Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Inside the box, outside the box, part two of two
They say every country has it's 'Founding Myth.'
This is true of course, as heroes and villains need to be clearly defined. Children need to be taught in a clear and concise a fashion the merits and uniqueness of their nation and the nobility of their Founding Fathers. This is true of all nations, everywhere. Patriotism demands this pedagogical approach, for reasons far to numerous to elaborate here.
Of course, using our own country as an example, we learn that life isn't that simple.
Washington kept slaves. Jefferson loved (?) the slave girl Sally Hemmings, and so on.
In the end, we learn what we all know, that we are imperfect beings. The best of us, the real heroes, try to excel and exceed their own capacities and capabilities. They sacrifice their earthly souls (a metaphor, for my non religious, liberal readers), so that their ideas and contributions may benefit us all. For that, we are grateful.
Still, these heroes, like the rest of us, are imperfect and flawed. None of that, of course, diminishes their efforts or contributions to our nation, our communities or even our small neighborhoods. We love our heroes, because they represent the best of us and because through them, we hope to see a bit of ourselves, despite our own flaws and imperfections.
A recent casual conversation with a highly regarded Federal Judge prompted me to write this, and yesterday's piece. Now, I don't spend time with Judges-- so I thought I'd make the most of our few minutes together.
In a serious exchange, His Honor candidly admitted the struggle he faces, daily. In his words, he is "Torn between two women- Lady Justice and Lady Liberty." He went on to say that "It was no accident that Lady Justice was blind and that Lady Liberty bore a torch."
"Justice" he said, "must always be blind, to be dispensed without favor or influence."
"Liberty must shed light," he said, "on the human ideal to excel and exceed."
I was immediately struck. In those few words, His Honor forever exorcised my notion of political and legal absolutes.
At times, we demand absolute Justice and at times we demand absolute Liberty, sometimes forgetting there may be a necessary friction so as to keep us on our guard. Neither liberty or justice are meant to be taken lightly. They are meant to be discussed, debated and at times, argued. These democratic attributes are to be regarded as the living and breathing embodiment of rights, the blood that runs through that living breathing body we call democracy.
As I wrote yesterday, "Elections and issues are now emotional exercises, rather than intellectual ones. As any good Hollywood director knows, 'make 'em laugh or make 'em cry, and you'll sell tickets.' We are being sold tickets and the studio with the funnier or sadder film, wins. This cannot continue."
This sorry state of affairs are the result of mass marketing of ideas and the oversimplification of ideas. Both sides of the political spectrum dismiss each other with generalizations and the deliberate mischaracterization of of beliefs and intent. Human nature being what it is, we are ever eager to have the difficult things in life explained to us or handed to us on a silver platter- and the Washington political elites know it.
Welcome to Hollywood, DC.
My conversation with the Judge humbled me. I can be opinionated and so sure of the absoluteness of my beliefs, ever easy to dismiss or deny those who disagree with me. I also know that I am flawed and that sometimes, I dont think, or I allow others to think for me. I justify that behavior with a shrug and say to myself, well, everyone else does it.
Are we as nation, hurtling towards that 'House divided against itself'? I don't know, for sure. In a recent exchange with a friend, I asked that very question. My correspondent thought not, but the words weren't as strong as they might have been. Perhaps they were words of a silent wish or prayer.
In any case, there are realities that tie and bind us-- bonds, I believe, that are stronger than our dissentions.
Our election produced a record turnout of voters, well in excess of 115 million voices, exercising their right and resposibility as citizens. No matter how they voted, the passion of that exercise in debate and the willingness to participate, is a good thing. Passion is always better than lethargy or complacency. As a nation, we cared deeply, each in our own way. We cared about liberty and justice.
There is a passionate argument, made by liberals for universal compassion and and the deeply held belief in the tolerance and acceptance of all.
There is an equally passionate argument, made by social and religious conservatives, that an absolute faith in God makes clear the difference between right and wrong. That comittment is to a just and caring society. It is the belief that we are all 'Created in His Image,' that demands as much from us as we can give.
There is no great chasm between the ideas between the groups and ideologies they share, only the paths taken. The chasm is an artificial one, really, a construct of the political parties themselves and the media:
Liberals are all hard left wingers, wanting to usurp everything that America stands for- or they are progressive and forward thinking, always ready to stand up for the weak and oppressed.
Conservatives are fascists or bigots- or, they are people of faith, values and patriotism, always ready to defend the just society based on the Golden Rule.
Any way you cut it, the division is one of direction, not values. There isn't anyone who can obviate the values of these two groups. They are the same, in reality. It is the struggle that define our differences-- the struggle between Lady Justice and Lady Liberty.
In the best of all worlds, we would find comfort in the middle ground. In nature, we find the opposites in every organism and opposites in every man made endeavor. Trees have solid trunks, immovable and resolute, and they have branches that sway in the wind, leaves fluttering. Language has defined letters and punctuation, from which poetry and great literature emerges, and causes us to emote and reflect. Music is result of a rigid, mathematical structure from which emerges a passion so deep so as to move people of different backgrounds, together.
Does God belong in politics? Some would answer no, the doctrine of the Church and State division acts as a buffer to religious extremism. There is after all, a history of Church repression. Political Islam, speaks for itself. Faith is best kept a private and personal matter.
Others might say that this country was founded on religious principles, and indeed, faith based good works have left an indelible mark on this nation. Thus, faith alone is the underpinning of our society.
In truth, religion was used as method of oppression. However, that expression of faith has no foothold here. We founded by those who wished to escape that and other forms of tyranny. It is religion that allowed and was the orginal guarantors of freedom in this country.
Is secularism the answer to our future? Secularism, and all it's derivatives, were understandable reactions to being held underfoot by a Church and faith that cared not for it's believers. That Church, thankfully no longer exists, in no small measure due to the reality that human dignity, especially under God's Dominion, demanded freedom. When a slave broke the chains of his bondage, he didn't stay long enough to have tea and say good bye to his master. He ran, as far and fast as he could.
Those former slaves that false Church founded a new replacement for God. That new religion, for many, was Science. Nietzsche defiantly and confidently declared that "God is Dead." He was right. The God that Nietzche and the other starring cast of the Enlightenment understood and knew, was indeed dead. In it's place a new belief structure arouse. As the Church once oppressed, in extremis, so too did the resulting backlash of secularism, a hedonistic orgy of self centeredness.
The Church has changed and Secularism has changed.
Much has changed, in both the liberal and conservative communities. Take away the politics and there is ground for discussion and acceptance.
I meant to finish this today, but I have a few closing conclusions and ideas that may surprise you. My last thoughts on the matter will be posted tomorrow.
If I have caused you even a few moments of thought, I am grateful. If indeed, you find yourself questioning the status quo, even better.
That I have once again, pleased no one, is a given.
One does not have to change their own beliefs to question them.
Acceptance of new ideas, thoughts, hopes and dreams are what fuel our better selves.
We may not always undestand what we are getting into when we step into the breach, but as with any new endeavor, we can choose to see it defensively or choose to see it as an opportunity.
Even our own beliefs and ideas can be strengthened by new understandings.
Lastly, I received numerous emails and a few comments from some very thoughtful minds. I will answer them all tomorrow.