Posted by: MC | March 25, 2011

Libya, a First Draft, and Pondering Truth

Back in the 2000, my friend Amy Schutzer published a novel she titled Undertow  She considered another title:  What Version of the Truth Do We Tell?

I’ve just finished the first draft of 100 Voices:  Americans Talk about Change. Really!  The first draft toward publication in September, 2011.  That’s amazing enough, but the reason I mention it here has to do with truth.  It has to do with the incredible candor with which people across our country spoke with me about their hopes and dreams, their plans and willingness relative to change.  It has to do with the frequency with which a longing for truth, for wise and visionary and transparent public leadership was emphasized by the 100 voices I’ve again had the chance to revisit.

Earlier this week, I received email from a dear friend in California.  She had just heard a Pacifica radio report on circumstances in Libya.  Turns out that situation, already astonishingly contorted, is vastly more so.  From reading Barbara’s summary of what she’d heard, I learned that part of the problem is profit sharing.  Libya and all other oil producing countries garner income from selling their product.  No surprise there.  In many of these countries the oil companies strike deals for ensuring most if not all of the profit goes to pay off government and government officials.  This is perhaps most stark in Nigeria where the people see no gain, public or private, with the sale of the considerable oil produced there.

This lining of government pockets has been a more usual than unusual circumstance.  But back in 2007 and through to today the observably inconsistent and larger-than-life leader of Libya, Muammar Qaddafi, has been doling out dividends from oil money to the people of his country.  Oops.  The oil companies have been none too pleased with this and now need to portray him as a demon who must be removed from power.  At the very same time China is gaining specific interest in all of this.

Since the U.S. war with Iraq, the Chinese who had oil deals with Hussein have greatly diminished access to the oil produced by that country.  Now, if Qaddafi stays in power in Libya, the U.S. and Western Europe will be on the short end relative to China’s ample access to Libyan oil.  This, at least in part – likely in large part – explains recent activity on the part of NATO.

Things are not as they appear.  What version of the truth to we tell?

The countries of our globe have caught the fever of materialism.  It is a primary value that has gradually become the core of our individual and community motivation since the dawn of industrialization in Europe.  Arguably the roots of this value are more accurately found in the emergence of agriculture in the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley when humans made the collective decision that we were no longer of nature.  Instead we came to understand ourselves to hold dominion over nature.  The dominant expression of this value these days is to have stuff – to enjoy luxuries like mobility and temperature controlled homes and workplaces.  Very many of these luxuries we have come to regard as necessities.

In and of themselves, these things are not evil.  But when the privileges we enjoy are available to us at the expense of others’ health, lifespan, minimal levels of comfort, education, dignity – the list goes on – then the ethical thing to do is actively and tirelessly to address the imbalance.  This kind of activity is commonly known these days as “social justice.”  It’s a term that we can benefit from considering next to the idea of integrity.  Too often in the West, social justice can stop with talking or writing about it.  That’s just one of the more subtle dangers of privilege.

Anyway.  We humans all want stuff.  Those of us with access to the most stuff are benefiting at profound cost to the quality of life experienced by other people on our planet – our relatives in this family of human beings.  This is perhaps the first truth to tell.  Others follow from that.

Acting on truths like these are by no means easy.  Particularly when our privileges feel like necessities.

Here at the moment of completing a first draft of 100 Voices I am again humbled at the opportunity I had to drive around this astonishing country speaking with other everyday Americans about change.  Democracy may be most essentially about discerning and telling the truth to the best of our abilities – to ourselves and to one another.  When the truth we tell is offered in keeping with the basic instructions of ancient spiritual traditions; that is, without blame or judgment, then we have the opportunity to get to some agreement on how to proceed.

Just this minute I received email from a woman I don’t know.  Katryna Wade is a nursing student.  She is asking me to call my U.S. Senator to ask that he not support further reductions in support to social services.  She’s a voice with/for/through a political action committee.  Here’s her quote:  “Once again I’m going to have to choose between paying rent or buying diapers, between having heat or having enough food for my family to eat.”

It is easy to become overwhelmed – to feel very tired in the face of the enormity of the task before us.  How really do we recognize privilege and use our access to dismantle systems that depend for their existence on oppression of any kind?

Will I call my Senator?

In the center of these wild and precious lives, what version of the truth do we tell?


  1. Glad to hear that your first draft is finished. September 2011 will come quickly, and I can hardly wait for the book. Your work is enlightening, and thankfully, does not come down hard on one side of American politics or the other. It reminds me of 1960’s evening news w/ Walter Cronkite, just the facts told in an understandable way. Thanks Mary.

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