Election Day 2008: On The Brink of History

Tomorrow is Election Day st long last and, if the so-called experts actually know what they are talking about, it should prove to be a very historic day, mot just because of the candidates themselves, but because, based on new voter registrations as well as early voting tunout, which has been very high, this election has fired the American people In a way mo election has done in decades, mot since 1968.

But with all the media attention on the election, whatever I have to say about it would be like pissing in the ocean – no one would really notice and my poor offering would get lost in the sea of words being generated by the media. So, instead of talking about the election specifically, I want to talk about politics in general, not politics as that term is used in the media, but as I defined it here almost two years ago. Hard to believe it’s been that long since I got back to writing; guess time does fly when you’re having fun.

That is the perfect segue to our topic today – time, as it is understood in Western culture. Contrary to what we may want to believe, the whole world does not see things the same way we do,and that has led to a lot of our problems with what we euphemistically call the Third World. One of the major differences between, say, Western civilization, with its grounding in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, and East tern cultures like China or India, with their Hindu-Buddhist tradition, is the nature of time.

Some minor semantic points are needed before we go on:

When I use the word Chinese or Indian here, am not referring to things related to the modern political entities of China or India, but to those parts of the world – South Asia and the Far East – that have been, in the long historical view, influenced by the various political manifestations we refer to as India and China.

Second, for the sake of brevity, I am going to use the term Vedic to refer to the overall religious tradition that came out of the ancient Vedic Scriptures. That would include both Hinduism and Buddhism And also in the name of brevity, when I use the term Western religion I am referring to the entire Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition – the Children of Abraham. All three religions trace their ancestry back to the ancient patriarch Abraham and all three accept at least the Five Books of Moses as canonical to some degree.

If you have been reading my other blog, The Threshing Floor, yo may already have some sense of where I am heading here. For those of you not familiar with The Threshing Floor, you might want to click on the link above and read my posts on the economics of symbolic production and the linguistics of Christian heresy to get a better understanding of what I am going to say here.

Time, as presented in Western religion, and therefore as it is grounded in Western vulture, is linear. Human history, either personal, social or as a species, is seem as linear, having a beginning and an end. It is also teleological, that is, history has a goal; for example, salvation. In fact, historically speaking, Western understanding of history has been that it is the path toward the salvation of the human race, the Second Coming or Apocalypse as the end of history.

This linear view of time has also affected how we think of death. Our lives have a beginning, birth, and an end, death. Once we die, we stay dead until the end of history, the Second Coming, at which point all the dead Will be judged and receive their just desserts. The righteous will be resurrected, and, here the tradition is somewhat unclear. either in some new version of history or outside of time as we know it.

This view of time also has a direct bearing on Western beliefs about the soul. A soul can have only one body and there is a relationship of reciprocal uniqueness and unity between a body and a soul. Each birth of a child engenders the birth of a new soul, meaning there are as many immortal souls as there have been humans in history. That is going to make whatever place we all end up after Judgment Day a very crowded place.

Finally, all this means we have only one shot at life, own hot at salvation, one shot at enlightenment, one shot at redemption. I think that it is this sense of history, this understanding of time that led to the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace or faith alone. After all, it is all but impossible to achieve perfection, however that might be defined, in one lifetime. The works of one lifetime are not enough to earn salvation, so salvation cannot be earned but only achieved through the free grace of God. Whether all this is what Jesus believed and taught is something we will discuss in posts on the Threshing Floor.

In the Vedic view, time is cyclical, not linear. History is a series of constantly repeating cycles, as is each individual life. Birth, life, death and rebirth are the stops on the dharmic wheel. One earns brownie points for what one does in one’s life: karma. The higher your karma, the higher your level at rebirth, until you finally accumulate enough karma to get off the wheel altogether: you achieve sartori, spiritual enlightenment and you exist outside of space and time, which are mere illusion anyway.

So, the emphasis in the Vedic tradition is on works, not grace or faith. Enlightenment, salvation, redemption, whatever you want to call it, is earned. That has far-reaching implication in all areas of human endeavor, everything from respect for all life forms to political action, as the life of Mahatma Gamdhi so clearly shows. After all,since in the Vedic view, a soul has a long succession of bodies, it is possible that cow that was butchered to make your Big Mac or Whopper is the reincarnation of your not-so-nice grandfather. That may seem funny, but think about it.

This has been a rather cursory explanation of the two opposing viewpoints and we shall return to them in the future to flesh them out some, but this post is getting quite long, so let’s leave further explanation until later, and let’s get to the real point of this post.

As I said, the election this year has a lot of similarities to the election of 1968. It also has some similarities to 1960 and 1860. And to go back into hallowed antiquity, this election, in a lot of ways, has parallels to the late Roam Empire, say the time of the death of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius or even the death of Julius Caesar. History is not linear, but cyclical. As we are so fond of saying, history repeats itself. It is a wheel moving through time in much the same way that a car’s tires roll down the road. And they both often travel the same roads over and over. The question is do we learn the bumps, the rough spots and avoid them the next time through, or do we make the same mistakes over and over again?

With the candidacy of Barack Obama, we are traveling much the same road we traveled with Abrahan Lincoln, John and Robert Kennedy and, perhaps even Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. Should Obama win tomorrow, we will have avoided some more of the bumps on this well-traveled road. We Will then watch his Presidency and our reaction to it to see if together we can avoid the mishaps of earlier trips down this road. Will we take a step toward enlightenment or will we sink even further into the mire of sin and illusion? Only time will tell.


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