“Few are guilty but all are responsible,” the great religious scholar and leader Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about the moral state of a people. As a people, we Americans are at a turning point in our history. The core issue challenging us is alienation. Alienation is at the root of decades of increasing violence and misogyny. It is at the root of destruction for destruction’s sake in our politics, too many newscasts, and internet vitriol. And it is at the root of how we have failed to come together to respond effectively to the pandemic, to gun violence, and to climate change. Out of my deep concern and fear, my next six posts will be passages from chapters 12 and 13 in my book The Midnight Hour which I believe can help us reclaim responsibility for the spirit of our country.
Taking Responsibility for Reclaiming the Heart of Our Democracy
That deep muse within me that expresses my heart has driven me to write this book. The truth is that she connects me to my heart. She wants me to see through my heart’s eyes, to hear through my heart’s ears, and to live with my heart as my guide. She confronts me with the questions of why I don’t want to open my eyes and ears, of why I don’t want to open my heart. She knows that if I do, my heart will want to cut through our cultural chaos and rely on common sense. She knows that as I open, as I have been writing, my heart will scream with anger at the realities I see and feel chagrin at my previous indifference and blindness. She also knows I will face a moral challenge, which is to speak out honestly, as I am trying my best to do in these reflections. To have gotten this far in my writing is to have accepted her challenge.
When I wrote about being in the sixth grade in an area of rural poverty, I mentioned the bullies, the predators in the school. Around bullies, we learn how to keep to ourselves, be quiet, and try to avoid being noticed so we won’t be threatened or hurt. The paradox is that our passivity enables the bullies. The same is true in our adult world and the world of social institutions that have become bullies in many situations. Bullies can be found in the top one percent of wealthy families, in major corporations, and in our governing bodies. These predators are running our lives. The heart of power today is hard. The predators have controlled our elections on many levels. A wealthy enough family (or corporation) can buy a congressperson or a majority in a state legislature.
Giant corporations can spend enough money to create or sway legislators or to prevent legislation that is in the country’s best interests. They can marshal the media power to sell us lies such as that the Affordable Care Act will create “death panels,” or we will lose the freedom to choose our doctor or, worst of all, to label it “Obamacare” in order to denigrate and associate it with racial prejudice. Deep in my heart I am so angry! But, that’s not even close to all of the story. The big health insurance bullies use the hard-earned money we pay in premiums not on our health-care costs but by the millions, maybe billions, to flood us with propaganda and our legislatures with lobbying efforts that are against our best interests. Then, if our eyes are open, we see the predators are rearranging the laws and government regulations meant to “protect” us to their advantage. For the predators, might makes right, and they want the law of the jungle to become the law of the land.
As these predators become more institutionalized, they seem to become more accepted, even expected. In the 2016 election, we even seemed to appreciate some of them as they pushed and supported candidates.
As furious as I am with the predators, I know their existence reflects a deeper crisis we need to face that is more than just an economic or political problem. We are losing the heart and soul of our tradition, of the American spirit, and of our democracy. An attitude of narrow self-interest, hard-hearted practicality, and short-term vision is wreaking havoc across our land. It shows little concern for people’s actual well-being, it diminishes imagination and thoughtfulness, and it brands a passion for truth and knowledge as irrelevant. In the world I was born into, which was by no means a perfect world, more of our citizens cared about each other. More of them cared about our government being an instrument of that care, protecting and empowering us all through public provisions. Good God! Just remembering that no other advanced political society has the amount of poverty we have drives me nuts!
We have become so driven, busy, and scared that we have let the values of the heart in our society, for ourselves and everyone else, fade into the background of our lives. When our values of the heart fade, they leave an empty space inside us that feeds on feelings of fear and scarcity and evolves into a quest for possessions, money, and security or power. Then we become the victims of these needs and the forces they arouse.
In writing this most difficult book I found it was a challenge to open my eyes to look in the mirror and see how much I feared giving up my denial and indifferences and how much it might cost me. Well, destiny fixed that problem by turning my world upside down with our political chaos. It knocked the props out from under me and made me able to see with more clarity and honesty the reality I’m living in and that I must help change.
Go deeper into this and related topics in The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Current Pivotal Moment.
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One Response to “Taking Responsibility for Reclaiming the Heart of Our Democracy”
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Wonderfully written, and much more importantly, thought out.