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Hawthorn Hill

December 19, 2011

Up on Hawthorn Hill: Irony abounds

These are querulous times. Dissent and disagreement, as uncomfortable as they sometimes are, are essential components of a viable democracy. Democracies are always messy because everyone has a right to speak his mind and because whenever a majority is able to gain the numerical upper hand it pretty much runs the show. Several political philosophers have written quite persuasively of what they characterize as the “tyranny of the majority.” Get enough people on your side and you have the opportunity to get your way so long as you are able to maintain power. I suspect that most thoughtful people would agree that wisdom is hard to come by.

At least, I hope so. It is the hard fought achievement of a lifetime. And yet we seem content to arrogate to the numerical majorities powers they are often ill prepared to exercise.

I am not suggesting that we should toss in the democratic towel. As imperfect as it is, it is a system worth fighting for. But that does not mean we must necessarily, out of blind faith in its innate integrity, fail to make the types of systemic changes that would both strengthen it and ensure that everyone is more fairly represented in the decisionmaking process. The notion that merely having more people sitting at your table than the other guy somehow grants you the ability to make decisions affecting us all is, well, just plain silly. A majority that acts unwisely is no different from a mob that takes to the streets to loot and pillage in the name of a dissatisfaction that requires thoughtful discourse, and often compromise, for its solution. There may be security in numbers, but wisdom has never been known to cave in to mob psychology.

Significant change of the sort I am alluding to will  only come about in the wakeof a national paradigm shift.

Thus far our unwillingness as a culture to consider the greater good when making decisions has contributed significantly to the bind we now find ourselves in.

The current situation in Washington is a prime example. Each side sees itself as somehow occupying the moral high ground.

Meanwhile, compelling national exigencies remain hostage to a level of egomaniacal and ideological intransigence of staggering vehemence.

The issue of climate change is a vivid example of the sort of hidebound lunacy that characterizes our political discourse. I am tired of hearing politicians argue over whether in fact there is climate change or not. Like it or not, and the science is pretty clear, weather patterns globally are fluctuating.

There is also clear evidence that human activity is in large measure responsible for so much of the damage that has been done to the environment. The planet is far less healthy a place than it has ever been. And we are the primary desecrators. We should all be concerned about the health of the planet regardless of our political persuasion.

What we need to do, and it will require a shift in thinking that sets aside ideological and self-aggrandizing moral grandstanding, is come together to find ways of healing the planet in ways that will sustain life in healthy and productive manner while at the same time committing ourselves to leading our lives less greedily. It will require a degree of sacrifice many have been willing to make, but to which the majority of us have shown little interest or inclination.

It would help if we would throw away the silly, meaningless labels that identify us. It would help if individuals would cease claiming the moral and spiritual high ground, as if they somehow have a direct line to a divine power whose very existence many question.

One of the most pernicious attributes of any majority is its haughty adherence to its self-perceived superiority. Conservative thinkers have intriguing ideas; so do liberal thinkers.

If we could get over ourselves once in a while we might just find some common ground and solve a few problems.

We live primarily as individuals. As individuals we live in families and communities. Our lives intersect at many points. The common ground that we share is substantial. As a culture we need to work harder at finding and nurturing our common ground. Thus far we have not been very good at that. It is not acceptable to assume, for instance, that land ownership precludes one from taking one’s obligation to the larger community seriously – and responsibly. It also means that communities have to find ways of coming together to craft collective and environmentally sound ways of living off this bountiful earth more graciously and respectfully than has been the case thus far. That is the challenge before us.

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Hawthorn Hill
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