Successful Progressive Politics Must be Inspired by Idealism

Successful politics is energized by ideals. Without ideals, politics is no more than a professional activity like accounting or lawyering. At its best, it is well meaning public service. At its worst it is cynical and self-serving, even legalized criminality. It is not a search for truth, without which, since politics leads a society, society becomes moribund and corrupt. People need idealism, even irrational identification with myth and religious inspiration, to give meaning to their secular and political efforts. Unfortunately, the forces of control and manipulation can often use this need to further their very non-idealistic goals.

The remarkable resurgence of religious fundamentalism and the success of faith-based politics in the last twenty years is a testament to this principle. Forty years ago, the sociologists and intelligentsia of this country were quite certain that fundamentalist religion was a spent force. The rationalists and the professional bureaucrats, understanding little about human psychology, believed America could settle into an expanding consumer economics egalitarianism without the irrational influence of religion as a central force in the culture. They thought that Campbell Soup, Tide Soap, Coke and Chevy in a society where bias was illegal was enough. Obviously, they were wrong.

Humans need a higher purpose than attending to their day-to-day needs. Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, in his famous hierarchy of needs, noted that after physiological safety, love, belonging and self-esteem, there is a need for self-actualization, a term that involves higher human ideals, including self-transcendence. That Maslow did not specifically include the instinct toward the irrational, the spiritual and religious, in his hierarchy was a mistake.

Rationalists, and this includes most psychologists and liberals, continue to be blind in this aspect. They certainly recognize irrationality, but as a dysfunction, rather than an integral aspect of the human psyche. Carl Jung, above all major psychological thinkers, recognized this as a disastrous oversight. Jung was a deeply spiritual person and recognized the instinct toward the mystical as a fundamental human drive. If the positive aspects of this drive are blocked, its negative face will surely show itself. The history of religion is filled with barbaric examples of this twisted idealism, often in brutal suppression of diversity, humanism and true spirituality.

In his own era, Jung understood completely how Hitler gained power by appealing to the “shadow” of this need for an irrational self-actualization in the German people. Dispirited by their defeat in WWI, caught in a culture of rational decadence, governed by an ineffectual, uninspiring, bureaucratic government, the German people were lured into the mystical rituals of Nazi race mythology and Nietzscheian celebration of the “superman.” Lenin realized the same in Russia with the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Politics and the state co-opted the energy of religion. Violence, mystical privilege, and an unholy alliance between dogma and power are irrationality’s dark side, and can be manipulated for political ends. It is so very important to remember then, that in the absence of light, the darkness will find a way to reign. It is thus of extreme importance to remember that spirituality, the embrace of interconnectedness and self-transcendent love, is the light of the irrational human psyche.

America faces a similar historical swing. Democrats have become the party of secular bureaucracy, void of emotionalism and irrational symbolism. They believe it is enough to offer the public reasonably good government, supportive of the lower levels of need hierarchy, offering only the slightest idealism in the form of regulation-enforced pluralism. The lukewarm support the public has for liberal/progressive politics is the natural result.

Wall Street Republicans and their Evangelical allies, on the other hand, recognize the need for an irrational idealism, and appeal to it through patriotism and dogmatic exclusionary religion. They have created a potent politics combining fear for personal safety, the pursuit of self-esteem through consumer culture and religious and patriotic fundamentalism. Until Progressives understand this human need for infusing political and secular conduct with the energy of a self-transcendent idealism, they will continue to falter when competing with religious and political conservatives who wield dark irrationalism like a whip.

Successful progressive icons like Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King understood the importance of energizing their politics with inspirational idealism to great effect. If this country is to be rescued from the grip of religious fundamentalism and Corporate/Neo-conservative rule, then Progressives need to understand this phenomenon and begin practicing and preaching something akin to what I am calling spiritual secularism, the passionate application of spiritual ideals like compassion and interconnectedness to the secular world of politics. This is an idealism that brings with it an energy that can overcome irrational darkness and en-light-en our society as we search for truth entering into a very precarious future.

Say We Need An Evolution

Where do we go from here America? We’re at the end of the reign of Bush, and many are hoping that somehow a new era for America and the world can begin. Republicanism has run its course and run us into a ditch. Democrats have a thin, thin majority in Congress, so they’re having a hard time getting anything done over the obstructive tactics of the Republicans. But we’re also left with the question of what the Democrats would do if they could do what they want to do. It’s not clear.

Get us out of Iraq? OK, then what for the mess that’s the Middle East, and its consequent issue of terrorism? What about the multiple humanitarian disasters that is Africa? How do we relate to the emerging mega-economies of China and India? What about the environment and energy policy? These are not only domestic issues but tie heavily into foreign policy. Can we shape new policies for Latin America that neither ignores nor exploits? What about corporate dominance of America and its new aristocracy of executives living obscenely exploitive life styles? What about how gratuitous selfishness, materialism and sex-violence-and shallow-sensationalism media are twisting our culture? Democrats offer no clear voices. What about healthcare? Democrats seem to think they are bold to offer universal insurance, a plan to expand the mess we have now. I have a hard time being enthusiastic about any candidate that doesn’t embrace the common sense of a single-payer universal healthcare system.

Democrats and America lack a vision into the future. Specifically of worry to progressives is that the Democrats, who are supposed to represent progressives, are lacking an inspiring vision. They remain the party of bureaucratic pluralism, mumbling and bumbling, lacking clarity of focus, ineffective at countering Republican slanders. They are still completely supportive of an America owned by corporations (as evidenced by their universal health insurance plans) and that just won’t cut it.

While America continues to struggle with the disaster that is the wave-the-flag, sell America to corporations, fundamentalist religion influenced politics of the Nixon to Bush Republican era, an inspirational progressive counter-point is needed, and the old tired radical politics of the 60’s and 70’s won’t work anymore. Leftists angrily marching in the streets (or blogging the internet) cannot be the progressive politics of the 21st Century. America needs an inspiring vision of harmony between all people, Nature and the economy. We need a real peace and consciousness movement that finds its inspiration not in Abbey Hoffman or Huey Newton, but in Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

A new cultural revolution is needed. A revolution of consciousness evolution where our sense of who we are expands, getting bigger and bigger until it includes everyone and the planet itself. The old radical style was still us against them. It now has to be “One planet, one people, one future.” We must really give peace a chance, and peace is not about being anti-war – or anti-corporations, anti-establishment or anti-anything, while still standing as a firm force in protection from the harm done by un-evolved selfish and belligerent consciousnesses. It is about embracing everyone, no group favored over any other, all given a stake and a level of security that ends poverty and want. This new vision has to be spiritual in its understanding that love, fairness, compassion and oneness need to be the foundation for any secular/political action. Think about it, then meditate on it. If it resonates for you, then start the challenging practice of bringing your own life in line with these principles. One person at a time, this consciousness evolution can become a revolution – in the streets, if necessary – but embodying peace, compassion and fairness for all, inviting the country and the world to join.

Spiritual Secularism

Allow me to share something serious and larger than any particular issue. It is the underpinnings of my political philosophy. I see America lost in a dangerous blurring between the religious and the political. Religion is practiced as politics and politics is practiced as religion. The world of the sacred and the world of the secular have become blurred in false understandings. I am certainly referring to religious fundamentalism which practices judgmental schismatic religion as politics, but I am also referring to the establishment of the ethics of the marketplace as a given and an absolute that is akin to a fundamentalist religious belief. Both are ruled by dogma that has replaced any dedication to the search for truth.

We are caught in a contradiction as a society by allegiance to both a moralistic God and to individual materialistic hedonism. As Jesus taught, “ you cannot serve God and mammon too.” But that is exactly what we are trying to do in America. We always have. This is how we could have been so hypocritical as to have wrapped our founding in words like “One nation, under God”, “all men are created equal” and “inalienable rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, while we kept a race of people in slavery and perpetrated genocide on this land’s original inhabitants. Our political/social dogma has likewise held the right to exploit our fellow man and the land’s resources as unassailable principles of the free market. We are so blinded by religious and economic/political dogma that we have lost our way in the realms of both the spiritual and the secular.

Indian philosopher, J. Krishnamurti, said in Think on These Things, “a truly religious person…is seeking what is true, and that very search has a transforming effect on society.” He went on to say, “To find out what is truth there must be great love and a deep awareness of man’s relationship to all things.” By this measure, America certainly fails to be a truly religious society. We, rather, turn our backs on what is true, paying little attention to spiritual love or man’s relationship to all things. The result is that we are alienated from the planet and from our fellow humans, viewing both as fodder for a great corporate consumer world economy. The connected unity of humanity, and humanity with the planet’s ecosystem is not acceptable to either America’s religious or political/economic dogma.

I propose to those who wish to seek what is true and to transform society, to find a new compass. We must reclaim true spirituality from religion. It is also important that we reclaim true secularism from political and economic dogma. The affairs of the spiritual and secular world must evolve and conjoin. Not anything like the conjoining of religion and politics. No. Theirs is a marriage of dogma. I propose a conjoining of the spiritual and secular in the search for truth as Krishnamurti defines it. To coin a phrase, we must learn how to be spiritual secularists. We must, in the face of growing crises of both the spiritual/psychological and the political/economic worlds, realize that they indeed are not separate, but represent the two faces of one search for truth.

Until we realize that no human ought to be excluded from a loving circle of basic support and protection, and that all life is not only sacred, but necessary for the mutual support of all other life, we will not in truth, as Krishnamurti indicated, be religious. Nor will we transform into a sustainable successful secular society. Religion/psychology and politics/economics based in separateness, exclusion and exploitation are not truth. The spiritual principles of love and interconnectedness guide me as I address individual political/social issues. Spiritual secularism is a personal philosophy I share with my readers in the hopes it will have a transforming effect on them, and through them, society. Spirit knows we need it.

Consciousness Is Politics


In this highly charged political season, I would like to share a few thoughts on politics and consciousness. We are approaching an evolutionary crisis for humanity. I speak often about the crisis for individuals brought about by the egocentric psychological paradigm of modern times, but the psychology of individuals is really only an extension of the psychology of the society. We are looking at the micro-dimensional and the macro-dimensional of the same phenomenon. That phenomenon is consciousness.

Our profit-based economic system and its accompanying belligerently competitive social attitudes are unsuited to addressing the issues we face moving into the 21st Century.

I offered in one column, a new political philosophy termed “spiritual secularism” that I hope will stir new thinking. It attempts to reconcile what appears to be a contradiction, but I hope will come to be understood as merely paradoxical, striving toward a new wholism in our social and political thinking. I am quite convinced that if our secular policies are not informed and inspired by spiritual principles like inclusiveness, humility, compassion, peace, beauty, tolerance and personal responsibility to the totality of Creation, humanity’s presence on the planet will become like a virus that transmutes into a lethal pathogen that kills its host, and in the process, itself.

Politics is consciousness. It always has been. The end of hereditary aristocracy, the struggles against racism and sexism, and for workers’ rights are all examples of a new, more expansive consciousness transforming the political landscape. And if we are to have a new politics, we must bring to it a new consciousness. We must expand our consciousness to enfold the entire planet in a vision of kinship, peace, sustainability, aesthetics and universal responsibility for even “the least among us”, not only the poor, but the animals, the plants and the earth itself.

Globalism, is indeed the overriding issue of the day, but not as it is being presented. The issue isn’t the globalization of the American capitalist-consumer economic system and whether this is a threat or boon to our own original model. The issue is the ramifications for the health of all humanity, including Americans, of continuing down a path that extols power and wealth, but that I am convinced has humanity, like lemmings, headed over a cliff.

We must enlarge our American vision from ours as the land of unbounded individual financial opportunity to one that enfolds every person in the basic dignities of peace, personal freedom, civil liberties, meaningful work, home, health, education, respect and caring within the bosom of a healthy, beautiful and sustaining environment. Our economy must refocus into meaningful jobs that support this vision and that shares its wealth with compassionate generosity, not concentrates it in the hands of the most ambitious, leaving far too many without dignity and security in their lives. The corporate/bureaucratic stranglehold on American life must be broken to avail more opportunities for small shop businesses where people have more individual choice and control. Careers in the arts, culture, small farming and human services must be made more viable.

America likes to think of itself as a very religious nation. Perhaps the religion of churches that preach exclusion, war, intolerance, “God wants you to be rich,” parading piety in the public forums and focusing on selective moral issues emanating from a culture dead two thousand years ought to give way to a fundamental spirituality that reminds us that, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Jesus spoke of the blindness of personal greed and arrogance that seals a person, a nation, Humanity from its essential soul. I belong to no church. I am not a religious person. I am, however, a deeply spiritual one, and I pray that my nation may embrace spirituality in its secular doings, to become “a light of the world, a city set on a hill” that shows the way, not to a culture of unlimited personal riches and license, bankrupting the planet, but that will “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works”. I pray that we may wake up from our gluttonous and greedy dream to lead the world into a new era that takes us to the 22nd Century as a healed, beautiful, creative and prospering planet, not a dying one.