The brilliance of the television series “Mad Men” lies in the crackerjack acting and writing, but even more profoundly in the way the series dramatizes the difficult paradigm shift of American women from gross subjugation to rough equality. In an early episode, protagonist Don Draper reluctantly allows his wife to consult a (male) psychiatrist, then calls the doctor, who casually violates confidentiality. The series displays, while not excusing, how men growing up in the 1950s and 60s often haplessly misunderstood or deliberately ignored the emerging desire of women for authentic autonomy.
This begs two questions: what blindnesses operating in the present cultural moment might be illuminated by talented scriptwriters as they look back from the perspective of 2040? And second, what is the vision that orients us as we work to ensure that there will be a future to look back from in 2040?
Just as the achievement of gender equality has affected politics but is bigger than politics, so also our cultural evolution involves much more than politics. As the new organization Awakening the Dreamer asserts, we, we the planet, need a new dream based in values that a deeper than global market economics.
It is a further symptom of our need for a new dream that as the run-up to the next presidential election gets under way, the candidates seem to operate in a weird bubble of denial. This is the moment when candidates are spending less time in Washington and more time listening to ordinary citizens. The questions we ask can be powerful agents of a new awakening:
•How can our government incentivize and hasten transition to clean and sustainable forms of energy generation?
•What principles need to orient the reform of our tax code toward simplicity, transparency and fairness?
•What can be done to reverse the troubling trend of the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer?
•Why are we still in Afghanistan?
•What is the rationale behind the building of yet more nuclear weapons?
•How can we render the U.S. defense budget process more accountable?
•Is human activity intensifying global climate change? If so, what do we need to do?
Ensuring the future requires the fundamental shift in thinking: from “I am separate” to “We are interconnected.” —a paradigm shift:
•from measuring our economic success quantitatively rather than qualitatively.
•from turning reflexively toward war to moving aggressively to prevent war.
•from grotesquely large military budgets to humanitarian aid that directly meets human needs.
•from candidates who deny global warming to candidates who advocate for an urgent reorientation of priorities on the level of a planetary Marshall Plan.
A new organization called Awakening the Dreamer, offers citizens a half-day seminar that wakes people up to the real challenges we face—along with the real possibility of meeting them. As organizations like ours collaborate more effectively, we have the opportunity to influence and even help to enlarge the scope of political discourse. Because the decisions taken in the next three years are critical, Awakening the Dreamer is part of a huge coalition of organizations called FourYearsGo. Please check out their site FYG.org.
This kind of awakening will happen as more of us get involved, pushing and questioning and becoming an activating, creative force that everyday people, as well as leaders, can hear and heed. We can become agents of a deeper cultural shift that is affecting change in many human realms—politics, technological innovation, education, commerce, communications. As that comes to pass, we can imagine a TV series that again looks back through the decades and dramatizes the gradual end of our delusions. It might make us wince at the “windy militant trash” (Auden) of present political discourse just as we wince at the dated chauvinism of “Mad Men,” but we would surely be celebrating how far we had come.