We live at a time of tremendous transition, when the old order has collapsed, but the illusion that the good old days will return has not died. We live at a time when compassionate responses for the less fortunate amongst us, nationally and globally, have never been so needed, and yet so lacking at all levels of governance.
The contradictions are essentially spiritual and philosophical in character; therefore their resolution must involve the spiritual and philosophical dimensions. Like never before in human history, the spiritual has become political.
I don’t mean the spiritual as defined and delimited by organized religions. They are obviously part of the problem. That’s why the word ‘spiritual’ has come to mean something different than ‘religious.’
But there is another sense of the word spiritual that’s just as delimiting, to the degree that it implies the personal, the individualistic, and the private; and excludes the collective, the civic, and the public.
Before we can consider an expanded meaning of the word spiritual however, we have to deconstruct the division between the spiritual and the political. In part, this mistaken divide is the result of the rightful separation between church and state, heretofore an important part of the American Constitution and political tradition.
But that is the lesser part of something that has become even more pernicious, the compartmentalization of different dimensions of human life into fixed categories of analysis and action. That adds to the dispiritedness of an already moribund progressive movement.
Creativity, where society is concerned, is a function of the commingling and connection between levels, domains, and peoples. The more specialized the outlook, audience, and worldview, the more removed its adherents are from the wellsprings of diversity.
Barack Obama rode into office on a wave of hope for change and transformation. Wishful thinking on the part of a spiritually battered people under Bush-Cheney met a clever con in the campaign of Barack Obama. Under his presidency those words—hope, change, and transformation—have become even more hollow, making people even more cynical than they were under George Bush.
In the wider and deeper sense of the word, that too is a spiritual issue. The spiritual has become political.
The dumbing down of the mind, numbing down of the heart, and deadening of the spirit are no longer solely or even primarily an American phenomenon. In some countries, notably and most disturbingly for the planet, China, consumerism is on the rise. But the earth has reached its limits, and in very short order ecology will determine economy.
The globalized American fetish of seeking happiness through material means, consumerism, has created a global confluence of the spiritual, ecological, economic, and political streams in human consciousness. Yet the old demarcations persist, especially the division between the spiritual and political.
To consider how the spiritual has become political, consider the heights of the campaign scam vs. the depths of the governing scum into which the incumbent president has sunk. Barack Obama wooed the Democratic base, won over most independents, and even wowed some conservatives with his soaring rhetoric of national renewal and reunification.
As soon as he got into office however, Obama treated his mandate as a campaign trick, supposedly in order to get down to the real business of governing. At the same time, Barack believed in his own powers of persuasion so much that he acted (and still acts) as though he stands above the fray and can mediate and ameliorate the egregious disparities of wealth and power in America.
Trying to lead the nation into the promised land of political compromise, Obama now comes off as obsessively trying to have it both ways. He still doesn’t get that he’s in a bare-knuckle fight with the kind of people that won’t be satisfied until they’ve re-installed their right-wing religious ideology. If that happens, the Bush era will seem like the good old days, the way the Clinton era did during the Bush disaster.
The character of the American people and culture is again in flux. The old forms still exist, and function after a fashion, but it’s as if a neutron bomb has been exploded, leaving everything externally intact but internally dead.
Pronouncing the death, and articulating a new, non-hierarchical, non-hegemonic, non-centralized-power vision and social compact in a globalized world is at once a spiritual matter requiring political expression, and a political matter requiring spiritual expression.