Friday, September 05, 2008

Why no one can deliver the change they promise

National political conventions always fill me with a dreadful uneasiness and make me ponder whether the planet earth will be destroyed before intelligent life is found on it. The group ritual in which people collectively arouse themselves into teary-eyed states by intoning platitudes and partisan slogans and by skillfully demolishing caricatures of their opponents' positions reminds me that in politics fallacy nearly always trumps intellectually honest argumentation. Even when on those rare occasions when I am predisposed to like a candidate, I fall away disgusted at the spectacle of that candidate speaking at a national convention as people jump to their feet and raucously applaud every half-truth until they are hoarse and wave placards until their arms rebel in fatigue. If any kind of good government followed these dismaying circuses, I might be able to face them with more equanimity. But good governance rarely ensues, nor can it be expected to come out of such mass displays of thoughtlessness.

The longer I live, the more plain it is to me that individual human beings have no fixed nature but instead are mostly chaotic bundles of social and biological conditions over which no one has any control. As human beings we fancy that we choose our beliefs and practices with care and for all the right reasons, that we select only the best of friends and influences, but in fact none of us has more control over our behavior than a fallen leaf going over a waterfall. No evidence has yet presented itelf to me to incline me to believe that there is any intelligent force that has any more control than we feeble human beings have. As human beings we invent plenty of deities, but they all turn out to be as self-absorbed, foolish, cruel and petty as the worshipers who invent them.

If the individual human being is foolish, then a collection of human beings is folly multiplied. Families, clans, tribes, nations, intensional social groupings, congregations, sanghas, gangs and corporations are rarely more than small-minded individuals who temporarily band together in hopes of magnifying their capacity to carry out ill-conceived schemes without much regard at all for the negative consequences that collective folly can produce.

There is hope for some individuals to make small improvements in their character by an intense and protracted turning inward to face their own inner demons. Some people who are engaged in such efforts can derive some degree of encouragement from others engaged in a similar effort, and one is fortunate to find such encouragement—and tends to find more of it as it is less needed.

Revolutions fail and turn sour because people usually seek liberation from the wrong things. They believe they need more freedom to do what they want to do. Usually they would benefit from less of that kind of freedom. The sort of freedom they need is freedom from their own longing, hankering and striving.

Society as a whole will never improve until a critical mass of individuals gain freedom from their own inner beasts. Do not expect change to come to the political arena until people are so transfromed that they no longer require governance from outside.