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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

3 Questions That Call Us To More Virtuous Values

"Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort? ...  Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing? Or will we lead wisely, using all elements of our power to defeat new threats and protect our planet?... Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another — or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America forward?"Barack Obama -SOTU Speech - Jan.20, 2015
If you missed President Barack Obama's State of the Union Speech quoted from above you can find it on the Internet. Unlike in previous years, it was available an hour before it was to be delivered so you could read along as it was being delivered. Pretty cool. Such is the state of communication technology today. In this piece my focus is on three questions the President asked that I believe serve to call us to more virtuous values. Our values are the set of principles or standards of behavior that guide us as individuals and as nations. They are indications of our judgement about what is important in life, and therefore in our relationships with one another. The quality of our values go a long way in determining the extent of our prosperity, and the "levels" of security we can expect to prevail in our communities; and by extension - in our nations.

 Ralph Waldo Emerson, a profound American thinker, observed the following : "The essence of greatness is the perception that Virtue is enough". The word virtue suggests to some the preservation of one's virginity; it carries connotations of chastity. That is not what we are talking about. This President lost his political virginity long ago; and there is hardly any possibility of maintaining one's chastity in the rough and tumble world of political whores such as Washington has become. Indeed, the President is the first to admit his many flaws. But in this latest State of the Union Speech we were reminded of the Idealism that motivated Barack Obama to become the significant presence that he is in American political life. In this speech we get a glimpse of why he is so loved and respected on the stage of International politics. And to those who remain culturally uncomfortable with this Presidency, he gave a timely reminder as to why he was elected in a landslide... Twice!

We live in a world of growing inequality. The rich few continue to keep for themselves the vast majority of the World's resources; while the number of unfortunates grow, and are relegated to a life of constant economic, political, and social insecurity. This is the world in which we have the phenomenon of "the working poor" scrounging for a living among the "crumbs" that fall from the table of corporations and their CEOs. It is a world in which billions of dollars are set aside as corporate profits; while the average worker is left to struggle and beg for a livable wage. If this is a moral universe, then there is a judgement that awaits the architects of this Inequality that they have every reason to fear. The question that the President asks is one that we MUST address... "Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort? "

The inequality that abounds in our society and in our world is prominent among the main reasons for the many conflicts that proliferate among us even now. In North America, in Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Europe, in the Middle East, ... There is no corner of the Globe that is immune to the damaging impact of Greed and its subservient imperialism. We live in a vicious cycle created and maintained by any number of amoral operatives. The Conflicts that arise from the inequities bred by Greed are subsequently promoted as a means of profit-making by the merchants of death and destruction among us. The disadvantaged rise up against their oppressors, and the accountants of the unjust rich see these uprisings as just more opportunities for profit-making. And so they sell arms to both sides in all the conflicts that ensue. The war-for-profit industry then becomes the impetus for the promotion of fear and insecurity; and so the promotion of Fear and Insecurity becomes an industry of itself. Those with a vested interest in the conflicts around us send out their "terrorism experts" to tell us why we should continue to invade and occupy countries. American snipers in Iraq become heroes about whom Hollywood epics are made; while we relegate the people defending their country from our invaders as trash, and scum, and animals to be destroyed in the most vicious ways. All this while the producers of these vain epics fill their empty chairs with mostly sympathetic cheering empty heads... And the results...? Pockets filled with cash.

The question the President of the United States raises is a timely one, and one that we MUST answer: "Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing? Or will we lead wisely, using all elements of our power to defeat new threats and protect our planet?"  More succinctly, will we become partners with the World's disadvantaged in their struggles for Justice; or will we yield to the loud voices and the outrageous vices that call us and cause us to ignore the plight of the oppressed in exchange for our place at the Oppressors' table?

The conflicted nature of our society is reflected in the tragic dramas being played out in the world around us. We conveniently separate ourselves according to race and class and caste to promulgate our divide and conquer mentality. We suppress the demands of Justice because these demands beckon to us as inconvenient truths. Like the guilty Cain, when confronted by the facts of our immorality instead of taking responsibility we ask instead "Am I my brothers' keeper?". We cannot continue to corrupt our world and expect "peace and safety" instead of the destruction that waits in the wings... And that descends on us with its sudden fury. And so we must answer the question raised by the "Leader of the Free World": "Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another — or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled [our World] forward?". We must respond to this question with actions and words that affirm the life=enhancing qualities of a Peace founded in Justice... Or suffer the tragic consequences of our immorality.

Ultimately we are constantly being called to more virtuous values as a society and as a world. A set of shared principles that point us in the direction of a more just world is what will eventually save us from the terrible judgment that no amount of arms and ammunition can save us from. The essence of all greatness... The essence of the greatness inherent in the idealism we aspire to - is a real grasp of the truth that despite all the temptations of power - it is enough to be virtuous... To do to others as we would have them do to us. This, in the end, is the most basic demand of our humanity.  It is the great secret of any true prosperity. All else is vanity.

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