Crabs in a Bucket

I don't know about you, but I find it hard to watch cable news these days. As a long time news junkie, I am sad to say this and (yikes) I seem to be agreeing with President George Bush I, although I would never call Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow "sick puppies" ( ). But it is true that the political conversation is becoming increasingly acrid and unpleasant. Everything is about conflict and opposition at all costs. We've become a society of coercion by bluster and opinion. It's ironic that at a time when the people have elected a President who wants to work by bipartisan consensus, we have more stubborn divisiveness between the various political factions.

The media, of course, are enabling this situation with their gleeful encouragement of argument and extremist rhetoric. Cable news especially has become the political equivalent of bare-fist cage fighting. Mark Bowden writing the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly ( ) comments that "The quest for information (in the media) has been superseded by the quest for ammunition." Bemoaning what he sees as "the collapse of professional journalism," he writes that "work formally done by reporters and producers is now routinely performed by political operatives and amateur idealogues of one stripe of another whose goal is not to educate the public but to win." Democracy, he says, has become "a perpetual battle" rather than an exercise in participation. "It's all about power," he concludes. "True journalists do not seek power."

At a recent conference of Native American leaders at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, entitled Building Healthy, Sustainable American Indian Communities, one of the elders from Hawaii told an interesting story in reference to the inter tribal battles that have plagued his people and weakened their cause for many generations. If you want to keep a crab in a bucket, he said, what you do is put another crab in with it, because one crab will always crawl out, whereas two crabs will fight amongst themselves to stop each other getting out.

So this is where we are politically at the moment-like crabs in a bucket. No peaceful progress is going to be made until we learn to work together for the common good. How can we achieve this? Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, writing in the Tao Te Ching 2,500 years ago suggests we can reach harmony by "Tuning into our Essence" and discovering the essential unity of life that lies within us all. "The universe becomes ours, " he says," only by eliminating coercive acts. By doing nothing, nothing lacks."

He continues:

The more taboos and prohibitions there are,
the poorer the people become.
The more deadly weapons there are,
the more our fears turn us numb….

Therefore the wise know
to make no one a foe.
The less coercing we do,
the more tranquilities grow.

(From Tao Te Ching, A New Translation & Commentary by Ralph Alan Dale, published by Barnes & Noble, 2002)