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The Next American Operating System

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The question can be raised of whether excursions into the deeper history of America are worthwhile. Why not simply focus on the many problems of the present? Why are things like the genocide of Native peoples or the esoteric links of our founding fathers relevant when we’ve got more pressing concerns like the Iraq war?

The reason I believe this exploration is now important is that we are called to another level of consciousness as a country, an evolution of our governing assumptions, our political structures and our national psychology. We can envision this as an upgrade to a new operating system -- new software for our country that builds upon the old code but adds improved capacities, abilities, and powers.

Unlike a computer program, however, the previous operating system of our national consciousness cannot simply be overwritten. It must be outgrown in an integrated fashion, which means completing the unfinished parts of the last stage of our growth, as well as understanding what is no longer working and why. Our maturation as a country requires coming face to face with what is no longer adaptive about our beliefs, thoughts, and habits as well as what we’ve hidden in our shadows.

The presidency of George W. Bush causes many who are drawn to this new operating system angst. In many ways, he is an exaggeration of the consciousness that we are outgrowing. We can choose to fixate on what we don’t like about him, vilify him and his allies, and build political support against him, thinking that alone will generate the progress we need. However, there is also a subtler process that is likely more important, which is to look at him and his administration as a Rorschach of where our national psyche is fixated and then to create a vision of ourselves that is more whole. Part of this requires embracing what is virtuous, valuable, and beautiful about Bush and his allies rather than simply pointing towards the problems and inadequacies.

Growth rarely happens through self-hatred or judgment. It usually begins with the recognition that what we don’t like about ourselves – our arrogance, weakness, meanness, or fear, for example – is often a mask for something that is unfinished or incomplete. Undesired qualities are signposts for something that is developmentally frozen. Shifting the pattern first requires softening our judgment and resistance and then finding a place of love and respect for the defenses or perceived “problems.”

Collectively, our frustration with current leadership is like a window on places where America’s emergent culture and operating system are not yet whole. If they were, there would not be the level of reactivity and hopelessness that we witness. The supposedly undesirable qualities would be honored in a larger, deeper context while we simultaneously work to make sure that the outdated OS is not running the show much longer.

In the case of President Bush, for example, we see an exaggerated version of strong masculine qualities that some would prefer to jettison from the new operating system. However, for the new OS to be a true upgrade, we cannot jettison the old but must build upon it and extend it. If not, we compromise the efficacy of the new platform. In America’s next operating system, for example, we need the valiant warrior who is willing to fight for what is right. But that warrior impulse will find a more noble and clear expression. We thus need to embrace the many virtues that Bush demonstrates in his warriorship –singularity of focus, a commitment to see things through to the end, decisiveness, a willingness to sacrifice for what he believes is right, an ability to galvanize people to take hard steps, and a respect for the military.

Simply rejecting the warrior won’t work. It’s tantamount to deleting essential lines of code from the next operating system. What we really need is to upgrade the functionality and integrate it better with the emerging consciousness. It’s not the warrior qualities in Bush that are the problem; it’s the use of those qualities in situations for which they do not constitute skillful means.

Integration is what differentiates an upgrade to a new operating system for America from a counter-cultural rebellion. Counter-cultural values tend to be created as polar opposites to the dominant culture. If that remains the case, we are simply locked in a tug-of-war for dominance; either the old operating system or its antithesis. We cannot upgrade until we integrate both polarities. At that point, the warring factions can recognize that their most important virtues and values have been honored and infused into a new viewpoint that is more whole. Such a recognition will eventually lead to a natural assumption of political power by those who advance an emerging operating system, which could emerge in either dominant party or perhaps through a third-party vehicle.

All of this relates to why exploring our country’s shadow with as much open-hearted curiosity and truthtelling rigor as we can muster is a requirement to activate a new system. We need to build the best of everything that has been previously created into what is emerging. And we also need to see where we have been unconscious, blind, or lying to ourselves so as to help arrested parts of our national character to find their next higher expression.

Sacred America Series #10
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Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit and the founder of the Radical Spirit community, as well as the Director of Membership and Marketing for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human (more...)

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