Week 20: Civil Disobedience and Political Identity

Can there not be a government in which the majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? — in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. Civil Disobedience, Thoreau

I am sure I am not alone when I say I am a person with a political identity crisis. With a love for nature, a deep commitment to the environment, a feminist, and a heart for the poor … I could place myself in the Democratic camp.

Yet, with a distrust of the government, a powerful belief in personal freedom, and an understanding that government answers rarely ever answer anything at all… I find myself in the Republican camp too.

Mostly, I find myself shrugging my shoulders in ignorance when someone passionately describes the crimes of the opposite camp or shaking my head in amazement when I read the news. When I hear of government abuses, I get angry. And when I hear of individuals or corporations using their freedoms as license for wrong, I get very angry — angry because it will require government to interfere, fueling a hellish cycle … and the maelstrom is only getting bigger.

If people would cultivate a respect for what is right and not use all ingenuity to get away with everything possible within the law, we would not need government. We could be as Thoreau says, people first, subjects second. If we not only stayed within our laws, but followed the voice of God, we would be truly free.

We would become governors of ourselves. This is the only real freedom — the freedom to do right, what Gandhi called swaraj, or self-rule.

It is sad to see people confuse “freedom” with license, screaming to “do as they wish”, which often means to enslave themselves and others to power, money, laziness, violence, ambition, winning, pornography, illicit sex, drugs, or a more palatable but just as insidious sin such as food and drink. These abuses will eventually beg for laws — that McDonald’s should put health warnings on its food labels, that statutory rape laws be enforced, that reforms be written for corporations, that tax laws be changed, that someone who knowingly infects someone with HIV should be prosecuted, that someone acting in self-defense not be prosecuted, that the child pornography industry be held to stiffer consequences, that marijuana be legalized because everyone’s doing it anyway, that …, that…, that… laws be enforced because people abuse their freedoms.

It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. Civil Disobedience, Thoreau

The mortgage companies and their agents stayed within the law in their selling of unsubstantiated loans. But it was wrong what they did. They know it too. Their consciences prick and the louder they shout their justifications the more we are assured they are kicking against the goads. Agents of injustice. A corporation of people operating against their conscience is begging for government interference … or a revolution, whichever comes first.

If only people would govern themselves!

People love to rant about the government, about the Republicans, about the Democrats, about the conservatives and the liberals, about the religious right, about the progressives … and we could take a step back into history and mention the fascists, the reds, the dictators, the guerrillas, the Yankees and rebs, the Tories and Patriots.

All these labels are the caricature of a problem we harbor in our hearts. We shout at these outer edges of sin — those greedy Republicans, those lying and immoral Dems. But here’s the rub. While shouting at those greedy Republicans, the Democrats patronize the corporations. You won’t find them without their iPhones or Anthropologie shirts and they will be gassing up their foreign cars. And while crying out for the “have-nots” they give very little to anyone. People who support the idea that government should redistribute income are among the least likely to dig into their own wallets to help others. And while the Republicans shout about the removal of freedoms, the immorality legislated, the sneaky and subversive plans of the other camp to “take over” our country, all the while they patronize immoral television shows and movies, indict sexual sins they do not struggle with while overindulging, scorning and degrading, crying for deportation while partaking of the fruit of Mexican labor…

it all makes me so confused when I get a ballot.

How should we live? How can we live with integrity?

Perhaps the first step is to refuse to see any person or group of people as the enemy, to stop wrestling with flesh and blood, so to speak. If liberals would wipe the snarky sneer off their faces and quit patronizing and the conservatives would stop demonizing … that would be a start.

The second step would be to recognize our common enemy. Our common enemy is this: personally committing acts we shouldn’t and forgetting or refusing to do something we should. The old-fashioned word for it is sin.

Lastly, try to conquer our common enemy.

An addendum would be: restrain ourselves when tempted to conquer the enemy of someone else. We have a difficult time differentiating people from their sins.

Am I idealistic? Unrealistic? Ridiculously naive?

Perhaps. But I’m not the only one.

Imagine if we became more hospitable and charitable, laws would not be needed to redistribute wealth. What if the rich freely offered to pay the debts of others, since they have been freed of spiritual debt? What if the gluttonous fed the homeless and the lecherous gave affection instead of taking it? Instead of arresting people with drugs, what if we gave them something to do, something to love, something to think about? What if we opened our homes to foreigners? Invited them to dinner so the state wouldn’t have to care for them? What if our dollars only went to corporations run by conscientious people? And we were willing to sacrifice or go without and not support some other less scrupulous company? What if we sent our people and money to other countries instead of sending weapons and military to control our assets? Instead of buying guns against the threat of invasion, what if we invaded the poor neighborhoods with gifts, time, and relationships?

If fear is the opposite of love, we must not give way to fear. We must love. It is our duty to God, to each other, to ourselves. There is no law against this. And no laws would be needed if we followed it.





  1. I love this! Beautifully said! I can certainly relate to your “political identity crisis.” From what I’ve gathered in exploring your blog, you and I are quite different — at least on the surface. You’re married with children; I’m single and a lesbian activist. You’re (apparently) Caucasian; I’m Black. You’re a West Coast girl; I’m an East Coast girl. And so on… Nonetheless, your perspective is quite ‘familiar’ to me. I believe that much of the insensitivity “we” exhibit towards the poor, those who are ‘different,’ or to those whom we simply don’t “get,” has to do with ignorance — sometimes willing, sometimes unintentional. I know you see this, too, because of many of your painful, poignant observations; among them being: “People who support the idea that government should redistribute income are among the least likely to dig into their own wallets to help others.” Never a truer word… I had to become a homeless academic to “get” that one…

    I, who have always considered myself a Democrat, and have always voted that party, have come to have more empathy, if not sympathy for Republicans and less rousing “rabblers” than myself. In fact, I just finished reading Glenn Beck’s book, “Glenn Beck’s Common Sense.” He’s not one of my favorite people (and I’m quite certain he would not approve of me), but despite offending my sensibilities a couple times, I found a good deal of ‘sense’ in his arguments. I must admit, there are a great many things I would rather have done with such a book ten years ago. Age, hopefully something akin to wisdom, and just plain hard experience have taught me the value of being more ‘open.’ Much to my surprise, I’ve discovered that we, as a “race” of human beings (with emphasis on the ‘human’) are not so different. It’s a shame that we get hung up on such insignificant ‘details’ along the way. I, too, wish for a world where conscience is given much more weight, and I try to put this wish into action by following my own conscience, however unpopular that may be at times… Yes, I’m only one person, but I’ve found that it’s easier for me to love others when I, at least, like myself. A good many people who mistreat others simply have little or no regard for themselves — at least, that’s been my experience…

    Thank you again, and Namaste,


    1. Thank you, Vivien, for your thoughtful response to this post. This is when I am thankful for technology — when it brings me closer to someone who I would never meet otherwise — someone very different, yet wise and searching for the same answers I am. Truly, you are more open than most to actually read the words of someone from the opposite side and one as outspoken as Beck. I believe you are right. We humans are not so different. If we listened more and dared to cross lines to hear and understand each other — white and black, straight and lesbian, married and single, east and west, Republican and Democrat and so on — I think we would find we have many similarities on which we could build, many worthy causes on which we could agree, myriads of ways to make this world a better place instead of shouting so much. Thank you for reading my words and giving me encouragement. I will continue to read yours and between us begin the work of listening to our consciences and following the way of love.
      With warm gratitude,


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