Shutdown, Shut Out, Shut Off

10/17/2013 02:01 pm ET

Like most Americans, I'm fed up with the government shutdown, fed up with government inaction and fed up with nincompoop government activists. Even as it draws to a close, the aftereffects will be felt.

Like many Americans, I've been affected only tangentially by the shutdown, although the sister of one of my business partners was directly affected by it. His sister works for the government -- verifying certain standards at hospitals -- and she's been out of work for more than two weeks. As she told him, "The money isn't coming in, but the bills never stop." What did she do to deserve this? All she did was do her job, pay her taxes, be an upright citizen and then... if one can try to peer into the tiny minds of those who were behind this shutdown: Who cares what happened to her? She has become collateral political damage.

Like most Americans affected by the shutdown, my colleague's sister was a victim of pettiness, of spite, of lack of empathy and of that most American political malady: the need to be reelected at all costs. That is, to be self-serving rather than to serve your nation.

How did we get here?

Well, the first thing is that money rules. Again, people in politics are increasingly beholden to the people who are paying the bills. Paying the bills for their reelection campaigns. This isn't new, but it's become worse, I believe. The second thing is that people don't argue anymore: they simply state their position and expect you to take it or leave it. Discourse has died. In its place are ultimatums.

Now, I don't like to talk politics. In fact, although my friends are of different political persuasions (as are members of my family), politics is banned at meals. Not because I don't want to hear other people's points of view, but because we no longer seem to be able to voice different points of views and argue those points politely, but to present them as faits accomplish that brook no response other than capitulation. That doesn't make for pleasant dinner conversation.

Nor does it make for effective governance. In Pendulum, the book I co-wrote with Roy H. Williams, we make the case that we are in an age of community-mindedness (Pendulum posits that society shifts from a general me-centric to a we-centric attitude every 40 years or so). You may notice this outward- or community-way of thinking in general, as crowd-funding, crowd-sourcing and other community-generated fundraising and research options take root in our consciousness.

But in Pendulum, we also note that we cannot predict what will happen in society through politics itself. Politics has its own social microclimate, as it were: far removed from reality and, apparently, made up of people incapable of either self-understanding or a sense of shame.

I wonder what it is, though, in our current society that prevents so many of us from explaining ourselves and accepting that other people not only have the right to their opinion, but also that there's a possibility that others may be right.

For me, one of the definitions of moral progress is the realization that other people are as fully human as ourselves, that is, we need to think not only of ourselves and how we see the world, but that other people might see things a bit differently than we do and with equal validity.

But that doesn't seem to enter into politics. Unfortunately, when politics enters into the lives of ordinary citizens like my partner's sister, the political becomes personal, and people get hurt by those who are supposed to serve them.