We Live In A Political World
The world is being transformed – and we notice that sometimes! When we do, we may become alarmed. On the other hand, we may also seek to detach ourselves, and to insulate ourselves from the overwhelming reality that the world we inhabit is unreliable. Things could go seriously wrong!
In the “good old days,” the General Electric Company advertised itself with the slogan “progress is our most important product.” Today, not too many of us think that some sort of inevitable “progress” is now life’s inevitable gift. Environmental degradation is getting worse. In fact, it’s life threatening. Economic inequality is growing, not shrinking. The President of the United States has declared a war on “terror,” and now the whole world is a battlefield, and we are the combatants! Our privacy and our individual freedoms are under assault in this new global “war.” What the heck are we going to do about it?
If ever there were a time when individuals could assume that things would “take care of themselves,” and that they could pursue their individual lives without assuming a responsibility for the overall shape of the world and society they inhabit, that time has past. Bob Dylan fans may know his song “Political World,” which is not very complimentary to the world of politics, but that does diagnose a reality of our time: “We live in a political world.” We live in a world that we are creating through our collective human action (which is something different from the sum of all of our individual actions added up).
We don’t have to like the shape of this brave new world, but that is our situation. We all play Hamlet now: “The time is out of joint, O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right.”
What’s the prescription for the “political” problem we confront? I’m tempted to claim, with Freud, that there is a “talking cure.” The reason for our commitment to “free speech” isn’t that we want everyone to celebrate his or her own individual brilliance. As we enter into conversations about our collective situation, and particularly as we formalize these conversations in the debate and discussion that is the main business of politics, our shared exchanges can outline various paths forward – and then we can choose. We can choose, and we can act. And we can change the world! That really is the essence of citizenship in the United States of America. All are welcome in this “nation of immigrants,” because we need diversity in the debate about what we can and must do, as we forge our future.
While we live ultimately in the World of Nature, which supports all life, and the integrity of which we undermine at our great peril, we live most immediately in a human-created world. The future of our “human” world will be effected, of course, by our individual actions, but will be most clearly shaped by our joint efforts.