One of the most clichéd phrases ubiquitous in 2012 and therefore, most nominated as the academics choice for the 38th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness is “fiscal cliff.” This phrase represents the financial crisis that the United States President and congressional members political leanings has caused and even now continue to enable – this appears to be due to a lingering lack of willingness to discuss, compromise or even slowly progress toward dealing with taxes, spending cuts and sustained employment growth. Informal media surveys and my own limited research suggest that too many people are frustrated by the partisanship that the elected leaders have displayed which forces them to live their lives, at least their voting lives, on philosophical rigidity rather than pragmatics and constituents’ reality. In essence, there is no room for accommodation with others of a different philosophical perspective and their voting point of view when strong idealism overrides the practical. The paradox here is that while constituents are frustrated by the deadlock in Congress they, themselves, tend to make rigid demands of their representatives expecting them not to waiver from their own concrete views.
This problem of inflexibility is not unique to the United States. Congressional chambers across the world are filled with increasing vitriol. It is becoming a common news video whether from Asia, Africa or Europe to see well heeled political leaders in their vaunted political chambers throwing punches, shoes and chairs at one another. And, it is not just in their chambers. Violence has spilled into the streets. The entire Middle East has seen increasing religious and politically based violence. From one perspective, breaking away from the harsh unyielding control of a dictatorship is a good thing. The ferocity of retribution and the coldness and ease of murder is, however, frightening. There is also the question of what comes next, after the dictator is ousted. Egypt is a perfect example – a dictator was deposed and a tyrannical religious Sharia based government led by a president who has given himself dictatorial power takes its place.
My grandfather-in-law, the son of a seventh generation Tzfati/Yerushalmi family used to say that there are certain people you can never turn your back on. And, even when those people are smiling at you, you must make sure that you are not being stabbed in the back by their partners. They are self-serving individuals who can never make peace with anyone beyond the strict adherents to their religion and philosophy. Their religious, social and even distorted moral beliefs demand the exclusion of people who are not exactly as they are – to the point that they have no qualms about labeling and even eliminating outsiders. Saba used to say that this is the core reason for the inability to make peace with our Arab neighbors. To them we can never be equal and compromise can only happen among equals.
Within our own communities too there is an increasing lack of flexibility, a lack of desire to get along with others and a trend toward withdrawing from others who are labeled different. The focus of such people is on divergence rather than on convergence and shared beliefs. The overwhelming majority of beliefs, hopes, dreams, all that we have in common is too easily overlooked to focus exclusively on the few limited items that we may only mildly disagree about. This is just another form of philosophical expediency rather than pragmatic decency; this may not be a fiscal cliff but it is perhaps a humanitarian cliff.
Is this trend just a cycle that will soon settle out or are we all evolving, becoming more rigid and less willing to compromise as a new universal human trait?
Another clichéd phrase, one that has not made the list of words to be banished is, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is this very psychological insight that will ultimately be the foundation for both a strong Jewish religion and State or the prime reason for the penultimate conflict that will lead to total chaos. We are not passive types. We have opinions. Put three of us together and there are four opinions. We also have a need to be social and find a way to accommodate with others. That is why we share our opinions. If we do not share and then accommodate and compromise we risk not just a financial cliff but our very essence. As we look forward to forming a new government we must look for leaders who can be smart and flexible, strong and sensitive, philosophically honest and practical.