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The Problem With Ism's

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Democracy is a political philosophy. Democracy is the book. The ideologies within democracy, the ism's, are the chapters inside the book. The problem we confront, and have confronted since before the inception of this country, is an attempt to rule from the chapters, rather than the book. Democracy isn't a recipe; add two eggs and beat for two centuries, nor a prescription; take two aspirin and call me in the next millennium. Nor is democracy a mathematically provable theorem. Democracy is an experiment. As long as the ism's stay within the confines of the rules set down by the book, the experiment can succeed. It may have bumps and swings, but it remains intact. When the ism's attempt to rewrite the book, the experiment fails, and the citizens suffer.

In the nation as parent metaphor that George Lakoff speaks of, the government is the adult and the rest of us are the children. Well, if that's the case it's time for the children to turn the tables. It's time for the children to tell the parents to go to their rooms. It's time for the children to tell their parents to take a time out. The truth be known, however, it's time for the tables to turn back to the original concept of just who's in charge. In other words, the metaphor needs to be turned on its head. We're the adults who have allowed the unsupervised children to run rampant on the hill without a curfew.

We've allowed ourselves to be placed in little ism boxes, with labels like liberal(ism), or conservative(ism), or libertarian(ism). Ideologies shape and mold who we are, but they cannot be allowed to control us to the extent that it becomes our way or the highway amongst ourselves. Save that one for the ones on the hill. There is still a collective "we" out here that can be non-partisan and cooperative. When we, en masse, step outside our ism boxes and join the crowd, we can obtain unity. Divide and conquer may work if want you really want to do is conquer, but if want you really want to do is solve problems, 300 million heads are better than 535. Part of the problem is that the U.S. is not a collectivist(ism) society; it is a nation of individualists(ism). We debate and then return to our corner bloodied and bruised, awaiting the bell to signal the next round rather than meeting in the town square. We may gather into churches to meet our neighbors, but we limit ourselves by denominations(alisms). Or if we don't attend church, we can fall back on secularism or humanism.

It is probably impossible to eliminate the isms from our lives. It's human nature to attempt to label ourselves. The question is, are we the subjects of this experiment called democracy, or are we the ones controlling the experiment? The pharmaceutical industry tests drugs in phases. If it makes it past Phase III, it might make it on to the market. This administration's toxic drug failed in Phase I, but still somehow managed to make it's way on to the market. The neo-conservatives(ism) are working from a chapter outside the book; they're writing a whole different book, taking bits and pieces from other authors like Huxley, Orwell, Hitler, and Mussolini. The neo-liberals(ism) took a chapter out of the book when no one was looking and replaced it with a supplemental. This isn't the book you thought you checked out of the library is it? This isn't the program the TV Guide says was supposed to be on is it? It's something else entirely, and it must be science fiction because it's not based on any kind of logic I know of.

A dyadic relationship is one in which two or more people are involved. two or more isms. A symbiotic relationship is one in which each is dependant on the other. Are we going to split the country into parts and tell everyone to pick their side and move where you won't have to think about conflict? Are we going to continue to allow the children to rule the roost? Or are we, the collective, dyadic, and symbiotic we going to put our foot down and say enough is enough? What happens when you mix too many ingredients (isms) in a chemical experiment? It depends on what the ingredients are and how much is used. What happens when you mix too many ingredients in a recipe? Sometimes you get a cake and sometimes you get an unpalatable noxious mess. Think about it.

Maybe it's time to move outside all of our individualisms. Does that mean bipartisanship? No, it means taking partisanship out of the equation entirely. It means rejecting isms that take their cue from outside the book. It takes the willingness to cry foul. It takes the ability to say "Hi, my name is_____ and I'm a recovering ismaholoic." Bush says he doesn't talk to "our" enemies. Well, I don't consider myself to have any enemies or foes. I stopped allowing myself to see threats and obstacles and began to see opportunities. This isn't a Rodney King moment. It's not can we all get along. It's shut up, sit down, it's my turn. I listened to you, now you're gonna listen to me, and then we'll figure out how to make it work, and then we’ll explain it to the children.

You know, if you're right handed and you injure your right hand, you can still use your left hand. It may not be easy, or pretty, but you can do it. But if you have both hands tied behind your back, unless you can write with your feet, you're not going to accomplish much. The current administration is tightening the bounds on that rope, and applying the blindfold. There are hopes that the newly elected Congress can unloose the bounds, but if they're tied up with their own isms, they can't, and won't release you from yours. It's not time to engage the enemy, it's time to reach out to one another with respect and say "I may not agree with you, but I am willing to listen to you if you will listen to me." Once that part is done, it's time to tell the 535 plus the executive branch what "we" have decided.

Mountains can be moved one wheelbarrow at a time, and wheelbarrows can be filled one shovel full at a time. The more shovels working, the faster the job goes, up to a point. But it's the workers that get the job done, not the supervisors. Congress and the Whitehouse consider themselves to be the supervisors, and we the workers. That needs to change. It's we who need to tell them, go move that mountain and how to do it. They work for us, now make them earn their pay...or fire them. That’s one way to look at it. Another is that we are a nation of citizen government; we are the government; we are the workers and collectively we can get things done, and the 535+ are our instruments to accomplish that, under our leadership and direction. Look at it any way you want to, the end result is the same.

We can’t leave Iraq. We can’t impeach the President. We can’t, we can’t, we can’t. OK clown, shut up, sit down and listen. Here’s what we came up with and what you’re going to do. If you don’t like it Mr./Ms. representative, don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out. Well, according to the polls, we want out of Iraq, we don’t want to go into Iran, we want universal healthcare, we want big money out of politics. Can you multitask? Most 12 year olds can. Here’s the plan, now get it done. If we know what we want, but are unable to get it done, then we need to start thinking outside our ism boxes a little more often.

The library has a trace on the book; it seems to have been lost. Will we find it or give up looking? I think it’s called a search party. You know, when the whole group collaborates to resolve a single task, to find something that is our democracy. We’d better find it quick, before the sun goes down, before it’s too late.
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Mark Petersen has a B. A. in Speech Communications/Public Address & Rhetoric and is currently a Master of Humanities candidate in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Denver. His writing and (more...)
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