Monday, October 27, 2008

An Idealistic Hedonist

I'm self-identifying here. This is how I think of myself and how I contextualize my life and world view. You see, I'm all about hope and joy and pleasure, which is a big part of why these phases of doom and gloom get me so off kilter.

I just attended my 20 year high school reunion this past weekend. It was a surreal experience that has resulted in a surprising amount of reflectiveness. On the longish drive up and back, I had that rarity: uninterrupted quiet time to think. And think I did. I thought about the person I was back in high school: angry and cynical and wounded. I was also pretty lost, searching for something to believe in, into which I could pour the energy and passion I contained; in short, I was a rebel without a cause. Ha... I and how many more, I'm sure, though I was probably just as often Tom Petty's rebel without a clue.

What I have become, however, as a mother, as an activist for peaceful parenting and alternative education and now, to an extent, for organic farming and self-sufficiency, is an idealist grounded in causes that provide meaning and import to my thoughts and actions. To a huge extent my children have given me reason to hope, reason to be the change I hope to see, reason to make this world a better place.

This is what I see in Barack Obama. He speaks to the idealism, the audacity of hope if you will, that says this world—and by extension ourselves—can be better, can be all that we long in our patriotic hearts for it to be. I recognize both the incredible potential and the frightening pitfalls in that kind of passionate idealism. Like the flip side of a coin, it's the kind of pathos that turns a country toward a Roosevelt or a Hitler in difficult times, and I think that encapsulates what we're facing in this election. I also think that's the kind of pathos both campaigns are trying to play to different ends, as the recent "socialism" charges demonstrate. I have a really hard time, however, seeing the kinds of public works projects that Obama speaks to in any light other than Roosevelt's New Deal to bring Americans out of depression and despair.

I wrote to a friend recently that I believe Obama is our last great hope for navigating this perfect storm of peak oil and economic crisis. We don't have lots of cheap and abundant oil to pull ourselves out of the next great depression, or whatever name we want to put to it: the great unwinding, the great deleveraging, the long emergency, etc. What we do have is a power of the people, a power of hope, and a power of idealism and belief in a better world, and we must tap that power if we are to weather the storm.

Here in America, we have entire generations who have grown up without ever having to give back to their community, without ever being asked by their leaders to do anything other than shop. We've grown up labeled as the "me" generation, but the ennui that characterizes Gen X and beyond reveals the psychic and spiritual emptiness of that kind of thinking. Barack Obama taps into the latent power of idealism and offers Americans the chance to pull ourselves out of this mess we're heading into not through cheap oil but simply by looking inside ourselves and believing, deep down, that each of us can make a difference and then by acting on that belief.

Why is idealism so often associated with youth, wishful thinking, even naivete? Why is it so cavalierly dismissed by the cynicism of age? Idealism is the foundation of principled living, the foundation of hope, of optimism, of the belief in life itself. Idealism has the power to be an infinite resource if properly nurtured. And by tapping into that belief we have a window, however small, to put in place the infrastructure that can potentially take us into the 21st century with alternative energies and a reduction of the greenhouse gasses that threaten not just our country but our entire planet.

As part of his message, Obama seeks to rekindle the idealism behind the notion that I am my brother's keeper, and I think that's worth parsing a bit because it goes back to my earlier comparison: what makes the difference between a country turning to a Roosevelt or a Hitler during trying times? I think it's an interesting question and a fine line to walk, and I think in many ways it encapsulates the concern many conservatives feel when confronted by phrases like "spreading the wealth." Folks fear the idea of a liberal nanny state, and I find that a very legitimate fear. I certainly don't want anyone telling me how to live, but Democrats surely don't have a corner on that market, and I find Palin to be the most fascist candidate out there. Honestly, she scares the hell out of me, and we had brief glimpses at her rallies of the kind of emotion and fervor she generates, nurturing the worst of America.

What we need now is a compassionate state, one that provides opportunity for all Americans rather than just a privileged few. We have been given this economic crisis as a moment to take our country in a new direction, to rebuild its infrastructure while simultaneously putting people to work, to make good and wise use of our dwindling oil supplies to potentially usher in a new era of sustainable energy and sustainable human habitation of our planet. Of course this change requires a massive paradigm shift, but crises have a funny way of creating the context for just such rapid shifts.

Folks all across Main Street, Republican and Democrat alike, are up in arms about the federal deficit and the legacy of debt we're leaving to our children and grandchildren, but very few are taking a close look at global warming or greenhouse gasses and asking the same questions about the legacy our choices will leave for generations to come. Rightfully, we should be far more concerned about our planet than what's happening on Wall Street or Main Street because global warming has such far reaching implications. Some of the world's top scientists have suggested that we need a 70 to 90% reduction in greenhouse gasses in order to reverse the effects of global warming. Mantras like "Drill baby, drill" aren't going to get us anywhere close to those reductions.

We stand now at a cross roads where our choices mean the difference between sneaking through a rapidly closing window, transitioning somewhat gracefully into a more sustainable way of life, or standing idly by and watching that window close for good, leaving future generations a world at war for ever-dwindling resources and an increasingly uninhabitable planet.

Please choose wisely.


Clare said...

So very thoughtful and timely. Thank you!!

Woody said...

I was so full of contempt for the entire political process until I took the time to listen to Obama without the added noise of the talking heads from the news /entertainment networks. Reading several of his speeches kindled a fire. Not a bonfire but a small ray of hope. John Hiatt said "a spark in the dark in the back of my mind" in one of his songs. That best describes what I feel at times when the tasks that we face are looked at and that feeling of insurmountable pessimism oozes into the drivers seat. This man kindles the best in what makes mankind what it is. He helps us help ourselves.


Vicki Harkness said...


Beautifully said!

Tall Kate said...

Really, an inspired, beautifully written post, Danielle. It left me with goosebumps. I am so jittery today awaiting the results!

Verde said...

May I stand on my computer chair and clap and say woo hoo!

I can do that because you have articulated so clearly why we have elected Obama president. Now I hope we can get behind him as a nation.

Gina said...

Very well said...