Reflection 17: Election Day

November 2, 2008

(Copyright © 2008) 

The art of consciousness is in weighing our opinions and impressions as a means of selecting the most appropriate action to take within the limits imposed by our current situation as we construe it. This is extremely difficult to do, and when we accomplish it, it is a high art. More often we fall short.

 

Tuesday is Election Day. The needlessly tedious and costly campaign season is at an end. Now, assuming the system works as intended, the people will decide the outcome. The presidency is a zero-sum game: one wins all, the other loses all. As for the voters, two people can examine the same evidence and use it to support entirely different platforms or candidates. As a capsule summary of what is at stake, here are excerpts from two Letters to the Editor published on October 23 in Maine newspapers, the first in The Bar Harbor Times, the second in The Ellsworth American:

 

[Letter 1.] I continue to be dismayed as so many of my friends, otherwise astute, discriminating, intelligent thinkers, seem inclined to follow and support the very liberal Democrat candidate for the Presidency. This is a man whose associations with the likes of Jeramiah Wright, Tony Rezco, and the infamous William Ayers would raise the eyebrows of the most moderate liberal. Our security as a nation is threatened by associations with suspected terrorists.

          Under decades of legislative leadership by the Dems, we are now in the second greatest financial mess of this country’s history, and Barack Obama wants to increase the giving! This is a time worn, seemly [sic.] way of seeking power…. and more power!

          Where is our reason? Where is our sense of personal responsibility? When are we going to insist that the “dole” is not an entitlement? When do we take seriously the obligation to achieve victory in Iraq for our country? When can we expect to turn the tide of wasteful use of already excessive taxes collected by the Federal Government?

          Do you want to further the advance of rampant giveaways, unsavory and illegal activities of those who threaten the health and safety of our citizens?

          Or do you plan to stand up for self responsibility and fiscal conservatism?

          I will cast my vote for McCain/Palin and I implore right thinking individuals to do the same.  q

 

[Letter 2.] Being informed, reasonable, intelligent and understanding how our government works . . . should be minimum requirements for serving as president and vice president. The people we elect must be physically and mentally fit—and yes, they should pass a “litmus test” for character, proving they are morally fit as well.

          The McCain/Palin team clearly does not meet the standards. . . . McCain has shown his confusion (“the fundamentals of our economy are strong”), his poor judgment in his choice of running mate, and as evidenced by his smear tactics and avoidance of debating the real issues during this campaign, sadly apparently has sold his soul, too.

          Obama, in contrast, has shown us he is a man of integrity, with an even temperament and good judgment. His many years as a civil rights attorney and lecturer on constitutional law, his experience as an Illinois state senator and a U.S. senator, his ability to inspire, the dignified way he has conducted his campaign—have shown us he is the one truly qualified to be our leader.  q

 

The writers of these two letters do not live on the same planet. Not in their heads they don’t. At least they do not practice the art of consciousness the same way. Art has something to do with making things. The word stems from an early root, ar-, meaning to fit together, as a joint fits two bones together. Hence Greek harmmos, and Latin artus, both meaning joint. Also in Latin, arma means tools, and ars means art, skill, or craft. So an artist is one who puts things together. As in consciousness we all put a concrete sensory array (pattern, phenomenon) together with an abstract meaning which provides the perspective from which the array is viewed or interpreted. In applying meanings to shapes, we ignite consciousness as an opportunity to act in a manner appropriate to our current situation as we construe it at the time. If we are right, we receive positive feedback; wrong, we get negative feedback. If part right and part wrong; mixed or ambivalent feedback.

 

Consciousness as an art, then, is an act integrating sense and sensation, or image and idea in a single attempt to make meaning of our experience, which is not inherently meaningful in and of itself. We make the meanings we discover in our situation by overlaying concepts and episodes of past experience upon it. Or by understanding that situation in a certain way from a particular point of view. The meaning gives us a vantage point for looking upon our experience. Find something red in your surroundings; something shiny; something new or old. If you play that game, your experience becomes meaningful in certain ways which accord with the challenge. You find what you look for.

 

How you join the concrete sensory and abstract cognitive parts of experience together is a matter of your judgment. Which involves the breadth and depth of the concepts stored in your memory, your level of passion and motivation, and the finesse with which you match them to the patterns your senses present you with.

 

So voting, as an act of judgment, is a measure of your skill in putting images and meanings together in your mind, as if the meanings were inherent in images of, say, John McCain or Barack Obama, Sarah Palin or Joe Biden.

 

The one thing to be clear about is that the meanings do not reside in the candidates themselves but in your judgment of the images they present to you. So in a very real sense, when you vote, you are voting for your own judgment projected onto two figures which are mere images in your mind. You are voting for the candidate who (in your judgment) most resembles yourself in this election and for no one else. The candidates are your surrogates, one of whom will hold office in your stead for the next four years. The other you consign to the trash bin. Or so you hope, assuming the majority of voters, for reasons of their own, see things more-or-less the way you do.

 

Which sounds crazy, until you really ask yourself why you vote as you do. Can you really find a reason for voting one way or another? Not just a habit or convention, but a justification? On whose authority are you voting this way? Your best friend’s, your father’s, mother’s, one party’s or another’s, that of some articulate (and opinionated) co-worker? If not yourself, as meaning-maker in chief, whose influence does your vote represent? Who are you imitating? Whose praise do you seek?

 

Black Mountain and Gloucester Poet Charles Olson said, “The landscape is what you see from where you are.” When you favor one figure in that landscape over another, where, exactly, are you situated? Where do you stand? What do you stand for? Who are you, really, to take up that position? Which candidate will you under-stand, put yourself under in order to support with your life-long experience? Your feelings, your knowledge of the world and of yourself?

 

Your situation is where you are in the great scheme of things. It is your grasp of your interplay with your surroundings and the characters you meet there. Are you stuck in one place because it is so familiar, or have you taken up the best possible position because it provides the clearest view of what is going on—in the world, perhaps, but primarily in yourself. How well do you know who you are, what you stand for, and why? When you enter the voting booth, that is the basic equipment you take with you.

 

Your point of view, beliefs, experience, motivation—that is what consciousness has to work with, along with sensory images and the meanings with which you skillfully, artfully underwrite them. This election is a measure of the wisdom and connoisseurship of the electorate. Which does not necessarily bode well for the outcome. One thing is certain: there will be an outcome. The people will speak, and their voice will tell us who we are as a people.

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