Wednesday, December 31, 2008
A new year is coming, and a new president. A good time to put forth some ‘predictions.’ While I don’t think that Obama is an infallible messiah (his choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration is an affront to me as a gay person, and I would hope to all who believe in civil rights), I do believe that he possesses a great degree of intelligence and equanimity -- qualities that have been sorely absent in American politics and leadership.
So with this new year and new leadership, I see (and hope for) a few things on the horizon. Here’s my list, my most optimistic scenario: 3 trends that I think will be related to Obama’s administration, and 2 that I see arising from the grassroots (literally), science, and, well, spirit.
1. Shift from a militaristic mindset to reaffirming the value of civil society
The kind of mentality that created the ‘global war on terror’ has got to go. What a relief to soon be free of Bush's bluster and stuffed pants. Obama has the good sense to value relationships and dialogue before bombing, so I believe we’ll begin to see a fundamental shift in how the U.S. expresses its power in the world. I hope this translates into closing down Guantanamo, and in bringing renewed diplomatic efforts to end the violence between Israelis and Palestinians (the news lately from that part of the world is heartbreaking).
Shifts are possible… think of Northern Ireland 20 years ago and today. (I wrote about this when I was at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in a piece called “Laying Down Arms.”)
2. The rise of alternative energy
No surprise here. Even though oil prices have dropped, we are running out of fossil fuels. In Obama, we have a president who has a long vision of energy use and who I think will be supportive of efforts to develop sources such as wind, solar, and thermal. I’m going to try to find some room in my budget to invest and am checking into New Alternatives Fund – it’s a mutual fund that invests in energy companies that have a positive impact on the environment.
3. Sharing the wealth
Obama may have let his inner socialist slip when he said this to Joe the Plumber, but after decades of unfettered capitalism maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The result has been a growing gap between rich and poor; in Obama’s own words, “rising corporate profits but flat-lining or even declining wages and incomes for the average family." United for a Fair Economy is a great organization from which to get more research on this phenomenon and ideas on how to change it.
With Obama’s administration, look for a shift in the tax code to begin to address this huge disparity and close the gap. A NYT mag article called “Obamanomics” gives some interesting insights on Obama’s philosophy on economics and taxes.
4. The return of the vegetable garden
Sounds simple, but this will be a huge step toward sustainability on all levels. I really can’t say it any better than Michael Pollan did in his excellent article this year called “Why Bother.” I summed it up in another blog entry, but here’s the gist of it:
There are so many stories we can tell ourselves to justify doing nothing, but perhaps the most insidious is that, whatever we do manage to do, it will be too little too late.
So do you still want to talk about planting gardens?
…You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems--the way "solutions" like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do--actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon.
I think we’ll see gardens popping up everywhere. There’s even a movement for the Obama’s to start an organic victory garden at the White House. May it be so!
5. Increasing recognition that ‘spiritual technologies’ like meditation are fundamental to effective and lasting personal, interpersonal, and social change.
We are living in the VUCA era (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambigious), as a number of people have called it. In such times, we need to learn how work with our mind to recognize our cognitive patterns and biases and to be able to shift them, and meditation and mindfulness practice are very effective ways of doing this. My own work has exposed me to lots of solid research that provides evidence to back up this claim. The work of Dr. Richie Davidson at University of Wisconsin, Madison, and many others is contributing to this body of knowledge.
But this isn’t limited to the individual. These practices also shift how we interact with each other (see Dan Goleman’s Social Intelligence, listen to Dan Siegel on the "neurobiology of we"), and how social movements function. Some of the most effective change movements in history have been based in spiritual practices – there’s a great DVD series called A Force More Powerful, in which you can view two case studies on Gandhi’s Salt March and the Montgomery lunch counter sit-in to learn more.
We certainly do live in interesting times. What are your predictions? What are your hopes for 2009?
Happy new year!