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Peter Clothier Headshot

The Ungovernable

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The current spectacle of outrage, skepticism and mistrust amongst Americans is a reminder of a theory I have shared, I know with many others, for quite some time: that we live in an increasingly ungovernable country and an increasingly ungovernable world. We face a frightening prognosis for our future.

It turns out that freedom -- and its political cousin, democracy -- have a distressing downside: everyone wants good government, but no one wants to be told what to do or how to do it. Turn on the television set today and you'll find countless talking heads -- political pundits, news reporters, elected officials, financial geniuses like Warren Buffet -- spouting their negative opinions on what the president and his associates are trying to get done, or their superior wisdom in the matter of how to solve the crisis. Everyone, in a word, is his or her own expert. No one is able to put aside his or her doubts and certainties and simply trust. Without trust, no one of us is open to being governed.

We seem to be in a state of panic, and the result of panic, of course, is chaos and delusion. That's human. And panic seems like an almost reasonable response to what we see happening around us. But mistrust of government is a phenomenon that has been skillfully exploited in the past few decades to empower those who use government as the instrument to maximize their profits, with the result that those who now mistrust government the most are precisely those who would most benefit from wise rule. The self-promoting and opinionated Joe the Plumber has become both the icon and the exemplar of the ungovernable.

More frightening than what has happened in this country and its consequences for the fix in which we find ourselves today is what it all might mean for the future of our planet. Everywhere we look, we see on the one hand the advances of the Western concept of freedom and its exploitation by the powerful, and on the other, the exponential growth in the numbers of the ungovernable. We're creating a molotov cocktail in which the interests of the rich and powerful and those of the impoverished and disenfranchised are already clashing violently and promise, surely, eventually, to explode.

What we need, perhaps more than anything, is a new understanding of what freedom means, and what freedom can deliver. The freedom to enjoy every last material comfort can only be fulfilled by the ultimate exhaustion of our planet's resources. If we look to freedom from hunger, freedom from avoidable disease, freedom from want (not "what I want" but "what I need") and freedom from oppression, we find goals that are achievable and unselfish, because their fulfillment ennobles us all, as human beings, and diminishes no one.

What's needed is not a political revolution, not the violent, perhaps global upheaval that will result if we continue on our present course; what we need is rather a revolution in consciousness -- in the way we think. On many fronts, I see the beginnings of such a revolution. I see it, in part, in the election of Barack Obama. I'm not quite so naive as to believe him to be some kind of Messiah who can save us magically from ourselves. But I'm convinced that he does represent a different kind of thinking, a different human and political consciousness. I only hope that we can all find a way to share in that new consciousness before it is too late. Perhaps, as a good friend of mine already proposes, we will need instead to lower the lifeboats.