The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Individuals and Nations

A very, very important business meeting today at 2pm PST.  Please keep your fingers crossed…
In looking at the question of “what does America need to embrace the possibilities of the 21st Century?” I find myself wanting to take a rather typical Lifewriting approach to the question.  And that means looking at what an individual human being needs to achieve, and drawing parallels.

It seems there is a perfect opportunity to do that, as we were just talking about the fact that blacks in the Caribbean seem…more “whole” somehow, despite their poverty. 

If I were to come up with 3-10 basic principles and try to “map” them across both sets (individuals and nation-states) I wonder what I’d come up with.

In general, here are some of the most important things for an individual:
1)     The ability to be blisteringly honest, but courageously compassionate.
2)     The ability to set clear goals in alignment with the deepest values and beliefs.
3)     The capacity to believe in Self deeply.
4)     A knowledge of past actions (positive and negative) without that knowledge limiting future options.
5)     The ability to take action despite the “noise” of internal voices, if those actions are in alignment with deeply held values and beliefs.
6)     The ability to postpone gratification, to move toward a worthy goal in an incremental fashion.
7)     The ability to create healthy bonded teams of allies to reach those goals unreachable by an individual. The ability to create a primary bond with another adult, equal human being.
8)     The ability to shift fluidly from “Yin” to “Yang”—from female to male modes of thought and action—depending on the circumstance.
9)     The ability to raise and focus the physical and emotional energies on command.
10)     A grounding in the physical body sufficient to provide accurate feedback about the material world.

The question I have is:  (A) How have these been damaged in America’s black underclass?  (B) How have these metaphorically been damaged in America as a whole?  For instance, #1: there is, in my mind, an unwillingness in much of black culture to criticize our success stories.  (A) How long has it taken for the misogyny and violence in rap music to gain the criticism needed?  Loving our artists, and grasping that they often give voice to the voiceless, does not remove their obligation to take responsibility for the images and attitudes spewed into the airwaves.  (B) Post-9/11, America fell into a completely understandable state of near-panic and inflexible thought.  How often did we hear that “X” was necessary, or all is lost.  Really?  In human history, how many times has there been only one possible way to reach a goal?  One can say “I believe X is the BEST way to do something”, and that is honest.  But “the only?”  I think not.  That, whether the subject is “victory in Iraq,” “torture’, “the Patriot Act” or whatever, became a frequent note.  And to me, this is dishonest, limited thought.  I hate to say this, but it is a very, very MALE approach (“this is the way.  If it doesn’t seem to be working, we’ll just try harder!”).  Ah, then, there is a touch of “#8” about this one, right?  America became horrifically politicized, and politics breeds dishonesty.  If you’re going to sit on the Left and demonize the Right, or on the Right and demonize the Left, you basically have to shut off part of your brain.

The answer for black individuals (once again, from the Lifewriting POV) is to cultivate a devastatingly scrupulous self-reflection and internal honesty, as well as a commitment to honest communication with others.  To do this, you have to have deep, deep self-love.  To the degree that an individual can find the sense of divinity within them, and then extend that to those around them, they are capable of forming a web of spiritual connections in which the light of truth may be uncomfortable, but never damaging.

This does not mean being weak and vulnerable.  The refusal of the Bush administration to dialogue with “our enemies” is an expression of this.  What the hell?  Your enemies are the ones MOST important to dialogue with.  The arts of political diplomacy and the elaborate rules of court behavior were designed to allow people with serious disagreements—often in the middle of war—to discuss the possibilities of peace.

Direct war, then, might be seen as a ‘Male” reaction, whereas diplomacy is the “female” response.  Can you see that both carrot and stick are necessary here?  Neither Yin nor Yang, alone, represent the Tao.  They must both be present, alive, and interactive.

This is, for instance, why I think that the current political scene represents the last gasp of the Patriarchy.  What is needed to combat terrorism isn’t direct war—that works against Geopolitical entities.  For terrorism, you need more of a ‘network” approach: surgical military strikes, crisp intelligence gathering and interpretation, cooperation between the nations of the world, cracking good police actions, a grasp of the psychological underpinnings of those desperate or fanatical enough to use such tactics.

In the black community, such honesty means a firm, clear grasp of the damage that was done by slavery, but also an understanding of human nature broad and deep enough to see the horror as one intrinsic to the paler aspect of the human heart: the tendency to see human beings as objects rather than individuals.  To forgive others gives the capacity to forgive the self.  To look forward rather than back (while never forgetting history) enables you to embrace your future rather than having the past hanging around your neck like a #$%@@ing albatross.
I’m just showing how a look at what INDIVIDUALS need, and what NATIONS need, can be related in an interesting and revealing fashion.  Other interpretations can and must arise, as well as other sets of “basic” principles.  I’d love your thoughts on other ways to look at the connection.

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