Adapt or Perish

When I write of “my former professor” at CSU East Bay, I am usually referring to the one I took more classes from, served as a teaching assistant for, and generally had more fun with than any other. Despite our friendship, we had our differences.

I think Professor Robert Terrell would agree that where I point to much of world history as evidence that a self-serving system of governance cannot reform itself, and in fact has no motivation to do so, he retains a faith not only that it can, but that it will. The irony is that he supplied much of the evidence that prompted my further investigations, evidence I’ve seen in class, but only recently found a fraction of on line, in his web site and blog.

He juxtaposes his optimism with observations of the increasingly ludicrous health care debate, the devastation of Detroit, and a dire need for new thinking about the problems our society faces. It is now a cliche to point to all the ways in which humanity displays a self-destructiveness that belies hope for the species’ future, including environmental, social, political, and economic catastrophe, ongoing wars, a persistent threat of nuclear war, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Humanity must, I and too many others to list have argued, evolve or it will surely perish. The gun nuts outside Obama speech venues, the “Town Hell” heckling that impedes meaningful debate, the willingness to lie in the service of a political agenda are a natural result of a profoundly dishonest political system in which segments of our society feel empowered only when they are able to distinguish themselves from the poor, only when they are repressing others, and only when they imagine an ability to compete for even greater advantages. These people cling to myths of U.S. exceptionalism, climate change denial, “trickle down” economics, updated Calvinism, capitalism as freedom, of social Darwinism as rationalizing a hierarchy that ranks gender, races, and any opportune differences in a “natural” and “moral” order. They are very scary people whose presence amongst us seems irreconcilable with progress, people who themselves feel threatened by any prospect of a more caring, gentle society.

I must here acknowledge borrowing much of my analysis from George Lakoff, particularly in Moral Politics, particularly since I am about to borrow much, much more. While Lakoff fails to challenge U.S. exceptionalism, I have found his analysis of “critical father” conservatives insightful. I have also suspected that many self-professed liberals would not identify with his description of “nurturant parent” liberals. But in the irony of a president who seeks to govern from the “center” yet polarizes the country even further than his predecessor, I cannot help but notice that Lakoff could point to his description of liberals in Obama’s determination to accommodate the opposition, even to the extent that the result may well be no progress at all, even at the risk that progress may be halted for yet another generation.

This accommodation threatens our survival as a species. It is wishful thinking to imagine an “economic recovery” with so many unemployed, with so many making so little money, and with so many more yet to join them. It is wishful thinking to imagine that a “cap and trade” system that transfers the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from countries that produce the most to countries which produce the least will impact global warming. It is wishful thinking that we can continue to spend ridiculous amounts of money on so-called defense while adequately providing for people at home. It is wishful thinking that capitalists will ever prioritize social and environmental responsibility over return on investment. It is wishful thinking to imagine that when a critical mass recognize the futility of their middle class pretensions that social unrest will not follow. These are delusions, signs of mental illness, signifying maladaption. We must evolve or we will surely perish.

I do not know how to heal the many and the powerful who resist change. But as one of the professors in my Ph.D. program, Bradford Keeney, points out, life is change. Stagnation is death. And at this moment, I feel we are much closer to death than we are to life.

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