Wednesday, September 26, 2012

President Obama on expanding our moral imagination

As President Obama spent most of his day yesterday on the world stage at the United Nations and Clinton's Global Initiative, I happened to have run across a video of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith interviewing him just after his Nobel Peace Prize speech.

Will picked up on a line in President Obama's speech about "expanding our moral imagination." I'd like to provide some context for that line. Early on in the speech, Obama had referenced a quote from John F. Kennedy.
Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions."
Towards the end, he returns to that quote.
Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more -- and that's the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there's something irreducible that we all share.
Here's how he expanded on that with Will and Jada. You'll hear some themes that will sound very familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the moral and strategic principles that lay the groundwork for President Obama - empathy for others and a vision for the long-term.

3 comments:

  1. Institutions are really important, but from my perspective I'd qualify it to say that the institutions we need are not only international NGOs and representative bodies but also and most importantly local, participatory institutions. I've wrestled for a long time with the problem of scale as it relates to human freedom. We have these massive institutions working against us under the rubric of capital, and so to counter-balance that we need some sort of equivalent weight. Yet the creation of institutions on the same scale as a multinational corporation seems to require an abstraction of decision-making power away from the vast majority of people to some "center." This just replicates the problem in a different, possibly more benign form.

    One reason I feel I can go with the president is that it's clear to me that his work as an organizer was fundamental to how he sees power and that he makes an effort to maintain some connection to communities in his current position, however hard that may be.

    The demands of human freedom are necessarily local while the demands of capital are necessarily international, and it's a tough institutional circle to square.

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    1. I agree. President Obama was addressing the U.N. and he appropriately talked about the institutions that bind nations in a common endeavor.

      As a community organizer he workedd to create those groups to address problems locally. Very consistent.

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  2. Those drones sure do show empathy for others.

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