Sunday, February 14, 2010

Samsara Politics

Or, Reality Be Damned.

Steve Benen, blogging at the Washington Monthly, has an interesting post this morning about political perceptions.

National Review published a couple of items recently about President Obama having cut taxes for 95% of working families. This is, in reality, what happened, but the conservative magazine was incredulous. "If the taxes of 95 percent of Americans actully [sic] had been cut, surely somebody other than Obama would have noticed," one NR writer put it.

It was a curious argument. It doesn't matter what President Obama did -- in this case, approval of a tax cut -- it matters what people perceive, even if the perceptions are patently false.

Benen points out that the first Tea Party protests, protests that were allegedly in response to taxation, emerged last March, just after a large package of tax cuts was signed into law.

my challenge to them would be to go look at their most recent paystub, and then dig up their paystub from, say, December 2008, before Obama took office. The math isn't that hard -- did their tax rate go up, down, or stay the same? Opinions and perceptions are nice, but arithmetic can be stubborn.

Desire is more stubborn, still. It is also a wily con artist, often working with its partner, delusion: It can persuade highly intelligent people to ignore facts as incontrovertible as an oncoming train. Ignore your pay stub, ignore that pain in your chest, ignore climate science, and ignore anything you hear in the media unless it is spoken by Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann (your choice).

We do not have a rational politics, a fact-based, policy-oriented political culture. There are serious policymakers, of course, but few people listen to them. What we have is an intensely emotional politics where people choose what they want to believe.

For instance, the rational case for a single-payer health care system is compelling, but most people don't want to accept that, and the profiteers who own our lawmakers play on those fears in a highly organized manner. They call it socialism, they start repeating the false notion that government is incapable of doing anything right (citing, as an example, having to stand in line at the post office or something equally irrelevant).

Rational people are driven to fits by this. How can opponents get away with lies such as the "death panel" claim (the evil government is going to order your grandmother euthanized!)? How is it that people are still claiming the President has no birth certificate? They get away with it because a lot of people want to believe it, and to hell with reality. If you dare suggest that maybe some of these people are just afraid of a black President, watch out.

Most people do not examine how their mind works, or how their perceptions are influenced by desire and other emotions. If we examine this in ourselves, we can also see how it operates in politics. Perceptions and feelings become more important than facts.

The consequence of this is similar to ignoring a serious medical symptom. One of our neighbors here in the city of Deming recently suffered an eight-hour heart attack, ignoring or discounting her symptoms for more than half of that time. As a result, the damage to her heart may be terminal.

So it is with the state of our union, and even with our very habitat. We lie to ourselves just as much as politicans. Partisan think tanks and citizen groups believe there is still time to play around with facts and numbers, even as Americans die or struggle to survive under poverty, injustice, and pollution; as glaciers melt, and sea levels and temperatures change; as production of oil peaks; and so on. We ignore our symptoms and go on acting on desires, the way we want our world to be.

Hope does not arrive in a politician. It arrives in awakening, or what Krishnamurti called "inner revolution."

In light of material circumstances, awakening is a civic duty.


Kyle Lovett said...

Excellent closing sentence!
"In light of material circumstances, awakening is a civic duty."

quid said...

Those who can't figure it out won't figure it out when their refund is better or they have to pay less when they file. The Obama administration has not done a good job of publicizing these factors in the stimulus act.


Debby said...

I also thought that your closing sentence was an opening for us all.