American history is replete with noble and principled men and women who stood up, protested and fought for issues that they fervently believed were for the benefit of our people and society.
There are such people in America today, most of whom do their good works in relative anonymity (and some of whom we’re honored to have here at The Planet as members). Despite the pseudo reality that is projected around us by and through the media, people of conscience are not as rare as it might seem. What does seem to be rare is the exhibition and even recognition of conscience by those who dominate the public arena.
In politics, the media or business, an unspoken rule seems to be that accomplishing one’s proprietary goals necessarily means discarding the quaint notion of being influenced by one’s own conscience. The question of, “Is this the right thing to do?” that such people may ask themselves only pertains to best accomplishing their agenda and not concern for the welfare of others.
It certainly hasn’t helped matters that the corporate mindset has so invaded American society. The single-minded proposition of greed being self-justifying and wealth and power equaling success is detrimental to the very fabric of a functional and constructive society. This is not to say that on their own, wealth and power are negative things but simply extrapolating out this proposition brings about morally corrupt concepts that have been mainstreamed even by our Supreme Court, such as money equaling speech (thus those without money have no speech…that is what The Founders intent was in the Constitution?).
Our Supreme Court, dominated by conservative ideologues, have openly rejected the concept of conscience and have instead hidden behind convenient interpretations of a Constitution to claim that unfairness and inequality are justified.
Our corporate owned media outlets target themselves for demographics on the left and right, unapologetically presenting falsehoods and/or whipping up manufactured controversies with no exhibition of conscience over their exploitative and damaging tactics.
Our political parties take or don’t take actions due to calculations that will benefit their re-elections or public images.
Our corporations mislead and manipulate the public into supporting them and buying their products (including the politicians they own), knowing full well the negative impact they may have on the public in the end.
This absence of conscience in the public arena is like a deafening silence. It is corrosive and has deteriorated the level of public discourse and even the ability for our government to function. Of course politicians feel free to shout out “Liar!” at President Obama in the State of the Union Address and Tea Partiers feel free to spit on historic civil rights leaders and carry racist signs at rallies…when one has abandoned one’s conscience, self-righteousness over every horrible thing they’re capable of is assured and unimpeded.
When human beings, whether corporate CEOs, politicians or media moguls, operate independently of a conscience, with no recognition of the legitimate humanity of others and how their actions wrongly harm them, then they are indeed capable of profoundly awful things. The converse is true as well, if people who disagree also carry a conscience about doing what is best for the many, constructive conversations, compromise and resolutions can be reached.
A conscience is a regulator, like a thermostat, which keeps one for getting too hot or too cold. Tearing that out of one’s consciousness allows one to go to damaging extremes.
It is easy for money and/or power to wither one’s conscience away. For some in the top 1%, being so makes them believe they are superior to the majority of Americans. That feeling alone devours a great deal of conscience, one can then justify selfishness much more easily by rationalizing away most others as inferior. And there is also the group think factor, when surrounded by others who affirm, whether expressly or through inference, that those with more money or power are above the majority and above any responsibility to “their” society, then even those who view themselves as liberal can fall into the ego-gratifying trap of elitism.
One need not explain at length the lack of conscience of the GOP, duping their voters to vote against their own interests by pandering to religious beliefs and offering pie-in-the-sky assurances of how they will become wealthy and their lives will all get better if Obama is defeated and the GOP has total power in DC. Mitt Romney lies prodigiously and unrepentantly about anything and everything to the voters in his party while he seems to view them as inferior and dumb animals…and their blind allegiance to the GOP and him doesn’t help to dispel that perception of them.
When it comes to corporate America, here too one need not go into great detail to convince others how lacking they are of any conscience about the destruction they may perpetrate upon the health and savings of Americans, the environment, the future stability of this nation and on and on.
The corporate-owned media is perhaps the most offensive of the lot when it comes to having no conscience. It is expected that the wealthy, politicians and corporations may be self-serving and have no conscience to restrain them but the press has historically been regarded as the public conscience of America. The Founders and especially Thomas Jefferson saw the press as the unofficial fourth branch of government which would keep a check and balance on all others, the figurative conscience of American democracy which would act as the last, best defense of the public.
Today, we have three main “news” networks in this country, a Republican propaganda machine shamelessly smirking about being “Fair and Balanced”, a hapless network that fell from being the originator of 24 hour news to stooping to partnering with the corporate sham of The Tea Party on GOP debates and an “all of the above” news channel that spends half of its day pandering to people on the Right then turns around and spends the other half of the day attacking those same people.
As referenced above, the very idea of being a successful American has become divorced from having a conscience. Inheriting a great deal of money and power, as Donald Trump and Mitt Romney have, makes them a “success” in the minds of many. How is it a success to simply be born into a family that is in the top 1%? Was Martin Luther King unsuccessful because he didn’t have a multimillion dollar empire he inherited but Donald Trump is successful because of that?
Isn’t the possession of and the use of a conscience part of being a successful human being? And is the reverse true, can someone truly be a success as a human being without exhibiting any conscience? Wouldn’t that be someone who has not succeeded as a human being?
So we have this whole world of media, business and politics revolving all around us, where conscience is not typically in evidence…how does that impact us and our society?
There is no doubt that the coarsening of discourse and the outright hatreds of the Right, through surrogate racist views like Birtherism, anti-immigrant fervor and voter suppression are the results of people without a properly functioning conscience. They have adopted, from their parents/environment/political party, the casting aside of conscience and the pride other self-centered people take in doing so.
Others however are not influenced by the lack of conscience in others and are instead, more convicted to relying on theirs. There are many people out there who are very conscientious and are willing and ready to act upon it.
This year, during the hate-encrusted GOP Primary and watching the mercenaries of the Right Wing pool hundreds of millions to buy the upcoming election, we’ve also seen many thousands of people act upon their conscience to make a difference.
There was the huge public support for pursuing the brutal Joseph Kony, bringing the murderer of Trayvon Martin to justice, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the protest against the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s attack on Planned Parenthood, the boycott against Rush Limbaugh for his vicious sexism against Sandra Fluke, the Wisconsin recall against Scott Walker, the public rejection of Ohio’s anti-union SB5 and many other actions of conscience.
There are people of conscience working in every state to make things better for the majority on the environment, our democratic system, economic justice and equality for all. It is a battle against those of little or no conscience, some battles are won, others are lost.
What would create a real national renaissance though and cut straight to the heart of what’s afflicting this country, is for Americans to require their leaders to be people of conscience or else become unemployed. We need to get the wealthy out of dominating our democracy, we need Repubs to work with Dems and compromise to address the vital issues we’re facing, we need the vulnerable to be taken care of and the very wealthy to pay their fair share…just about every key issue that’s plaguing our nation could be resolved reasonably if worked on by people of conscience.
The whole “greed is good” corporate mentality that lured people away from their consciences has bottomed out for most. Perhaps more than ever, many Americans have awoken from the corporately promoted “American Dream” delusion that they will be a millionaire one day (only about .10% of Americans earn $1 million or more, so the odds are 99.90% against). Does that mean they have no power and can’t be as much of a “success” as Donald Trump?
No. The examples above show the great power all Americans have, even though they’re not millionaires, when they come together over matters of conscience. And the remarkable works and sacrifices of people here and serving in our military abroad reflect a kind of success as human beings that a Donald Trump or a Mitt Romney will never have.
We grow up looking to our leaders to exemplify the traits we value most, courage, integrity, wisdom and conscience. Though I would argue that President Obama has stood tall in all of these areas over the last three years, the kind of profound change that we need in this country won’t come unless it comes from the majority of Americans joining together in good conscience, to insist that things get better.
Though the power, wealth and influence of the wealthiest 1% grows every day, we should never lose sight of the fact that no matter how wealthy the Koch brothers or Wall Street is, no matter how much they spend to subvert our democracy, they’ll never be able to stop hundreds of millions of Americans of conscience from marching right over them.