As of May, 2003, I have decided to no longer run for this office. I am maintaining the website for several reasons, not the least of which is that the effort expended in developing the ideas was clearly worthy, and the work produced should therefore be preserved. My further reasons for no longer seeking elective office can be found in this essay - Saving America from Ourselves.
from the 2004 Presidential Campaign of Joel A. Wendt: working paper # 5
Domestic and International
I think everyone knows what triage is, but in case there is any doubt let me explain how I use the term. In normal usage it refers to a process that allows doctors managing a disaster to work on the most serious cases first. The most acute cases need to be dealt with immediately.
Now governments have their agendas, but don't approach problems with a triage mentality. What governments tend to do is make a lot of noise publicly about dealing with the most acute problems, while at the same time paying the most attention, in terms of action, to who is greasing the wheel the best. All of this goes with what we have all along known - that the elites of concentrated wealth make sure they come first.
For the emerging citizen governance movement, our priorities might be otherwise. In terms of Civil Society, this is obvious. NGO's (non-governmental organizations) are all about dealing with the most acute problems first. Famine, victims of war and and non-man-made disasters - the poor, the chronically ill, all those that governments have not chosen to put first - these have had to be helped by private organizations.
[This is not to say governments do nothing. What we have to look at is the available resources, and how they are spent. In the United States, for example, there is a great deal of what is called corporate welfare . If we compared what was spent on this, as against what is spent on immediate human needs - homelessness, serious poverty, etc. - the preferences of government is clear.]
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the number of these NGO's was small. At the beginning of the 21st, the numbers are quite large, and many of them not only fill in holes created by various governments failure to act forthrightly, they actually have had to take on other duties that these governments have let slide (election reform, setting limits on corporate manipulation of trade agreements, the theft of national sovereignty, and on, and on, and on.). Clearly ordinary people (whose moral impulses stand behind NGOs), wish for certain problems to be addressed first, otherwise they would accept the choices made by sitting governments. The very existence of these large numbers of NGOs establishes that sitting governments, for the most part, act in support of the elites as a preference over the needs of the disadvantaged, and that ordinary people would prefer another set of priorities.
There is another level to these problems - something in addition to the priorities of the heart.
Many of these problems are interrelated, and the result of systemic problems within the social order of the modern world. Homelessness in the United States, for example, is not due to a single cause, and is more of a symptom than it is the actual disease. This is the case of a lot of social problems. Let us examine the drug problem as an example and the first instance of a much wider set of social phenomena.
When I was growing up (being a teenager) in the 1950's, there were no drugs avaiable in high school, and among my parents and their friends, if there was an obvious problem it was alcohol, while less obvious was the use of tranqualizers among unhappy women. Off in a corner, were the drugs of the so-called lower classes, marijuana and heroin, usually associated with musicians. Twenty years later, by the mid-1970's, grass was everywhere, a lot of people had experienced serious halucingens, and cocain use among the middle class was becoming an increasing problem. By the mid-1990's, crack cocain was devastating minority groups, and an epidemic (AIDS) had been let loose among the sexually active.
At the same time, television advertising of beer use as a way to have fun (and to be seen as a fun person) has increased several fold, with alcohol use among the young on a corresponding increase. Where once one never saw ads for drugs for people with mental problems (depression, bi-polar disorder etc.), now these ads are everywhere and drug companys are working hard at convincing us that if we suffer (have pain from life), that this probably means we are depressed and need to take a pill to feel better.
Everywhere in modern culture someone with something to sell is telling us that we not only ought to be different (leaner, happier, richers, smarter), they have just the solution if only we would give them some money.
In addition during this same time period, we have lost a sense of heros and people to admire. Where once sports figures appeared as examples, their current level of greed and social excesses have taken them off the field of possibilities. With the death of the Kennedy's and Dr. King, and the resignation of Nixon, we can no longer look to public life for heros either. We'd like to admire movie stars, but really most of them are only really heroic in their characters, while off screen they are just as human as the rest of us.
This is not all of the far too rapid social changes we have been experiencing. The arrival of home computers, and the Internet has also brought in its train enormous changes.
If we step back from it all, we can see that it is as if someone was increasing the speed of life, somehow doubling it every decade since the social pause that was the l950's.
Let me bring in another theme, to see if some kind of outside idea can help us understand.
Lately science has taken an increasing interest in the behavior of complex systems. Something called Chaos Theory is a big deal. People are trying to apply these new kinds of thinking to social problems, recognizing that, while the individual story has its very necessary and important individual nuances, the way a whole system works seems to have some predictability. Now I am not attempting to predict anything here, I just want to borrow an idea and see if it helps.
Complex systems go through changes where the original conditions of equilibrium disappear and a kind of chaos arises. During the chaos state the system tends to oscillate wildly for a time, until new conditions of equilibrium are reached, and a steady state (more normative) process appears. Some systems do this a lot, while others do this with much less frequency.
This is what I observe in the social order. Change has increased to such rapid conditions, that our ability as individuals to cope is slipping, which itself increases the intensity of change. This was predicted several years ago in the book Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. The various matters described above (increased use of drugs, loss of heros, excessive fascination with money) are all interrelated and mutually dependent. It is as if the support usually provided by social order in the community has dissolved, and the individual, being left to their own devices, can't help but grope in the dark for a healthy way to respond. Everything losses its prior cohesion, not just in the outer material circumstances of life, but inwardly in our own life of soul and spirit. If we can't find an anchor outside, or inside, then we form what is often correctly called an addiction, or a dependency. We can't depend on others, and we believe we can't depend upon ourselves, so we try to depend on some substance or activity which at the least distracts.
I believe the first thing we need to do is to have faith that "this too shall pass". Nothing ever stays the same, and the conditions of social chaos (and their related symptoms) will drop away. The real question (long range) is what shall be the new conditions of social order, the new processes in the next state of equilbrium.
In a certain sense, all manner of what we have called values are up for grabs. While many present social problems are systemic in nature, the underlying system is itself in flux, and this allows us to influence the system itself at its foundations. In fact, it is these very conditions that bring us to the crisis that makes Citizen Governance a necessity. If we want the social order to have ordinary human wisdom, we have to provide that through some form of active process. The system doesn't do this on its own, and neither the elites or their political tools can provide what we (citizen governance) need to provide.
With the idea of triage then, we add a certain dimension to the dialogs that renewal groups have to take up. Not only do we try to renew the ideal element of what we believe America to be, and what we expect from our public officials, but we consider the problems in terms of a hierarchy of values or moral visions of the good. In this we can go as deep as we wish to go in the sense of reformation, as the conditions of chaos present in our time allow for all manner of flexibility.
Let me give one vision, which is by its nature quite personal. It is not offered for how things should be, or even how they might be, but rather simply as an example of how far our considerations can go in the sense of defining what we want and need out of the social order.
Now ordinarily, we might speak in wider terms, such as peace and justice, but I am going to take a more ordinary approach, suggesting we look not at the big Ideals, but rather at the smaller ones, at how we would want an ordinary daily life to unfold - what we might define as the basic rights of everyone. For if we think it through, that is what we are doing. We are evolving our ideas of basic human rights, perhaps making more concrete and particular the Ideal hinted at by the words "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".
These words appear in the Declaration of Indenpendence: "We hold these trust to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienalbe Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The U.S. Constitution begins: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the genreral Welfare, and secrue the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and estalish this Contitution for the United States of America."
We have lived for over two hundred years now, in the practical expression of trying to achieve these Ideals. No one should be surprised that we have not fully achieved here all that we might. At the Dawn of this new millennium, we are living in a time when the reconsideration and renewal of our efforts to achieve such Ideals is being called out from the depths of our nature as a matter of necessity. We are not bound by what the Founders did in the Past, although we should in all events honor it. Rather we are called upon (and in this effort I expect the Founders would agree) to examine our own lives and see if in any way we wish to bring changes, being able to now to look upon the first two hundred years as a grand and largely successful experiment. We examine our Past, reflect upon it, and consider how to learn from it in order to find the wisest Path into the future.
Everyone lives their lives day by day. Should we in any circumstance fail to see that all within our borders have a right to the meeting of their most basic needs, that is a right to Life. How can we deny to any human being, that which they need to live? Food, water, shelter from the elements, and human company - are these not necessary for life and by right belong to all? Will America ever really be America if there are people who are homeless, starving, and completely alone? And, if we tolerate such condtions here at home, how can we ever demand that elsewhere in the world such basic human rights be granted where they are absent?
I think if we are honest in our self examination, we will see that as regards the Ideal of Life, there is more yet to do. With regard to Liberty, that seems to have been done well to a degree (the Founders did eventually give us the Bill of Rights), with this warning however. Liberty once gained can only be maintained by serious vigilance. It is this latter element that is presently in doubt. The current administration has become lax in this regard, and has begun to urge that we consider the sacrfice of Liberty for the illusory benefit of Security. This is a dangerous voice that speaks, for absolute Security is not possible, and anyone honest about life knows this. There is always risk in life, and as noted in Working Paper #4 The Problem of Terrorism, the day is past when the United States will be free of conditions normal for the rest of the world. Terrorists are just another kind of criminal, using as a justification a self-deluded political or religious ideology (even sitting governments can commit terrorist acts in the name of national security).
If we turn to Happiness, we become involved with a quite difficult abstraction, which by its very nature is quite subjective in practice. For example, it would certainly be a bit silly to insist that everyone has a constitutional right to a lover. At the same time there are certain kinds of "satisfaction" that seem quite necessary, for example access to work. One of the aspects of our sense of self, is a need for a feeling of a kind of independence as regards responsibility. I suspect someone may have better words for this, but I think most of us understand that we have a need to contribute in some way to our own support, and perhaps more essentially to act each day such that when it is over we have a sense of accomplishment. We need to work, and we need work that provides satisfaction (happiness). While there may have been economic reasons for thinking a certain amount of unemployment is acceptable, if we put the people ahead of profits, it is clear that if we want to build our society on the basis of "satisfied" human beings, then work with a personal value is a necessity. If someone wants to study this problem in more detail, they should carefully read Ursula K. LeGuin's novel: "The Dispossessed".
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Now the purpose of the above discussion was basically to provide starting points for those conversations within renewal groups that have become a necessity in our time if Citizen Governance is to wake up and begin to play the needed role in the future of our Republic, and in the maturation of the American People toward their true role as members of the world community.