Wednesday, May 15, 2013


ABOUT THIRTEEN YEARS AGO, and for the first time in my life, I was asked to state my ideology as a part of applying for a job as a grant writer. Though it was never stated as such, this certain nonprofit, public policy research institute believed that having a like-minded ideology was a bona fide job requirement for the position. I do not disagree. In order to do an optimal job, a grant writer must have as much passion about the issues as he or she has about writing, generally. If not, it shows. Still, must one's passion reside in ideology? That is, setting aside for the moment whether my ideology is a perfect match or not, is it possible for this grant writer to find passion enough in some non-ideological source? (I always thought it came from "the heart.") Alternatively, could the institute's definition of its ideology have become so narrowly doctrinaire as to exclude all but perfect matches? These were some of the questions that began bubbling up after I was asked to state my own ideology. And so it was that I started to formulate an ideology I could call my very own.
I will venture that an ideology is a political mind-set; it is a meaning perspective composed of values, assumptions and beliefs one holds about the world. And politics is how socio-cultural interrelations manifest, a "we-sphere" in a mostly human-to-human environment, generally evidencing a materialist­/consumerist orientation. Now, I am perhaps as cynical about politics as many of us are these days: ambivalent about how little-old-me could ever make much of a difference, whether that means "getting involved" with the system or voting for the lesser of two clones (more-or-less) in the next election. I excuse myself for being this way because I am feeling intensely distant from an America that, since the late 1940s has increasingly become a national security state. It shows in a newly barricaded White House. It shows in how the U. S. President travels in his convoy of steel and sirens. It shows in the escalating powers of law enforcement in their "war on drugs," or "terror," and in an ever more entrenched military-industrial-media techno-complex.
And so my first response was, "I'm not much of an ideologue. I'm more of a centrist or humanist." Then I wondered what I meant by that, as a little voice within whispered, "You dropout! Get your fingers going -- say what you mean and mean what you say!" I was energized, now that the specter of landing this job gave me a reason to feel I might actually get involved and participate in the fray.
Granted, my take on politics is fairly simple-minded. I like to recall what a high school history teacher told us, that "people will go with whatever politics will fill their empty bellies." This is particularly true in that third of the world that is scrounging for something to eat. The politics that usually wins out for them are the gun-toting revolutionaries of the left, those who wish to force the state to provide for the "have-nots." Of course I suppose that in more heavily industrialized regions "filling the belly" means much, much more. It means having new cars, comfortable homes, plenty of hot water, wealth to maximize choices, limitless power to run our entertainment devices and so on. I imagine this would require a politician more from the right, one who can assure that the private business will help preserve all for "them that got" by the state keeping its hands off. This left/right dichotomy is further complicated in American society where the players have already met their foundational needs and then mostly imagine who needs what and how the government should do or not do whatever to conform to their ideology, their politics. In a land of plenty, ideological banter (called "politics") is more akin to gamesmanship; it is a noospheric chess match in which the representatives of haves and have-nots are continually redefining themselves and the changing rules in terms of the role they think government should or should not have.
I came from a family where my mother was a Republican and my father was a Democrat. My mother had a father of Irish/German descent who grew up on a farm, saved his money and kept his good credit. He went off to study engineering, eventually ran his own business and retired in his mid-fifties to cultivate his investments forevermore thereafter. My father was the son of Lebanese immigrants. His love of learning finally landed him in law school. Later, through his law school friend, Larry O'Brien, my father eventually went on to hold a minor appointment in the Kennedy administration in Washington, D.C. He had been a U.S. Navy JAG Corps officer during WWII and went into private practice after his federal government stint. His final career cap was as an administrative law judge for the State of New York. My father retired as a quadruple-dipper.
And so I grew up a Democrat in the days when "liberal" was obtaining a reputation for being the inauthentic, give-away, Keynesian big government sort of carpet-bagger; and Republicans were seen from my youthful vantage point as well-heeled nay-sayers against the progressive agenda of the 1960s whose uneasy alliance with fundamentalist conservatives often typified them as humorless pedagogues. Then I went off to college. Down south, I studied business in my undergraduate public administration program. Soon I was a registered Republican and found myself voting for Ronald Reagan in 1980. After graduation I mellowed a bit in the school of hard knocks and began to suspect that politicians in both major parties were simply dancing on the strings of whoever promised more toward their re-elections. So I became an Independent and have remained so since. I liked the name, "Independent," as that is how I saw myself (Whether I am -- or anyone - really is, in actuality, independent is quite beyond the scope of this article.)
I also see myself as a humanist. To me, a humanist is a thinking man or woman whose capacity for reasoned discourse is tempered by a deep love for one another and an abiding appreciation for the absurd paradox of our human condition. And, in the ideological passions of politics, it is taking the more balanced and pragmatic position of a centrist that for me is key to applying that humanist way. In our civilizational quest for order and certainty, I believe that human beings can easily go the way of dogma, to see the world around them in a myopic and literalist way; to have a credo that judges in strict, compartmentalized dualities of opposites. For only in this way might society avoid chaos and attain the civilized state! We can also and easily fall into the nebulous world of total relativism wherein dualities devolve into polar complementarities without a "discerning eye," so that a non­judgmental structure crowns itself queen, deluding itself into denying it has set itself up as one acting opposite to the other in a newly revised duality drama.
"Either/or" ideologies can battle one another well enough on their own. The Twentieth Century was witness to those left/right, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, Communist/Capitalist fascist name-calling wars. These labels, however, have quite possibly become passé. Enter the "both/and" ideology and politics heats up further, as the notion builds momentum that something new is afoot in the forum of ideas. I'm not sure if this ideology has a party yet to represent its interests. Could it be Ralph Nader and the Green Party that he co-opted? (Or did they co-opt him?) In whatever third party emerges will its emergent ideology possess the organizational skills and money management acumen needed to make it successfully compete? These are not likely to be its strong suits as these more hierarchical, status quo traits are better left to the conventional major parties. In any event, the hidden hand driving our economy may just give them a slap and a whack and send them bouncing off on their way.
So I am sitting at my ringside seat watching as ideologues lust after the very things that oppress them. In their ideal worlds, those right-of-center are ridding us of intrusive government, but are they championing corporate industry and business interests in government's stead, and if so, how much better would that be? Those left -of-center propose that government knows best how to spend your money, but in doing so are they themselves becoming those architects of central planning that their supposed blue collar, grassroots constituency so deplores? Do these questions even matter anymore when our national security state is manned by a professional class of overwhelmingly unelected bureaucrats-for-life, steering its leaders toward the only policies it will tolerate?
My ideology is beginning to take shape I think. Besides thinking of myself as a humanist or centrist I think I might characterize my politics as being a kind of "experiential immersion." In the seeming paradox where people are both individuals and part of a group, i.e., individualists and community, it seems to me that we can and should remain free agents while immersing ourselves time and again in the experiential stew of organizations. Each organization is a sub-community with its own ideological, cultural ecology. It is perhaps the anthropologist in me that calls me to drift from one experience of ideologies to the next. I have worked in a large, supermarket-style law firm and I have been through the military experience. I  also passed through the left coast's transpersonal mill at the California Institute of Integral Studies. And I decided to embrace nature, not by decrying the damage done and becoming an environmental activist. Instead, I enrolled in environmental horticulture courses at City College, San Francisco. I think my ideology was calling upon me to learn more about the non-human, natural world in which I am embedded so that I can more easily interface with, commune and more truly love that natural world, (something often sorely left out in the calculus of what it means to be fully humanist these days).
My ideology tells me to wear many hats and walk in many worlds, to dialogue with diverse people, to fully immerse myself in every opportunity and in every organization to which I am permitted entrée; to weigh costs and benefits, always striving toward being the syncretist-pragmatist seeking balance. And when I write and wish to go on the attack, my ideology tells me to concentrate on ideas, not persons; that I can be successful not so much by attacking than by presenting my own reasoned and heartfelt discourse, and by not being malicious but ultimately finding compassion within for those who appear to me to be barking up the wrong tree.
There is a modicum of balance to be found in not tearing one another down personally. Rather, that balance can be found in vigorous critical thinking which seeks out the authentic in the often dicey issues of politics and public policy. What is important is to keep the dialogue going - which is almost as important as taking action and accepting full accountability for doing so. All of this requires courage to speak out as well as the strength of mind to sometimes keep one's own counsel; to have the patience and willingness to listen to a contending ideology and the willingness to intelligently engage the other with a calm perseverance, always knowing we can easily be off-the-mark. We must be ever-ready to laugh at ourselves - at the absurdity of what it means to be human; to be spiritual beings with bodies -- and to wonder at the ineffable beauty of being alive.

This, then, is an ideology I suppose I can call my own; one for which I can truly say I have great passion. I was not sure when I wrote this whether or not my ideology would be a perfect match with that of my potential employer (not much is perfect in this crazy-mixed-up world of ours.) And I still don't know. But for the time being, anyway, I'm perfectly contented because I got/ didn't get the job.  (Kindly circle one.) I think - though I'm not sure - that my ideology would prevent me from being too overly attached to either outcome.


No comments: