Thursday, August 13, 2009

Apolitical Politics

A friend asked me today whether I talk about politics to be right or to discuss. It was (and is) an astute questions. Upon reflection I think my answer is "neither." Let me attempt to explain:

I was quite worked up today, really as a byproduct of some stressful and unexpected curves in an otherwise straightforward afternoon, and listening to coverage of the current health care debate in the US did not help things at all. In reality, I suppose I am more upset that people cannot act civilly with one another, but instead create a partisan mess out of what should be an important discussion. It seems no one within the US political spectrum finds it helpful to engage in honest, realistic discourse. Both sides appear determined to keep their illusions at the forefront of media coverage, most likely because the public has made it abundantly clear that we too care little about real issues, only those shouting points aimed at the sections of our brain governing compassion, fear, and (most importantly) self preservation.

I believe that I would like to establish the what well before we move into discussion of the how. I would like to affirm the importance of every human life and the desire that every human life be cared for and maintained with all dignity and respect. Furthermore it is important to affirm the communal responsibility we play in caring for the whole of humanity. Obviously, this is an idealistic goal.

Often I wish that we could return to a life of subsistence, in which we grew our own food, made our own clothes and relied solely on ourselves for our livelihood and daily needs. However, when I indulge in this romanticism, I am starkly reminded that this image of simple utopia is not something that ever existed and thus not something to which we can return. We, as human beings (and probably before we were human beings), have always relied on each other; we are not inherently an individualistic people, nor an individualistic society. We must interact and we must rely on each other, as much as that feels dangerous and unsure to us.

At some point, the discussion of health care must inevitably move to one of pragmatics and there a robust debate is not only warranted, but necessary. I am just not sure the discussion is ready to be had; at least it appears that way, judging from the actions of those most involved. Nevertheless, it appears something will need to be done. No one likes the status quo all that much.

During the 2008 US Presidential election I came to the realization that I could not support any candidate for President (I believe there is a blog post earlier about that struggle), but I was very certain that I preferred some candidates over others. I was much happier to discuss specific issues and how I might prefer them to be handled, allowing others to judge for themselves which imperfect candidate they thought would come closest to their ideals. At this point it feels very similar in discussing health care reform proposals; it seems everyone has some idea for implementation, but none of them seem all that great. I do agree that something should be done; at this point I feel like doing something is better than doing nothing. Still, I would prefer to discuss why health care is an important issue and why it should have the seriousness and attention I long for it to have.

In the end, however, I am not afraid of the proposed reforms in the same way I was unafraid of who might emerge from the 2008 election as "the most powerful human being on the planet." In the end I do not place any faith in human endeavor to solve the problems of the world. Our combined efforts can do mighty things; we can move mountains, change the course of rivers, feed and clothe millions, and we can also destroy cities, ecosystems, families, and lives. Our actions have consequences, but none that will bring ultimate finality to anything. No matter what legislation we enact on any topic under the sun, life will go on and we will continue to have to deal with one another.

I would prefer to focus my time and efforts on exploring the assumptions I bring to those interactions and the values to which I am driven by those assumptions.

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