"We have to find a way to expand the limits of what's possible." - Al Gore
"Become the change that you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi
Al Gore came to speak here the other night, and despite my bad cold and what turned out to be horrendously uncomfortable bleacher seats, I went to hear him.
The thing I liked second best about his talk was that it was scheduled opposite the State of the Union address.
The thing I liked best about his talk was listening to someone smart talk about the state of the union.
(They opened with the national anthem. I am one of those people who usually stays seated if I can get away with it. I'm not sure why this is. I think that the crux of the matter is that I think it's an empty show, and I don't like being told when and under what circumstances I should be patriotic, and what that should look like. I can get away with it in New York, but here, not only does everyone stand - everyone SINGS. And the person behind me clearly was a soloist in her church choir, so I got an earful.)
Gore's main points were that our democracy is broken, that the citizens are no longer informed and involved and our representatives are no longer interested in ideas and information. His charge to us is to change the system, to educate ourselves and to take an active role in our government. And while the environment is clearly the central issue for Gore, the dissolution of American democracy is also of critical importance.
Gore avoided castigating the current administration for these problems, cleverly sidestepping direct accusations. He never pointed to Bush and said, "it's his fault." But he did note that, at some point, "we got away from a politics based on a rule of reason and a well-informed citizenry in the driver's seat," moving instead to a political system in which, "instead of reason and knowledge playing the principle role, money does."
Sadly, Gore did not talk much about his movie. That meant that he didn't say much beyond the basics about the problems we face or how we might solve them. Personally, I found this frustrating - I would have like to have more information and to have been given a suggested first step. I mean, it helps. Otherwise there's that panicky paralysis that sets in whenever we find out about some new ill in the world that needs to be healed and the task is just too great.
But what I'm left with from Gore's talk is that we can't solve these problems, environmental or governmental, with our usual responses. We have to shift the paradigm. If making or losing money is the main issue in all of our deliberations, then we are doomed.
Now. Native American activists and traditionalists have been saying the same thing for centuries. There's a reason why the Haudenosaunee practiced direct democracy. It meant that everyone had a voice. If some of the tribe wanted to go to war, they all had to sit down and talk about it, and everyone was heard, and if everyone wanted to go to war, then they went to war. But if only some of the people wanted to go to war, they didn't go to war. We took our system of government from the Iroquois, but we shifted from a direct to a representative democracy. A representative democracy is easier. It means that you don't have to listen to all of the people, just to the majority of the people, and sometimes not even to them (witness the 2000 presidential election). The whole purpose for the electoral college, after all, is because the founding fathers didn't trust the common folk enough to vote intelligently, and so they built in a failsafe by which the elite could temper the popular vote.
(Which is ironic when you look at some of our past presidents. Andrew Jackson, for instance. As one of my professors said: "A dumbass."
...I guess that goes for the current president, as well.)
Further, Native Americans made (and continue to make) decisions with an eye toward the future. The rest of us do not. We tend to think about which MP3 player or flatscreen monitor to buy - and not so much about how the manufacturing of these MP3 players and flatscreen monitors and the disposal of broken or outdated ones will affect the environment (say, by leaking lead) that we leave to the seventh generation yet unborn.
I'm not romanticizing Native American culture here - just saying that what we've got isn't working, and this other thing? Looks like a good way to start thinking.
A system of government in which each voice, each vote, really does count?
An environmental approach that weighs policies on their future impacts rather than their revenues?
That, my friends, is something I could get patriotic about.