Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Politics of Possibility

Article first published as A Study in Possibility on Blogcritics.

It's a holiday season crowded with crises. An entire continent slouches towards financial free fall, austerity emerges as a new normal in nation after nation, an angry and divided region continues to simmer, and our planet marches steadily toward climate catastrophe. Meanwhile, many of our political leaders appear to prefer playing musical chairs on the deck of the Titanic to actually solving our problems.

The numerous challenges facing the human race in the early days of the 21st century demand spiritual and moral leadership. This is leadership distinguished by vision that transcends the next election or news cycle, commitment to principle that transcends partisan preoccupations, and a deep love that transcends the limitations of socially constructed identities. Most of all, it is leadership animated by a profound appreciation of the unique possibilities presented by the times we are living in. In his political treatise "The Secret of Divine Civilization", 'Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921), Head of the Baha'i Faith from 1892-1921 commented:

A few, unaware of the power latent in human endeavor, consider this matter as highly impracticable, nay even beyond the scope of man's utmost efforts. Such is not the case, however...Endeavor, ceaseless endeavor, is required. Nothing short of an indomitable determination can possibly achieve it. Many a cause which past ages have regarded as purely visionary, yet in this day has become most easy and practicable.

Many of us recently celebrated the life of Steve Jobs. His vision turned what only a generation ago would have been considered science fiction, into a new world that literally fits in the palm of your hand. If human beings can achieve things like that, why not a sane and sustainable financial system, or life-sustaining harmony with the natural world, or a free, united and just Middle East?

If we want the spiritual and moral leadership we need to achieve such things, we have to come to grips with the deficit of faith that contributes to its absence in our political life. This is a deficit of faith in ourselves and each other rooted in an impoverished view of human nature. The Universal House of Justice, the International Governing Council of the Baha'i Faith explained it this way:

Indeed, so much have aggression and conflict come to characterize our social, economic and religious systems, that many have succumbed to the view that such behaviour is intrinsic to human nature and therefore ineradicable. With the entrenchment of this view, a paralyzing contradiction has developed in human affairs. On the one hand, people of all nations proclaim not only their readiness but their longing for peace and harmony, for an end to the harrowing apprehensions tormenting their daily lives. On the other, uncritical assent is given to the proposition that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive and thus incapable of erecting a social system at once progressive and peaceful, dynamic and harmonious, a system giving free play to individual creativity and initiative but based on co-operation and reciprocity.

The necessary spiritual and moral leadership will emerge as our political culture evolves and transforms. Such a change in culture will require a change in consciousness, an appreciation of the possibilities of this age and of human capacity to fulfill those possibilities.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, taken by NASA and considered in the public domain