Magazine article Tikkun

1999 and American Pathologies of Power

Magazine article Tikkun

1999 and American Pathologies of Power

Article excerpt

As a result of a recent direct mail campaign, many new readers are looking at TIKKUN for the first time. So we thought we might share some of our thinking about American politics, starting with why an overwhelming majority of Americans decided not to vote in the recent November elections. The low turnout did not happen because Americans are so happy with the way things are, but because they feel powerless to change anything. Their reasons:

* Public opinion doesn't seem to matter. Despite overwhelming popular opposition to the continuation of the impeachment proceedings, it was a sure bet that the Republicans and the media would return to the whole Lewinsky mess the second the elections were over-and they did.

* Both parties refuse to enact real campaign finance reform, preferring to remain subservient to corporations and the super-wealthy. That politicians could have chosen otherwise was demonstrated by Senator Russ Feingold, who rejected strings-attached soft money and showed that the electorate is willing to reward such principled behavior.

* The two-party system looks like a one-party system. Democrats and Republicans have both agreed to fundamentally shrink government. The result is that we have a government that turns away from dealing with the problems of the needy, does not confront corporate environmental pollution, and does not seriously seek a restructuring of health care that would make it more responsive to human beings than to corporate profits. The only real differences being fought out in the political arena are between those who wish to protect small business, and so are most rooted in domestic spending and production, and those who advocate the globalization of American capital. There is no way within the two-party choices the electorate is usually offered to express yet a third position: that economic well-being in a market economy would be better enhanced by increasing the purchasing power of the lower 60 percent of income receivers (through redistributive efforts) and by supporting the creation of cooperative businesses that would retain profits inside communities and strengthen regional economies. Nor is there any way to express the desire to spend less money on defense, law enforcement, and prisons and more on education, health care, and support for the homeless and hungry

Many "progressives" have made similar points. But we at TIKKUN have a spiritual/ethical critique of American politics that is rarely articulated by the various alternative parties.

* Neither party expresses spiritual and ethical concerns about a society which treats human beings as replaceable parts of a machine whose highest goal is "progress." If the best that progressives, either within the Democratic party or within the Greens, the New Party, the Labor Party, and other supposed "alternatives," can offer is the demand that the techno-economic benefits this system produces be more fairly shared with the rest of the population and that people with less be given more, where can people hear a voice that questions the whole system, challenges the value system that underlies it, and puts forward a fundamentally different notion of what is to be valued?

So, while we also support the extension of social programs to provide universal single-payer health care, better paid teachers and child care workers, full employment, a full set of workers' rights, environmental sanity, and the elimination of poverty around the world, we have come to believe that none of this is likely to be won until there is a whole new consciousness of what is important-and that new consciousness is unlikely to emerge from liberal or progressive politics as currently constituted.

That's one of many reasons we at TIKKUN call for a more fundamental transformation of American society, a transformation we call "a politics of meaning." That politics calls for "a new bottom line" by which institutions or social practices are judged efficient, productive, or rational not only to the extent that they maximize someone's wealth or power (the current "bottom line") but also to the extent that they maximize people's capacities to be loving; caring; ethically, spiritually, and ecologically sensitive in their daily lives; and to the extent to which they encourage people to respond to the universe with awe and wonder, recognizing the sanctity of every other human being and acting from an awareness of our interdependence with each other and with our planet. …

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