like mass followers) come strongly to power.6
The URANTIA Book indicates that most problems that plague individuals and groups of people stem from not distinguishing between true and false liberty. “True liberty is the associate of genuine self-respect; false liberty is the consort of self-admiration.”7 Having self-respect is very different from self-admiration (being self-absorbed and selfish). One comes from the spirit within and the other comes from the ego; one takes into consideration the well-being of others and the other is only concerned for one's own comfort and satisfaction, regardless of the impact on others.
In that section about true and false liberty in The URANTIA Book we are strongly admonished:
There is no error greater than that species of self-deception which leads intelligent beings to crave the exercise of power over other beings for the purpose of depriving these persons of their natural liberties. The golden rule of human fairness cries out against all such fraud, unfairness, selfishness, and unrighteousness. Only true and genuine liberty is compatible with the reign of love and the ministry of mercy.8
Gregg Krech, author, therapist, and cofounder of the ToDo Institute, states:
If you look at the conflicts in the world today from a Naikan perspective [a form of Japanese spiritual reflection]—specifically the conflicts where the United States is involved—you would begin to understand why people in other countries would have the attitude they do toward the U.S. When we begin to ask, “What troubles and difficulties have we caused others?” there's an opening for compassion toward people who hate us, who are fighting against us. The answers for our global situation are the same as the answers for our personal situations. We have to be able to get beyond this intense self-absorption and self-focus….Do we really want 290 million self-absorbed people preoccupied with personal happiness? Can we really build a healthy society based on everybody being self-focused?9
Some good questions Mr. Krech asks. Considering the weapons of mass destruction at our disposal, I think that we all better be looking towards peaceful means for solving our worldwide problems. I think we better move out of our selfish, nationalistic thinking and into a more compassionate, global consciousness, seeing ourselves as members of a planetary family of God rather than limiting our identities as Americans or Christians; Iraqis or Muslims; etc. etc. etc. No crusades for the twenty-first century or we human beings may just end up wiping out all of life with our technical warfare! Here's some advice from a celestial personality more highly evolved than us humans:
Sister-/brotherhood is impossible on a world whose inhabitants are so primitive that they fail to recognize the folly of unmitigated selfishness. There must occur an exchange of national and racial literature. Each race must become familiar with the thought of all races; each nation must know the feelings of all nations. Ignorance breeds suspicion, and suspicion is incompatible with the essential attitude of sympathy and love.10
Remember my reference to statespersons—persons who exercise political leadership wisely and without narrow partisanship? The URANTIA Book tells us that “no state [nation] can transcend the moral values of its citizenry as exemplified in their chosen leaders. Ignorance and selfishness will insure the downfall of even the highest type of government.” Hmmm. How about this: “The survival of democracy is dependent on successful representative government; and that is conditioned upon the practice of electing to public offices only those individuals who are technically trained, intellectually competent, socially loyal, and morally fit.”11
I think that in order to really begin to address the multitude of problems that plague our world and our private lives, we need to rethink our values and transform ourselves into individuals and cultures with a sense of moral and social responsibility, a sense of spiritized ethics that is applied in all facets of our living. Let us embrace a principle that has been around for some time, a principle credited to the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy tradition known as The Great Law of Peace. Now let us put our minds together to see what kind of world we can create for the seventh generation yet unborn.
1 “Love and Resistance in Wartime.” Sarah Ruth Van Gelden interviews Chris Hedges. Yes!, Winter 2005, p. 20. See also “Watcha Readin'?” column in Alternative Voice (this issue).
2 “A Life Well Lived” by Parker Palmer. Yes!, Winter 2005, pp. 33-36.
3 “This One Simple Reform Would Change the Whole World” by Jurriaan Kamp. Ode, Vol. 3, Issue 1, Jan./Feb. 2005, p. 41. See also “Whatcha Readin'?” column in Alternative Voice (this issue).
4 Ibid., pp. 38-43.
5 Ibid., pp. 38-39.
6 “Hope in Really Dark Times” by Michael Negler. Tikkun, Nov./Dec. 2004, p. 48.
7 The URANTIA Book, p. 614.
9 “Many Thanks. Gregg Krech on the Revolutionary Practice of Gratitude” by Angela Winter. The Sun, Issue 348, December 2004, pp. 12-13.
10 The URANTIA Book, p. 597.
11 Ibid., pp. 803 & 802.
Niánn Emerson Chase