Mid-Summer Waxing Honey Flow Moon
Independence Day. Celebrating our ancestor’s victory over the British army and considering how their enlightenment ideals apply to our time. Happy 4th of July!
For an unreconstructed radical like myself, these are trying times. I wonder where the sense of communitarian spirit has gone. Yes, we have a can do, go it alone spirit, too and I participate in it. The ethical underpinnings of Western civilization, however, fed by the the deep springs of Athens and Jerusalem have always reminded us that we share this journey. Our lives are not ours alone, but belong as well to the whole, to the commonweal. When we establish a government of the people, by the people, and FOR the people, we make this claim a part of our countries essence.
The rugged individualist, the objectivist, the capitalist have the inclination to see the community as a source for their betterment, which is fine as long as their betterment does not come at others expense. In that case these same perspectives become exploitative and parasitic, not interdependent, mutual. A 5-year old knows that if all you do is take and take and take, then the other kids will no longer want to play with you.
The atomistic viewpoints of groups like the Tea Party and, in an insult to the Christian faith, the evangelical right, make it clear that they want the government to enforce their bigoted views of morality: no stemcell research, homophobia and respect for only one point of view in struggle over Roe v. Wade. They want no government aid to the poor, no environmental review for corporate projects that threaten the long term health of our natural world. They have a vast umbrella of negatives with which they hope to block the sunshine of equality and shared responsibility.
They want the constitution, like the bible, to be an inspired document, written not by men and women, but by gods, inviolate and sacrosanct. It isn’t true of the bible and it is even much less so true of the constitution. Both of these documents live, that is, they get swept into new eras, with new challenges and demand a hermeneutics for understanding their relevance. Always. This is an iron law of human history, no document from the past means the same thing today that it did yesterday. That is anachronistic thinking at its most damaging, its most infantile, its most destructive.
My sister lives in Singapore and, up until very recently, so did my brother, Mark. This makes accessible, in a personal way, the viewpoints of other cultures toward our country. Many people don’t like us, see us as arrogant, uncaring and ruthless. Of course, the big kid on the block often has that reputation, deserved or undeserved, but our recent actions, Iraq and Guantanamo among them, have cemented these opinions.
Even so, I have this urge to celebrate our country. We are a beacon of freedom, a beloved place of opportunity and real diversity. We have committed ourselves to constructing a nation not on history or geography, but on founding ideals of freedom and equality and brotherhood. (sic) The number and variety of persons who come to this country from all over the world, the number and variety of them who become part of the patchwork quilt that is our history and our present at its very best, attest to the essential value of our presence. We negotiate the boundary between sending cultures and our history and, again at our best, we do it with open hands and hearts.
Have we slaughtered Native Americans and held slaves? Yes. Have we engaged in first-strike aggression? Yes. Have we often pretended that our nation, defended by two oceans, exists alone and isolated? Yes. Have we laid waste to our natural resources in the name of jobs and profits? Yes.
We should not be, cannot be, proud of these transgressions, but I submit that we are not the Great Satan. We are not the only nation whose actions have transgressed human decency. Further, I would submit that we are not even the worst, not even close. Look at the Armenian and Jewish genocides. The pogroms in Russia and the slaughter of the Stalinist era. The vicious regime of the Khmer Rouge. This is a long list and it runs deep in our world history. No, we are a nation that has blundered and made arrogant mistakes, but we are neither all bad nor all good. We are, rather, an imperfect nation with an imperfect history.
As I look around the world, I find no country more committed to creating a united states of freedom, no country more committed to embracing the worlds refugees, no country more aware of its errors and no country more able to make amends. We are a young nation, barely 240 years old, maybe an early adolescent in terms of our development.
We must not give in to the petty, the self-aggrandizing, the screw the other guy mentality of our rising political movements. We’re better than that.