SAILING TO BYZANTIUM
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ? Buckminster Fuller
When I look in the mirror and think about who should lead America out of this desert, this empty quarter in which America is stranded, I think of William Butler Yeats’s description of old age in his poem, Sailing to Byzantium – “a tattered coat upon a stick”. Indeed, with age comes wisdom, but with age also comes loss of agility and for some, a tendency to rely on old solutions for new problems. In today’s world of highly compressed time frames of change, I wonder if William Safire was right when he said that “to use the presidency as a symbol of unity rather than force for change” will, in fact, deliver us back to an America of pendulum swings between excellence and decay.
And today, in Trump’s America, it’s not really change that we seek anyway; it’s affirmation of the legitimacy of our personal inclinations. The ideas of the Democratic Party have always placed it somewhere on the arc of a pendulum swing concerning how to equitably distribute pieces of the pie, what constitutes unalienable rights, and now, how best to silence the bleatings of an imbecile. But, as we have come to learn, demagoguery in the absence of leadership makes these debates moot. Now, as the notion of “government is the problem” has yielded to the “deconstruction of the administrative state”, our ideological pendulum seems to have paused at its apogee and suggests a likely swing back toward a baseline of normalcy. But is normalcy what we should seek? If normalcy is a euphemism for the seesaw of power of the last 40 years between Republicans and Democrats, shouldn’t we be sailing to Byzantium instead, and let fearless youth discover new solutions to these old recurrent themes?
As I look in the mirror, I see the truth in Shakespeare’s, “what’s past is prologue”. And I’m old enough to remember history sufficiently well to recognize some of what’s coming at us in the cloudy distance. Joe Biden quoted the same phrase in his 2008 Vice Presidential debate with Sarah Palin, as he defended his age by reminding her that maturity is a critical asset for any serious leader. But what’s past didn’t contemplate the asteroid hit of globalization and its impact on the notion of sovereignty, or the proliferation of cyberwar tactics and their ability to reach into governments and determine election outcomes. What’s past didn’t predict the doubling of a human lifetime in only 100 years and the challenges to human societies that such longevity presents.
Our politics have existed as an evolutionary stable strategy (an ESS) for hundreds of years. An ESS is defined as “tactics employed by individual organisms when competing with one another for a given resource”. This is our seesaw. But an asteroid hit, either actual or metaphorical, can disintegrate this balance and force radical change. If contemporary politics remains on a seesaw of Manichean dualities, then we go the way of the dinosaurs.
I hope that our Democratic candidate for president is not the most experienced cop on the beat. A skilled enforcer of Constitutional norms. A reflection of the wisdom of the past. Because, although we urgently need that person now, what we need for the future is a pioneer to lay new foundations for a world on fire. Indeed, the future, as it is unfolding before our eyes, makes America no country for old men.
Deborah Long is a Principal at Development Management Group, Inc. and founder of several non-profit charitable organizations. If you find her perspectives interesting, provocative, or controversial, follow her at: https://www.facebook.com/debby.long.98499?ref=br_rs
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