The Problem with Obama

It has become evident, as it must be to any socially conscious American who lives or has lived in one of America’s major urban areas, that Mr. Obama’s blackness is a problem, but not in the usual way. He is an attractive man who I believe is fully qualified to represent America and me before humanity’s highest authorities. Obama’s problem rather, is that his core constituency and political base is urban. The support of rural black and small town voters is almost incidental, secondary.

The traditional American political cleavage–upstate versus downstate, urban versus rural–may now be characterized, which is not to say, caricatured, as red-state/blue-state: states with a high percentage of urban voters versus states with a predominantly rural and small town mentality.

This became apparent in reviewing county polling results between Clinton and Obama in the Pennsylvania primary and should be apparent again in Indiana and probably in North Carolina.

The question, becomes then, “is America ready to elect a ‘big city’ candidate, one who is a reflection of globalization? Will we continue to ignore the world or will we take stock of our responsibilities in shaping world outcomes while remembering that we have much work to do in our own communities?

The question for Democrats then, should be which coalition has a greater chance of winning the 2008 general elections: the feminist, social-democrats or a healing coalition of urban blacks and middle class whites frustrated with the status quo?

Beyond electoral politics, the question for Americans might be, how can we redefine our attitudes and expectations to account for the reasonable expectations of America’s underclasses?

If John Kerry was not electable why would Barack Obama be any more so?

A 21st Century Awakening

Of all the subjects available for discussion and involvement, perhaps the most interesting is the “great awakening”. Certainly China existed before the Cultural Revolution and it will certainly exist long after you and I have moved on.

Yet here are 1.3 billion people – young people, mothers, fathers, educators, scientists, consumers – awakening to consciousness. As interesting as this would be in any event, in the case of China it is all the more remarkable because the Chinese are playing by our rules, mimicking Western social forms, making their own mistakes, learning from ours’.

This awakening is unselfconscious. It is full of itself and confident, a youthful coming to maturity of a society whose cultural conventions and ethos represent many thousands of generations of refinement.

This great awakening might be apprehended as a mirror of Western society and a unique opportunity to see ourselves in a new light. There are perhaps as many ways to tell a story as their are stories to tell. But for those who listen and observe, the Chinese awakening is a catalog of new forms by which to measure our own sense of accountability.

Background for this article is taken from an MSN article, “What do Chinese Teens Want?“. If you are reading this post, you might like to explore MSN’s use of multimedia (multiple media types) in reporting on Chinese consumerism. Also, the video segment “Rapping Over Opera” makes a number of interesting inter-cultural points.


This is hardly a post about “living in Provence” except that I understand Wolfowitz (and Richard Pearl and perhaps others of the unlamented “neo-convirate”) are neighbors here in meridional France, a land of exile if ever there was one… This post rather, is about ethics and governance.

While headlines of the world press shouted for Wolfowitz’ head, sweet revenge for the arrogance and “impunity” of the discredited Bush administration, a more quiet headline appeared in environmental journals and blogs. One manifestation of that headline reads, Vast Forests with Trees each Worth £4,000 Sold for a Few Bags of Sugar, another, in the New Scientist reads, Protected Congo Forest is Logged Regardless.

The story of how the world’s forestry reserves are managed leads directly to the World Bank, to the financing of economic development and the governance of the world’s financial institutions. It would not be wise, nor indeed would it be justified to link World Bank practices to unethical exploitation of the developing world.

But in a world of political spin and perception, the United States’ questionable motives in pursuing regime change in Iraq cannot but reflect on the neo-conservative values (the French would say, incorrectly, I believe, the “neo-liberal values”) of one of the chief architects of the Iraq mess and now party to an affair of questionable ethics.

The moral blame resulting directly from the arrogance and impunity of Bush administration governing practices needs to be addressed. And Wolfowitz, as an inside member of that organization, should be considered expendable.

Advice and Consent: thoughts for a twenty-third century

Thirty-nine years ago Paul McCartney wondered where he would be on his 64th birthday.

I have been 54 for some months now and, as I contemplate the coming decade, I wonder whether Paul asked the right question. Why not ask, “when he’s two hundred”? in 2167?

The practical answer is, of course, that “two hundred” doesn’t rhyme with “shut the door” and so he might have re-written the song to make it work. And then, besides telling a story, music is about entertainment; Who would buy a song about scarce resources? Finally, who’s to say it would be any fun living two hundred years, or, that the world would be a better place for such longevity? The patriarchs of old aren’t around to tell us and I’m not sure that I would believe anybody among living.

The 200-year question wasn’t asked in 1967 probably because we didn’t know then what we know today about genetics and planetary interconnectedness. We could not possibly have comprehended the implications of population growth a mere forty years ago. We lived then, in a never-never-land of unlimited resources and a brave new world of science and technology.

I do not disparage this heritage; it could not have been otherwise. There was insufficient critical mass of humanity to anticipate let alone comprehend such developments, just as today there is an unwillingness to accept the moral and economic imperative of third-world solidarity. If we were intellectually unprepared then, are we any better prepared today?

I think so, if only because we now ask the question. We have looked mortality in the eye and are stronger for it. Here then are a few modest thoughts for the New Year.

2007 will be a year for the practice of planetary consciousness:

a year for thinking people to continue their challenge of received ideas about “good” and “bad” and so, to practice long-term consciousness, the two-hundred year outlook for instance, even if only in their own lives.

a year in which good people look at themselves in the mirror and ask whether they live with empathy, whether they are growing their understanding of the connectedness of life?

a year in which enlightened self-interest becomes the guiding ethic of thinking men and women who ask what they can do for a better twenty-third centennary (of the christian era, of course — here is material for yet another ethnocentric debate!)

The question of the twenty-third centennary begs the question: How should we see the twenty-third centennary?

I will not be around in the year 2167, and so would not wish something for myself. Nor would I wish something for my children whom I know, or my children’s children to whom I am introduced from time to time — to my great pleasure! Two hundred years is approximately two and a half life times, somewhere between 8 and 10 generations which makes for alot of genetic experimentation, alot of “cultural water under the bridge”.

The question of what I want for the twenty-third centennary is not merely a rhetorical rendition of a pious wish and I most emphatically reject any such soft and fuzzy platitudes as “healthy environment”, “world at peace” or “social justice for all of God’s creatures”.

What interests me is the hard and eminently practical: “What will it take to make such a world a reality?” and “What can I do today to help forumulate such a vision?”

From the height of my 54 years, from my experience, readings and general culture, I can say without any doubt that such idyllic outcomes would not be possible without a planetary enforcement system, and by “enforcement” I mean, recognized authority.

Human society would not be possible without the formality we think of as “advice and consent”. When we seek a neighbour’s advice we defer to his wishes. The neighbour may grant or withhold assent. If he also has authority you may be bound by his response. What is sometimes extended as mere courtesy to a neighbour, at other times, defines an individual’s relationship to a group, and even, of one group to another, thus forming a “comity”.

Such a comity, whether of “nations”, states within a federation or individuals in a club is a neighbourhood network of “proximities”.

A “comity” of Carribbean nations exists under the aegis of the North American superpower. There are a North Atlantic comity and a Latin American comity. The European comity is anchored in the principles of the Treaty of Rome and a growing vision of European union. An African comity is defined by East-West competition for natural resources. There is a Central Asian comity defined as shared history, religion and energy resources. There is an “Islamic” comity defined largely by opposition to neo-colonial cultural imperialism. In short, there are as many “comities” as there are membership groups.

The “international arena” is where these interest groups meet, negotiate and resolve their differences. What these groups lack are the coercive power to enforce group decisions. They exist in a limited fashion but do not, in any measurable sense constitute an authority.

Is politics the answer? Probably not. But politics implies a process which, if freely engaged, binds those who are so engaged. The outcome of any process of engagement is an agreement on deferrence and assent which engages the comity, universally and without exception.

So my first act for 2007 is a political act to engage freely in the struggle for the long term.

I have joined a group of like-minded individuals who share a vision for Aix-en-Provence. Would this be a vision for France or for Europe? I don’t know. But wherever it leads, if it does not ask the 200-year question, I will have no part of it.

Recondita Dissipatio

I got into the car. Any moving car.

If the owner turned left out of the parking lot I would introduce myself and ask to be dropped at the community center down the road.

She did, turn left that is, and so I introduced myself.
She had sight problems, which I quickly understood when we found ourselves on the outside of a right-hand curve, veering onto a median ground. We felt the brush of tall grass on the chassis before correcting ourselves, only to swing back into oncoming traffic on the straightaway. I don’t remember putting on my seat belt. Logically I must have. Probably, I did not.

Time was passing. I recognized less of the passing landscape. Obviously we had gone further north; “We must have taken the shore route”, I thought.

The scenery was beautiful: on one side deep greens, water fowl and an occasional house against a background of water, mountains and sky. As we sped through the landscape the forest to the left became an evergreen blur.

My erratic and sight impaired companion, now captor, took a folded map from the sun visor, squinted at the small print index and pointed to a name in blue. It was, she thought, the name of the lake we were skirting.

I took the map and tried to find the lake on the map, turning it this way and that, until my patron stopped the car, took the map back and siddled up to read it. Just as we were getting oriented, the car was in motion again, this time rolling to a stop a little further, in an angled parking space.

I stepped out of the car. I was being watched. I felt it. At my feet, a dark-haired woman with wildness in her hair and eyes sat on the sidewalk, her feet tucked under her in a half-squat, a tropical white cotton dress shifting in the breeze.

Here was desire.

I had turned it down twice this morning, and I had turned down an offer of a disinterested if distracted friendship to collaborate on a book. I was being spirited from my objective by a blind and reckless woman who, no doubt had her own designs. And here I was, standing by a stone wall, in a gentrified medieval village on the shore of some unknowable lake district confronted with desire.

Desire was not her name, mind you. It is what I saw in her eyes…

Desire, a call for communion

Desire, a call for communion

This is not a reflection about ultimate values. Rather it is a meditation upon one way in which we experience universal connectedness.

In the give and take of human relations, and of ultimate experiences, one hears that women have a more intense experience of “desire”.

Whether true or not, “desire” is a benchmark of human vitality

The key problem of existence is motivation: what is the necessity of it all? Why get up in the morning? These and similar questions lead humans to stories of context, to mythologies and ritual practices designed to harmonise man with observance, with nature and the source of life.

Are we masters of necessity, or driven by it?

If the answer to the question of motivation is physical, i.e. reproduction, one answer applies, if spiritual, another.

The spiritual answer begs the question of authority and requires an act of faith and affirmation, of “Nirvana”, “God” or “Allah” and is always accompanied by an appropriate defferential behaviour.

“Desire” however, is a life-problem, an affirmation of a negative, a craving for release from the craving, an “avoidance” behaviour that is “life-affirming”.

I cannot think of “desire” without at the same time conceiving of satiety.

Such hunger is a metaphor for loneliness and isolation, for cold, hunger and ultimately death. The physical and spiritual love that elevate man from hunger are ultimately the affirmative bonds of good society.

The moral issue in desire arises from the implications of desire for individual relationships and the consequences of such relations for personal security and self-determination.