If the California gubernatorial recall election smacks of craziness, take a look at Denver.
In November, Denver voters take to the polls to consider a "peaceful initiative," requiring the city to institute policies to reduce stress. Jeff Peckman, an unemployed worker (stressed perhaps?), gathered sufficient signatures to force the City Council to place the initiative on the ballot. The initiative reads: "Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an Initiated Ordinance to require the city to help ensure public safety by increasing peacefulness -- that is, by defusing political, religious and ethnic tensions, both locally and globally -- through the identification and implementation of any systematic, stress-reducing techniques or programs, whether mental, physical, etc. . . . ?"
How, pray tell, does a city take steps to reduce "society-wide stress" in order to promote peacefulness? Studies place death of a spouse at the top of the list of things that cause stress, followed by things like serious illness, divorce, loss of income, losing or changing jobs, and moving from one location to another. The consumption of Twinkies barely rates. Given that we have little control over life's major stressors, what specific programs does Mr. Peckman propose? Here's what he told me:
Elder: Why is it the city's responsibility, and taxpayers' responsibility, to reduce stress?
Peckman: All the city officials are required to uphold the U.S. and state constitution, which calls for providing for the common defense, which really means public safety, and for ensuring . . . domestic tranquility, which means peace. You could consider it an environmental health hazard, just like different kinds of pollution. . . .
Elder: I've not seen the constitution of your state, but I have seen the U.S. Constitution, (regarding) domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense. However, it then goes out to spell out the ways . . . government can do that, and it doesn't say anything in the U.S. Constitution about the federal government having a requirement to reduce stress. Does your constitution say something like that?
Peckman: It has the same stuff in the Preamble. . . . There are plenty of laws that do protect the citizens against . . . secondhand smoke, environmental pollution -- things that didn't really exist at the time these constitutions were made. But they came up . . . and became a general health hazard . . . to the community, so it's in the best interests of the city to protect the citizens against that as well.
Elder: Do you feel there's more stress in Denver than in other cities?
Peckman: I don't know . . . we had some of the worst violent murders in over 10 years. . . .
Elder: So, if you had soothing music in public places, or if there were more healthful school lunches, the murders you just now mentioned wouldn't have taken place?
Peckman: Less likely to have taken place.
Elder: What causes you stress, personally?
Peckman: If I miss a night's sleep, get way off the routine, or --
Elder: And what should the city do to make sure that you don't miss a night's sleep?
Peckman: Well, that part is my responsibility. But it's like trash. You can only do so much to get people to reduce the amount of trash they create . . . there's still too much. . . . You could say, why is it the city's responsibility to take away an individual's personal trash? It's in the best interest of the city.
Elder: You are, in my opinion, quite right when you say it's your responsibility to get a night's sleep. . . . You get stressed because your wife gets sick or . . . when you lose a job. . . . I don't know what the government's function is to deal with those kinds of things.
Peckman: Think about air pollution. Everybody contributes . . . but the government has regulations . . . to try and control that. . . . This theory is that stress accumulates as an environmental pollutant . . . in the collective consciousness of the community. . . . When you do things to reduce that society-wide stress, all those negative social indicators are reduced and the positive trends are increased. That's what the research shows.
Elder: The research also undoubtedly shows that life causes stress. The only way to have a completely stress-free life is to be dead. . . . What can the city do to reduce terrorism?
Peckman: There have been studies documenting the effect of large group practice of specific technologies of consciousness, or meditative techniques, that had a global influence of significantly reducing terrorist acts. . . . This research shows there was a causal relationship between these practices in certain large groups and a very broad influence of coherence and peacefulness generated over a country or city or even globally.
Elder: If the president . . . issued an edict that everybody meditate for an hour, September 11th wouldn't have happened?
Peckman: I don't know. Depends upon what kind of meditation they were doing.
Wow. Now we know the cause of al Qaeda's anger toward the West -- their failure to engage in transcendental meditation. More gurus, please.