Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Lessons from the Past

We are, by our nature, a nation with an incredibly short attention span.  Perhaps it is one of the qualities that has made us great, leading us to become such a powerful nation in a relatively short time, or maybe it was just because we were rich in the materials necessary for the industrial revolution and unencumbered by a bureaucratic government?  Either way, we tend not to dwell on the past unless we are dragged, kicking and screaming, into some retro-experience.

So, are there any lessons we can learn from our history that would be worth thinking about in today’s fast paced, totally connected, totally hip world society?  I think there might be one or two.

First, we are a nation that was originally made up of people who fled their homelands to escape religious persecution, poverty, and a hopelessly immobile social structure.  When our ancestors got here they displaced the native population to establish, as quickly as possible, a society where they controlled the religious persecution, poverty and social structure.  We are rich in our heritage with examples of oppression of minorities.  It really doesn’t matter if they were Native Indians, Irish, Polish, Italian, or African, if the majority could dominate them -- they did, until they were assimilated into the fabric of our nation. 

Slavery was imported into the colonies by the English to support the agrarian systems necessary to grow tobacco and later cotton.  It was formally ended after a Civil War, with the passage of the 13th amendment.

“Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Yet today, some 148 years later, we have still not been able to fully assimilate, as equals, those descendants of slaves into our culture.  The funny thing is we seem to be moving from their exclusion by the majority to their rejection of the majority.   There is an ever‑louder set of voices in broadcast media and society that justify their own racial bias through the condemnation of the people they disagree with as racist.  So I think the lesson here is if we continue forward on our current path, where society splinters more and more into their own groups, rejecting a common framework, we will at some point have to question the legitimacy of the nation.

Next, revolution is not necessarily a bad thing, if you have someone or group of someone’s with the vision to lead the citizens towards a new nation.  Each July we celebrate with parades, fireworks, concerts and other means, the fact our colonial forefathers placed their trust in a few courageous men to determine a path forward in response to the oppressive rule of the King.  These men, at great personal risk, wrestled with the choice to declare our independence.  Not all saw this as a wise move, and after a number of attempts to explain our concerns to the King were met with increased British force, our representatives made the only choice truly left to them.

The question for today is, do we have leaders with vision who can move this nation forward?  Not over the objections of the minority, but with the conscientious effort of bringing all to agreement.  If we do, I am not sure I see them in either the Executive or Legislative branches of our Capital, and I certainly don’t see them in the various personal agenda pushing commentators.  Yet each election, when we have it within our power to create a revolution and overturn the House and 1/3 of the Senate we sacrifice that right and reelect the incumbent.  It must be that every one thinks everyone, except his or her representatives, are worthless because we complain loudly about how bad Congress is.  Perhaps it is time for a revolution of ideas and change, but in today’s un-civil world is that possible? 

Finally, although we are a nation founded on the belief that religious tolerance was absolutely essential to our national survival, there is a great difference between religious tolerance and today’s intolerance of religion.  While I don’t necessarily believe that God always protects this nation, neither do I prescribe to a belief that if homosexuality is allowed God will condemn us.  But I do find the growing number who would take any acknowledgement of a higher power out of the national discussion troublesome.  There is a cultural dynamic here that does not bode well for us.  If a majority of us believe we can do whatever we want, with no moral consequence, I believe we will eventually slide into a pure anarchy where respect for the rights of others is maintained, if it can be maintained, only by the force of oppressive government.

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