Friday, September 7, 2012

It's All Politics

I mostly try not to meddle in the affairs of politics, but there are a ton of great books that ought be read by anyone, at anytime, but in particular to get you through the insanity of an upcoming presidential election during our brave new world of 24-hour cable news pundits and nearly 4-year-long campaign seasons. So here are some timeless, analog options for escaping the two bickering dudes and nonstop streaming ticker tape of useless drivel flashing across screens and phones everywhere. I offer a bit of a mental exercise. To try and read a cogent, reasoned argument for the other side, and remember that in essence we all have stuff in common, we just sometimes see the world a little differently, and ultimately, if we all just try and abide by the golden rule, we can get through this election together.

A#1: For the left-leaning, give Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative a try. The blurb on the back from the LA Times offers a glimpse of what Goldwater's got: "The book lays out, clearly and succinctly,  his uncompromising views. Goldwater held freedom as the highest value in American society: freedom from law, freedom from government, freedom from anybody else's vision but your own. You can argue with him on the particulars, but there's something compelling about his quintessentially American notion of self-reliance." Not quite on the same line as Emerson, but as Americans, even if we're all about social safety nets and making sure everyone is taken care of, Goldwater's hearkening back to our roots of anti-monarchy, small-government-rugged-individualism can resonate among us all. It's a good one to read and try and see things from the other side, just to remind you that they're people too.

B#2: And for the conservative folks (which despite possible stereotypes completely exist in our neighborhood and shop at our fair indepented book store), Paul Krugman's response, The Conscience of a Liberal. Krugman's is more of a historical story about where income gaps have come from (Krugman's background as an economist shines through here) and he follows the line to make a clear, cogent argument for the importance of balancing out what he feels are entrenched systems of inequality in contemporary American society. A book to remind you that sometimes people have it hard and need help and it may not always be because they're lazy or unskilled. But I digress.

If I could recommend just one book for everyone to read to get them through the election, though, it would be Karen Armstrong's 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life. It is one of the best books I've read on religion, politics, and humanity, in all my years as a voracious reader and undergrad studies in philosophy and literature. It's broken up into chapters that move from being more aware of yourself to being more compassionate of your neighbors, then your countrymen, then other humans from anywhere, then your enemies, even. It's a process, she insists that you will have to continue to be mindful of and practice. But the book reads a lot like a comparative history that makes this really fascinating argument that all world religions at base have a thread of compassion for all living beings as an integral component to practice. Remembering this thing that connects us all, and trying to be mindful of others in a truly compassionate way on a regular basis is perhaps the best prescription to get through the vitriolic election season with health and sanity in check.

No comments: