The Great Heights of Hope
Now that the 2012 election season is over, and America has picked its President, it’s safe to go back in the water and discuss a common Buddhist viewpoint that American politics are spiritually dead. While voting is a wholesome way for adults to express themselves, its childish counterpart ‘politics’ hangs around in the backyard ready to pounce the thirsty emotions. Like a battlefield, politics are a war of words; snot bombs are hurled at one another, positions are jockeyed for and reputations are made and or destroyed. Opposing forces find it delicious to find fault in the other team. During election season, anything goes: ‘fired up’ arguments dominate the media stream. Deviant ‘tea party’ circulars end up in your inbox. Sides are formed. Lines are drawn in the sand. And through it all, the only ones served are a self-righteous majority. In a rat race for the White House, only the rats win.
Free elections serve a function: citizens vote and democracy is served. Nothing more is promised. But plenty is assumed. At the recent Election Night Speech, as usual, the votes were already counted and the time came for a President to move forward with his politics. A newly reelected Barack Obama took the stage and pandered down the Rust Belt in his familiar ‘hopes’ and ‘dreams’ vernacular. The President prefaced the evening by saying, “The spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope.” What a fascinating statement to make. Though the emotional trip he describes is true, it carries with it an enormous revelation: that is, the dysfunctional inherent hubris of a nation, and of its 44th president. For ‘hope’ to exist, so must it’s polar opposite -- ‘despair.’ In fact, the more one yearns for ‘hope’ the deeper becomes ones desperation and hopelessness. The sort of rhetoric that advocates a better day in the future only galvanize the emotional imbalances it seeks to dissolve. Through extended craving, more and more misery is generated. Not to coin a phrase, but, “Hope is for the hopeless.”
From a Buddhist perspective, the spiritual narrative of Obama’s speech is flawed, yet at the same time absurdly necessary. In these troubled times, Obama is the one voice our voting population finds juicy enough to vote for. Emotionally charged speeches like these drive people to the voting booths and hold them there in the same way a trap door confines passengers to a sinking ship. Its likely that President Obama himself is not aware of the clear spiritual malignancies he places his finger on -- the deep ‘hopeful’ polarizations he reveals about each citizen. It’s also unlikely he invented these nuances for his own gain; instead, they are his own preexisting conditions. Basically, President Obama is an honest broker. He believes what he says. And from a Buddhist perspective, that’s what makes it so scary.
Despite what this and other former US Presidents have alluded to, “A desire to perfect our union” is not something that moves a country forward. In fact, ‘desire’ prevents forward motion from occurring in the first place. And, the concept of ‘perfection’ is only a pedestrian illusion: it’s something that never materializes. The Obama team effectively used ‘forward’ as an all-inclusive term that implies everything sucks right now, but someday in the future it will all be just fine. But since the future does not exist, no such entry point ever comes. So everything continues to suck.
In a perfect America, we should not kill, steal, lie, indulge in intoxicants or participate in reckless sex acts. They all carry with them obvious negative consequences. As such, we should pick leaders who practice the same. Aside from Obama being a meat eater, alcohol drinker and political truth stretcher: he is a highly electable human being. For lack of a better term, he is a decent American. He loves his wife, kids, dog, country, and seems to know how NOT to start wars. He “Believes in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America.” What he doesn’t seem to understand is if he continues to project luscious images of a better tomorrow, it remains impossible to create true generosity or compassion right now. His forward-looking statements cause people to step over the present moment -- and keep despair alive.
Like most American politicians, Barack Obama is as guilty of promoting political division as the rest. He exclaims, “We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times…it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight. And it shouldn’t.” Did he just say it shouldn’t change? I beg to differ. It must change: drastically and immediately. If this sort of lopsided emotional-thinking continues at the top of government, the wars will continue, animals will continue to be exploited and killed, and the earth, and it’s people will continue to suffer in fresh unthinkable ways.
Don’t get me wrong. I am an America. I exercised my right to vote, and I voted for the one candidate I thought was best for these times -- Obama. But perhaps we Buddhist-types understand something the rest do not; that is, certain realisms about the way the grasping mind works. The most obvious mind-glitch for this President is how he got duped into believing a philosophy of HOPE rather than NOW is the best way to revive a waning civilization; he says, “I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.” Instead of a country that keeps “reaching,” “hoping” and “fighting” wouldn’t it be nice to live in a place where satisfied, compassionate and non-aggressive citizens live together in tuneful harmony?
And the grand finale of election 2012 was the summation, “We will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on earth.” The greatest nation on earth? Perhaps, if you measure it's greatness by the sheer number of material objects per person. Powerful? Indeed, if you site the most expensive and aggressive military industrial complex the world has ever seen. But spiritually fit? Hardly. In this respect, America still has a cheap seat in the back. Rather than look forward to 2016 with teary eyes of hope, we can create spiritual change, right here, right now.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
In the go-go 90's Marcus Conte went by the pseudonym Marcus Goodwin who authored the book THE PSYCHIC INVESTOR (Adams Media 2000). Conte is a former adviser to the stars who guided scores of careers before founding the grassroots Sangha WAKE YOURSELF UP: a free public sitting that started outdoors when a few mediators sat in the grass together in Central Park. As well, he is Author of WAKE YOURSELF UP (FM Books 2012). Marcus is a native New Yorker, TV mystic, distance runner, musician and failed nutrition expert who earned a BS degree in nutrition from Syracuse University. Conte is an avid examiner of Theravada, Zen and Tibetan schools of Buddhism. He is a graduate of Shambhala & Vipassana meditation training. His commentary has appeared in / on: UPN9 TV, CBS TV & Radio, Playboy, US News & World Report, The New York Post, Harper's Magazine, Money In The Morning, New York Observer, Online Investor, WBIX Business 1060, The National Enquirer, TheStreet.com, and Money Magazine.