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The Zen of Politics

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“Finality is not the language of politics.”

Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81), English statesman, author. Speech to House of Commons, 28 February 1859.

“Politics is not an exact science."
Prince Otto Von Bismarck (1815–98), Prussian statesman. Speech, 18 December 1863, to the Prussian legislature.

“Zen joke.”
“Zen laugh.”
The Flying Karamazov Brothers, juggling and comedy troupe, Showtime cable television special, 1983.            

Zen Buddhism is an offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism.  Its precepts state that enlightenment (satori) may be achieved through meditation, intuition, and self-examination, rather than faith and devotion.            

One of Zen's most important tools for attaining a state of satori is the koan, a paradoxical statement whose purpose is to shake loose your own ego driven preconceptions about yourself and the world.  The most famous of these is probably, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”            

Shaking ourselves loose from our preconceptions is vital in many areas of our lives, not just our spiritual selves.  It is at the heart of psychotherapy: where it is the patient's misconceptions of themselves and their relationship to the world that are recognized as being at the heart of many of their neuroses and even psychoses. A patient changing their conception of themselves and the world can allow them to deal constructively with their mental health issues.            

It is also at the heart of constructive politics.  For example, a political party's inability to adapt to a changing world, to become enlightened about themselves and the necessity of adapting to change, must ultimately lead to that party's demise.  Unfortunately, it is much harder to apply the methods of Zen or psychotherapy to a political party's need for change, than it is for individual human beings.            

Case in point: today's Republican Party.  Its continued insistence on tax cuts—aimed primarily at the richest American corporations and individuals—to stimulate the economy would be laughable if our nation was not in such deep economic trouble.              

Twenty-eight years of these “voodoo economics” has raised the national debt from less than one trillion dollars to almost eleven trillion dollars, about half of that in the last eight years.  The wealthiest one percent of the population has gone from holding twenty percent of our nation's wealth to holding forty percent of that wealth in the same time period.  The majority of this shift in wealth came from the bottom eighty percent of the population, in spite of the thirty-nine million jobs created during the Reagan and Clinton administrations.  This is due to the fact that many of those jobs were in the service sector, and went to women entering the workplace simply to maintain their family's middle class status (Will Bunch; Tear Down This Myth, p.131).            

If tax cuts and refunds were as truly effective in helping to stimulate the growth for an ailing economy as the Republicans claim, then the one hundred-and-sixty billion dollar stimulus package the Bush administration got through Congress last year should have prevented the economic meltdown that we are experiencing right now.  It has not.            

Supply side economics has a fatal flaw: you cannot continually borrow money from the future to spur the growth of your economy, without actually acquiring enough money (by wages for the individual and taxes for the government) to keep your debt ratio limited.              

As long as the economy is good, supply side economics seems to work, both for the individual and the nation. However, if there is a personal economic setback (serious illness, loss of a job, etc.) the individual soon discovers he cannot keep his creditors at bay.  For a government, the moment there is an economic slow down (recession), the government discovers that it has a more difficult time borrowing the money it needs to pull the nation's economy out of the proverbial ditch.            

If the Republican Party does not develop some new, practical ideas with which to entice the voters, they will become as politically relevant as the Whigs, the Federalists, and the Dixiecrats.            

I do not, however, see the Republicans achieving satori at any time in the foreseeable future.            

Another place where the inability to change ones preconceptions blinds a group to a possible solution to their problems are the “New World Order” conspiracy theorists.            

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Richard Girard is a polymath and autodidact whose greatest desire in life is to be his generations' Thomas Paine. He is an FDR Democrat, which probably puts him with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the current political spectrum. His answer to (more...)

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