Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Controlling the rhetoric, the war of words and ideas

This morning, Laura and I were watching the morning news. Catching up on the latest sound bytes flowing out of Washington, we saw redacted clips of the President and the Speaker of the House as they attempted to spin the current state of the debate over raising the debt ceiling for the nation's borrowing practices before a projected early August default.

Without video or sound transcripts to review and without being a fly on the wall of the conference room in the White House where these high level political negotiations are taking place, the truth is that we can only attempt to decode from what is being said by both sides that what is at stake is not so much whether or not to raise the debt limit, but how. As well, not only how, but at stake is the question of to what use the process of raising the debt limit can be accomplished to the political benefit of one party or another. The collateral damage continues to be the people on the fringes of society, the working poor, elderly pensioners and those without the money that creates access to Washington's leadership in today's world.

From what I can see, the Republicans want a staged and gradual increase in the debt ceiling, with the hardest hit coming in the midst of the 2012 presidential elections. I wonder why? At the same time, the Democrats are attempting to stage the limit increase to a one-time hit that will then be reviewed in 2013...AFTER the election. Again, I wonder why?

I may be too cynical in this, but I am beginning to see the heart's core of the issue lying predominantly, it seems, in getting the most bang for the political buck. The parties involved seem focused on how can this crisis create advantage in a battle for control? I also view with no small degree of resentment that it always seems to work into an "us" against "them" mentality. The rich need to take more responsibility, surely' but at the same time all areas of society itself need to be willing to step up and take part in a willing transformation of how we live. We need to traverse a difficult span and alter our way of being from having government administration focused in living through borrowing to a more balanced approach, granted. Still, it takes a GREAT deal of energy, and a willingness to say that what got us here might not be the way to get us out, to make a change in the status quo.

After a lot of years observing "political processes" I am convinced-both from a theological as well as an anthrpological perspective, that the saddest and most illusory of efforts to control people arise from the impulse to control rhetoric and discourse while leaving the opportunity for real, deep structural change out in the cold. I can't tell you how many times I have experienced the effort on the part of a ruling elite to "get the story right" before a planning meeting breaks up so "we can control the way this is going to be heard." One group went so far as to check and make sure that the "elevator speeches" of the membership were close enough on point that they would be taken for gospel. That said, I don't think I had ever been so far away from the gospel as I was in those moments when the group was more focused on control, and controlling the people of God, than bearing witness to God for and to the people....Kind of what we are seeing today work itself out in Washington. Same thing we see working out during Holy Week, as the Sanhedrin struggles with what to do about having now arrested Jesus. If we kill him, then we lose the people. If we release him, then we lose the people. Maybe, if we give him to the Romans, and then push the crowd to condemn, we can get rid of him and THEN it won't be "our fault."

No one wants to take responsibility for the economic crisis coming to a head on their watch, not unless they can lay it off on someone else.

Still, real change, real growth and an authentic life in community aren't won on the rhetorical battlefield. They are achieved by all of us being willing to both hear and speak the truth, beyond sound bytes and engineered spin sessions. Once we adopt that posture, then we are ready to get to work.

Jesus, standing before Pilate is asked if he claims to be king of the Jews-a treasonous and seditious offence-and then is challenged to respond himself, when Jesus turns the question back on him. In the end, the only thing this wily politician and military tactician can offer back as a response is his own interrogative: "What is Truth?"

That is the question...but it requires of us a willingness to quit the war of words and ideas, to let go of controlling rhetoric and get to a place where it isn't about winning or losing (or engineering a win/win where everyone loses). It's about getting the job done and making the right choice, even though it hurts like hell to do so....

2 comments:

  1. As I have been very interested in anthropology for many years, I agree with your opinions. Too many times, in cultures all over the world, spread throughout history people’s fears have been and are now preyed upon by the leaders in order to obtain control over the people they govern. Rarely is the Truth spoken, leaving the populous to sift through the dialog actually delivered in the attempt to find out what’s truly going on. Never through time and history was it ever good for a society to get to the place where they had to ask “what is truth?. Like the saying “complicating a glass of water.” No one gets to drink while the debate is going on of what the water is made from and what kind of glass it’s in…..The truth is never one way or one sided. A truthful dialog is almost never “us” against “them” – and it concerns me that more people can’t see that. Perhaps if the “people” stopped buying into the fear tactics of those that govern – maybe just maybe they would be forced to find a new way.
    One can hope. And this "one" certainly prays.
    Amy Wheeler

    ReplyDelete
  2. As I have been very interested in anthropology for many years, I agree with your opinions. Too many times, in cultures all over the world, spread throughout history people’s fears have been and are now preyed upon by the leaders in order to obtain control over the people they govern. Rarely is the Truth spoken, leaving the populous to sift through the dialog actually delivered in the attempt to find out what’s truly going on. Never through time and history was it ever good for a society to get to the place where they had to ask “what is truth?. Like the saying “complicating a glass of water.” No one gets to drink while the debate is going on of what the water is made from and what kind of glass it’s in…..The truth is never one way or one sided. A truthful dialog is almost never “us” against “them” – and it concerns me that more people can’t see that. Perhaps if the “people” stopped buying into the fear tactics of those that govern – maybe just maybe they would be forced to find a new way.
    One can hope.
    Amy Wheeler

    ReplyDelete