Thursday, February 24, 2011

Government is not the solution...but it's not the problem either--Part II

So much has happened since I post part I that I almost thought about just going directly to the effort to undo decades of state and national legislation securing the right of labor to organize. However, I really want to get down some thoughts about why government is certainly not the problem but unfortunately it is not a sufficient solution to our problems either. I say this is unfortunate because it would be wonderful if the solutions could be found in legislation, regulations, rules, and policies. This would be wonderful because it would mean that the solutions to our problems were "out there" somewhere and not within our own selves. Unfortunately, as Pogo famously observed, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Appropriately Walt Kelly used these words for the first time on a poster for Earth Day 1970.

Sadly we are the enemy or the problem. Americans are caught within a spiral of addictive self indulgence. This is especially true for those of us who have the discretionary resources to feed this addiction but it also ravages the values and ideals of those who do not have enough but are compelled to seek more and more. If we view this in political terms, it can often become a question of who gives up their addictions first? If we could all given them together and at the same time, then no one would gain an advantage. But such concerted, communitarian action seems almost impossible short of some dramatic developments that force us to. Oil at $150 barrel might do the trick. But our experience is that this only works as long as the price of oil is high. Once it moderates, we seem to go back to all our old behaviors. Interest in hybrid cars tracks pretty closely with the price of gasoline.

The only possible answer is a conversion of values that is not dependent on external forces. Religious thought and behavior is typically the seedbed for such developments. Unfortunately most religious thought in contemporary America seems to have been co-opted by the religious right and thus focus on certain litmus tests of personal morals and ethics.

It is interesting to note that while St. Paul uses "sin" more than 45 times in the Epistle to the Romans, he uses "sins" only a handful of times. The challenge for the Christians to whom Paul wrote was not the challenge of personal morals--these, of course, are important--but rather the challenge of living a Christian life in the midst of a social-political-economic structure that he characterized as "sin" also known as the Roman Empire or the Pax Romana if you were a Roman.

If we take that insight out of a religious context, the problem for 21st century Americans becomes distressingly clear. How do we lives a full human life within an enslaving systems of consumption without falling prey to addictive self indulgence and thus perpetuating the very system which enslaves us? Coming to terms with this formulation of the problem and then living our way through it holds the only possible answer to our current mess. It seems unlikely that any politician can help us through this.