As America’s distressing election season draws to its long-awaited conclusion, the country has yet to understand something of very great importance. It is that the desired state of America’s national union can never be improved in determined planetary isolation, or in an endlessly primal global competition. Instead, as Americans still need to learn, the national interest is intimately and irrevocably intertwined with a much wider human interest.
“America First” makes absolutely no logical or pragmatic sense. Always, Americans, both individually and collectively, must ultimately depend upon a willingness to identify more broadly as fully interrelated citizens of a single planet. Reciprocally, it should also be acknowledged, the fate of others on his one earth will always be more-or-less substantially impacted by whatever happens within America’s borders.
The core “lesson” here must become clear and transnational. To help rescue an imperiled planet, and America in particular, the next president will have to look beyond politics, and also beyond dealing incessantly piecemeal with the next expected war or terror threat. More precisely, this new leader will have to recognize that American well-being and progress are inextricably linked with the condition of other nations and peoples, although not always in readily decipherable or even narrowly economic terms.
It will be a suitable moment to recall the essentially “Buddhist” wisdom of Jesuit philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man): “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself” is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”
At their very deepest level, war, terror, and genocide are not merely the unwelcome product of ordinary politics gone awry. Rather, they stem from the unbearable apprehensions and loneliness of individual human beings. Normally unable to find either meaning or security outside of groups, literally billions of individuals across the globe will often stop at nothing just to acquire comfortingly recognizable membership in a suitable crowd.
Whether it is a nation, a social organization, a terrorist band, or a new political movement, the crowd tempts all-too-many with the promised succor of group communion. Inevitably, this is its very great and possibly incomparable attraction. Although rarely identified or understood, it is the generally frantic search to belong that most assiduously shapes both national and human affairs.
This search, to apply a term drawn from Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s The Undiscovered Self, effectively represents “the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption.” Moreover, the most tangible expressions of our incessant human search for rescue in groups can be found in the foundational legal principles of sovereignty and self-determination. But, significantly, the “self” in such hegemonic jurisprudence always refers to entire peoples, and never to singular individuals. As is evident to everyone who can read and recall human history, the ironic result of such backward thinking is all too often a measureless orgy of mass killing.
We still see entirely too much of this lethal thinking today in the conspicuously lascivious crimes underway in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.
Divided into thousands of hostile tribes, almost two hundred of which are called nation-states, many human beings still find it easy or distinctly pleasing to slay “others.” As for any remediating empathy, it is typically reserved almost exclusively for those who live within one’s own expressly delineated tribe. It follows that any expansion of empathy to include “outsiders” is a genuinely basic condition of authentic peace and global union, and that without such an expansion our species will remain utterly dedicated to its own incremental debasement and eventual disappearance.
Understanding this wisdom must soon become an indispensable corrective to the plainly literal political nonsense of “America First,” a term that is also eerily reminiscent of “Deutschland uber alles.”
But what must Americans actually do to encourage wider empathy, and to foster deeply caring feelings between as well as within tribes? How can an incoming president improve the state of our world, so as to correspondingly ensure a viable and prosperous future for the American union? These are not easy questions.
Sadly, the essential expansion of empathy for the many could literally be “dreadful,” possibly improving human community, but then only at the intolerable cost of private sanity. This is because we humans are designed with particular and largely impermeable boundaries of feeling. Were it otherwise, an extended range of compassion toward others would quickly bring about our own total emotional collapse.
A paradox arises. Planning seriously for national and international survival, Americans must first accept a very unorthodox understanding: It is that a widening circle of human compassion is both indispensable to civilizational survival, and also a potential source of insufferable private anguish.
We can learn here from certain ancient Jewish traditions. According to Talmudic thought, the world rests upon thirty-six just men – the Lamed-Vov. Only because of their own “heavy lifting,” only because of their own unimaginable suffering, can the rest of us be allowed to endure.
There are many meanings to this wonderful tradition, but only one that is indisputably fundamental. A whole world of just men (and women) is clearly impossible. It is, then, because ordinary individuals simply cannot bear the torments of so many others that God has so generously created the Lamed-Vov.
How shall human union and American politics now deal with a requirement for global civilization that is simultaneously essential and unbearable? Newly informed that empathy for the many is a precondition of a decent world union, what can create such empathy without producing intolerable emotional pain? In essence, how can the next U.S, president correctly deal with the ongoing and still-multiplying expressions of war, terrorism, and genocide?
The answer can never be found in ordinary political speeches and programs, especially in the shallow rhetoric and empty witticisms of the American electoral campaign. It is discoverable, rather, only in a resolute detachment of all individuals from certain lethally competitive tribes, and from certain other collective “selves.” In the final analysis, a more perfect union, both national and international, must lie in a determined replacement of “civilization” with what Teilhard de Chardin calls “planetization.”
Unassailably, the world is a system. Above all else, the incoming U.S. president must finally understand that the state of America’s national union can never be any better than the state of the wider world. He or she will also need to realize that the state of our world must depend substantially on what happens inside the United States. In fully acknowledging this significantly misunderstood mutuality, this immutable reciprocity, the overarching common presidential objective must always be the dignity of each and every individual human being.
It will, of course, be easy to dismiss any such ethereal recommendation as silly or fanciful, but in actuality, there could never be any greater American naiveté than continuing with the patently false extremity of “everyone for himself” in world politics.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel National News