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Societal Versus
Political Divisions

Natalia J. Garland

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Social justice is no longer the cause that it used to be in the 1960's. Although there are still problems in America with racism, sexism, and poverty, we have made great strides through legislation and attitude to reduce both the severity and the number of these problems. Yet, some presidential candidates seem to be re-opening past wounds and feelings by focusing again on these issues, as though we were still living in the pre-Civil Rights era. This focus, combined with the polarized views on the Iraq War and immigration reform, seems unnecessarily divisive.

In campaign speeches and debates we hear phrases such as there are two Americas (i.e., rich and poor), or there are quiet riots in the African-American community (i.e., rage waiting to burst out), or if I knew then what I know now about the Iraq War (i.e., I was lied to), or the war on terror is a bumper sticker (i.e., the politics of fear and not a real issue), or any bill is better than no bill, (i.e., hurry up, vote, and don't study the details). These remarks divide society: between rich and poor, blacks and whites, liberals and conservatives, citizens and immigrants, and so on.

Instead of reflecting the current needs of a divided society, politics itself is creating divisions between groups of people and obscuring the more crucial issues of our time. Fringe or extremist political groups have become powerful lobbyists in this process, seemingly to carry on the struggle for equality and social justice. Although the political messages are expressed with all the stylistic fervor of the 1960's, the messengers have become hardened in the formation of a political correctness for the 2000's--a hardness unknown to their flower children predecessors, but very much a part of the automaton culture against which the flower children rebelled.

Yesterday's counter-cultural revolutionist is today's politically correct conformist. Even among younger politicians and activists, there seems to be a backward-focused search for identity. There is a turning back to a time when social injustice was blatant and institutionalized, and everyday people could achieve a sense of self-respect in the struggle for equality for all. It is, so to speak, an old-fashioned view of America. Moreover, the related old-fashioned behavior is not felt as corny, embarrassing, or irrelevant, but as essential to maintaining a cohesive self in an ever-changing and increasingly dangerous world.

Today's activists must have an obvious cause, and the cause is what provides personal identity and purpose, as well as a political platform. If there is no real cause--because the causes are generally resolved, or laws are in place by which to resolve them--then a new cause will be created (e.g., illegal immigration as a civil rights issue), or the remnant of an old cause will be magnified (e.g., prisoners' rights and the over-emphasis on the Abu Ghraib scandal), or a dead cause will be resurrected, (e.g., taking separation of church and state to the point of removing Christmas trees from an airport).

The urgent problems of our time are overshadowed by narrow questions with predictable answers. Did you support the Iraq War? Did you vote for or against funding the surge in Iraq? What is your view on abortion? Why were you for abortion in the past, but against it now? Why did you raise taxes? How does your faith affect your political decisions? What would you say to a mother whose son was killed in Iraq? What was the worst mistake you ever made?

There are extreme problem areas that are not receiving adequate attention. (1) Homeland security and the war on terror as a long-term effort. (2) Immigration reform based on factual data, humanitarian values, and enforcement. (3) Healthcare (including drug addiction which is related to drug trafficking which, in turn, is related to homeland security). (4) Education (including student safety). (5) Criminal justice (including gang violence). (6) America's infrastructure (bridges, dams, roads) which is in dire need of repair and replacement.

Some of these issues may have a connection to the old social justice issues of the 1960's and 1970's, but now they are primary issues within themselves. These complicated issues affect all American citizens. These are not issues of right and wrong; but of effectiveness, efficiency, technology, philosophy, procedure, distribution, management, knowledge, information, safety, protection, tenacity, experience, creativity, innovation, discussion, cooperation, collaboration.

If we would focus on our urgent problems, then we could unite as solution-finding partners. All of us--Americans of different races and cultural heritage, different ages and occupations, men and women--could work together. This would mean facing the contemporary world with all its horror and its opportunity, and expanding identity to embrace new challenges in problem-solving. America has changed dramatically since the 1960's, and change--even good change--can be a difficult adjustment for some people. Nonetheless, West Side Story is over. Woodstock is over. The Yellow Submarine is over. It's history. Let's move forward. America still needs people who care, but in a different way.

Another example of the narrowing down of complicated issues can be found in the case of presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani. He takes a strong position against terrorism--which appeals to many conservatives; but he also accepts abortion as a woman's right--which repels many conservatives. Some religious conservatives have said they will not vote for him based on their objection to the issue of abortion. It is a matter of conscience and adherence to religious doctrine. That's understandable. But, let's put forth a hypothetical situation. What if Giuliani could save America from terrorism? Which would be the greater sin? (1) To vote against the candidate in order to save unborn babies, while America is destroyed by terrorists. (2) To vote for the candidate and save America, and save the unborn babies of the future and provide a free society for them.

If people really cared about racial equality, why not use the examples of Governor Richardson and Senator Obama, both of whom are presidential candidates and also biracial, to illustrate racial harmony and career success? Governor Richardson is the son of a white father and a Hispanic mother. Senator Obama is the son of a black father and a white mother. Yet, in their campaigns they seem to identify as Hispanic and black, respectively. It is said that Senator Obama would be the first black president. Governor Richardson would be a good choice for vice president under Hillary Clinton: the first woman president and the first Hispanic vice president. Nobody looks at either of the above two men as the first biracial president. Why are their racial and cultural mixtures not regarded as positive attributes? Why is this not used to demonstrate tolerance and express appreciation of America's melting-pot?

If we were able to sit with some of these politicians and activists in a therapy session, we would probably find they possess narcissistic, passive-aggressive, or even antisocial personality traits. And, perhaps we would be surprised to find dependency, not as a personality trait, but as a political lifestyle arrangement. There seems to be an utter dependence on a cause around which to organize a lifestyle, as a way of being in society, and as a means of having a purpose. This quality of dependence might explain the trait of inadequacy found in today's politically correct segment. In addition, their cause must be connected to a scapegoated authority figure such as the President of the United States or the Pope, or to a broad grouping of people such as the religious right or the military (nowadays, focusing on the military personnel accused of torturing war prisoners).

The focus on a scapegoat enables some political leaders to avoid responsibility for solving the current crucial issues, and to divert attention from their own intellectual impotence. This is where the activists of the 2000's differ sharply from those of the 1960's. Ideally, the activists of the 1960's wanted to unite Americans in peace and love rather than to split them into irreconcilable factions, and to exorcise America of social injustice rather than to blame America for every occurrence of life's random unfairness. Today's activists seem to want to take our social unity and fragment it again, re-creating the conditions of the pre-Civil Rights era, in order to feel comfortable with their outdated level of problem-solving abilities. The current divisive tactics, although borrowing the forms of a previous generation, are a mutant and inferior variety of activism. There can be no fulfillment of purpose, because this would destroy the raison d'être of the participants: a fate worse than death by terrorism.

[NOTE: Certain presidential candidates and/or their slogans were mentioned for illustrative purposes only. The author neither supports nor rejects these candidates. This essay is not intended to serve as a statement on any candidate's campaign, moral character, or mental stability. This essay is a work in progress, not a finished product, and is therefore subject to error. The ideas expressed are based on personal observation and opinion, and are not intended to carry official diagnostic value.] (Written 06/11/07: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2007 Natalia J. Garland