THE I'S HAVE IT
Experience had delivered a crystal ball that made me a lonely, loud dissenter, seeing a future unlike anybody else’s. Consequently, over the course of meetings, with mounting horror, I watched myself turn into an enfant terrible. The elders, for instance, stubbornly focused on a widened turnpike while I, whose college buddy had just earned the first PhD in Operations Research and was working for the EU to develop pedestrian districts, tried to bring up bullet trains and auto-free zones. Mentally, the gray hairs couldn’t, as we said in Maine, get there from here although, ironically, the new world of jets and franchises had already left their perspective in the dust. The entrenched clung to the belief life would keep on keeping on in their established way, as though change would politely stop for them like a car at a crosswalk.
My age made me the likeliest panel member to be active in the year 2000, so at the end, I was sad but not surprised the final report of the commission was scrapped the day it was issued, a pathetic waste that made me wonder if
The endless Presidential election has brought back that painful experience with “the vision thing.” As Frank Rich said in last Sunday’s Times, what’s going on in America is a tug of war—he called it “an epic showdown”-- between those holding on for dear life to the world as they knew it back when, and those heralding now because the future is already their Skype habit. It's like watching a re-run of me and the Maine Future Commission skirmishing to claim reality.
The Buddha had a handle on this, way ahead of talk TV, because politics is the mind's behavior exposed. Candidates and voters, like those future commissioners, have freeze-framed time into their own personal snapshot of what life was like when they were staking their claim. They have, as it were, made up their minds. Familiarity breeds such content, the input when growing becomes the hardware reality runs on, so we're stuck on “our” music, “our” movie star idols, “our” brands, habits and manners, even our looks (notice how the obituary photos of folks who die at 90 show them at, say, 35), making our past our perpetual now. Trust me, I am no exception.
That’s why the candidates’ vision is so fogged. John McCain was forged in the Hanoi Hilton fighting hippies, and Hillary Clinton in the crucible of grudges, gotchas and grand conspiracies to get her. The two are vested in images of themselves as zero sum, cold warriors in the battle of me against them, and they won’t let go of that old Nixon language of enemies and enmity. To younger generations enjoying fusion, and ego-fighting Buddhists, they come across as supersized, shopworn offerings of what the late Arkansas Senator Fulbright called “the arrogance of power” and later George W. Bush called “shock and awe.” Both are in fact apt descriptions of the
Hillary’s morphing every other day into somebody else at the urging of Madison Avenue handlers revealed her a product of the giddy fifties when packaging was everything, and its purveyors didn’t have to care what they stuck inside. She was phony. Ditto McCain who reminds us what was in the package was mostly air, for the product was usually way smaller than its box. (Sometimes you have to reach almost halfway down to finger the first cookie or cracker, don’t you?) Knowing what we know now about where this emphasis on controlling appearances from a war room has got us, having them as candidates is like having the crisp photo of some handsome high school jock brandished to cover up the dissolute, beer bellied, balding man he became. It’s the rapacity of hope.
Obama looks different and is different because he is not a marketed pre-fab package, not a sequel to extend the brand. He comes from a mother who never followed the past but headed for the road not taken, toward that future my commission couldn’t see. He is 1976 here at last. He catches us up to the multicultural, multilingual, multitasking world without borders where people don’t wave flags in each other’s faces because boundaries are so electronically porous, they’re not interested in what separates us but what unites in planetary networks and free trade agreement. All the students who spend a year abroad and come back blogging to each other remind me how the young Russians of my Cold War day were hot to talk about getting blue jeans and rock records, exposing the hypocrisy of divisive politics.
The Buddhist teaching on time is clear in this mishmash of past, present and future all tangled up so right now you can't tell one from the other and can keep asking like a Zen roshi: what is now? While the future is present, we want the past to come back, so instead of moving on, we keep bringing it around. I second Thomas Friedman who mentioned earlier this week that the
It’s really scary to be over the threshold of a new millennium and find us stale, running on sequels. How distracted we are by those 20th Century happy days when we reigned like a high school jock. Our country once admired as the new world is facing the same oil crisis, inflation and food shortages we had when I was on the future commission. Everybody screamed the sky is falling but a fat, happy
Downfall is that easily our own doing. Many flag waving Americans still can’t see the nimble Prius for the hulking Hummer hogging their self-image Their minds are clamped that tight. Everybody knows this planet and the too many of us who live here are going bellyup soon because all support systems have been severely distorted, but our Senators, in the spirit of my old future commission, just voted to fuhgetaboutit and keep on keeping on with Detroit style business as usual. Even Rockefeller young’uns couldn’t ease the clinging of Exxon/Mobil fat cats to their past to let a little future sunlight shine in. I would ask: what are they thinking? But I don’t believe they are thinking. They’re running on automatic pilot, those rut worn habits that support the familiar self, which is like an old friend of mine who's made a mountain of money but refuses to quit because it's the only thing he's good at.
I’ve kept on my desk a quote two centuries old, attributed to William Hazlitt: “The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of self.” To a Buddhist, that is election year bingo! Pundits took to counting how many times Hillary Clinton said “I” because sometimes that was all anyone could hear, especially while Obama was so handily reiterating “we.” One tally has her referring to herself 64 times in one speech, John McCain 60 times in his on the same day while Barack Obama slipped in 30. My my, talk about attachment to ego.
Voters cling just as hard, aye, furiously projecting themselves onto elections the way tourists put themselves in front of landmarks when they photograph, as if to prove they are part of that reality, even if they block out the Parthenon or Hermitage behind them in the process. Interest groups interested only in themselves have inserted themselves like that on the political scene for decades. This country has been ripped apart and left foundering on moral shoals by those partisans who, like the terrorists and Taliban they rail against, still threaten to hijack the future to force us all to conform to their preferred self image.
It’s scary the fulcrum which tips this election could be blue tint Florida bubbies stubbornly and singly focused on an Israel so abstract they’ve never been or taken up arms for it. It's just this delusional idea they have and they want to hold us all hostage to it. They're so self-absorbed they can't even see Barack is Baruch and we're all together now.
It’s pathetic that some women who piggybacked their ego onto Hillary’s have spitefully switched to misogynist McCain and that some racist citizens circulate those nasty Elders of Zion like protocols swearing Obama is a terrorist Muslim. It’s depressing that women who fought for their own workplace equality conflate themselves with Hillary and personalize the campaign to see her defeat as the sexism they faced because this round of balloting did not reject women per se. It rejected that particular narcissistic woman so determined to keep her hand on the phone in case it rang at 3 AM to announce a nuclear attack, it wasn't free to take the pulse of a war torn people desperate to give peace a chance. Gender was not the problem, thinking was.
When he came to
It has taken twenty years to go from singing “We are the world” to looking like it. Barack Obama can talk about and promise inclusiveness because that is what his genes are and he showed up at just the moment the whole Me generation has been turned upside down by the winds of We. Over a decade ago, the rigid patriarchal hierarchy so prevalent on TV sitcoms gave way to the democracy of peers—on Friends, Seinfeld, Sex and the City--and the culture took to the concept of sharing: ride share, car share, load sharing, time shares, power sharing. Those think globally, act locally bumperstickers have now been joined by Al Gore and Co’s We can do it campaign with improbably larger than life antagonists coming together for the common good of stopping our extinction. Neurobiology has started telling us our brains are wired for fairness, empathy and attachment because the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships-- an echo of Buddhism which is spreading wildly among young people in search of transcending the pitiful limits of self.
His Holiness Karmapa just told us the world we live in is getting smaller and smaller due to technology and globalization, so individual actions have a much greater effect on the whole of humanity. People can no longer afford to cling to their particular views or self-centric identities -- not even to the limited notion of "being a Buddhist." We need to open up our minds to think in larger terms, thinking outside the blocs. In telling us to part with partisans at a time we’re suffering from their willful failure to part with their self-cherishing, his words sound like an echo of those heard back in the 20th Century just before I was tapped to serve on that future commission, when the media quoted the political dissident Eldridge Cleaver: If you’re not the solution, you are the problem.” Aye aye.
"Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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