Confusion And The Crumbling Nation
America and Americans are confused.
Since our inception as a nation, we and our allies have been confronted by adversaries and antagonists, all easily identified by perverted agendas designed to thwart democratic values or ideas that would subjugate millions. There was a time when our nation had great clarity. Now, we are confused. It seems we cannot identify those ideas and leaders that ought to be repulsive and immediately rejected.
Our adversaries take offense when we point out blatant examples of outrageous, repressive, oppressive and murderous behavior. We back away, chastising our own ‘insensitivity.’ We are told that we are hated for our very existence- and we cannot or wil not refute those absurdities. The good we have done, the gifts we have brought forth mean nothing.
When we are taken to task by brutish and cruel leaders of failed nation-states, we are ashamed. We are laughed at because of our confusion and how easily we can be manipulated.
In a way, this confusion is a part of the human condition. We defy our realities so that we might be something we cannot be, someone other than ourselves. We will deny truth, logic and even our own collective nature in that pursuit. We live in the here and now, dealing with our realities and our lives. All the while, we want to be elsewhere or to be someone else in a place and time, where and when our ‘inner greatness’ is immediately recognized and appreciated. All that is missing is the road map, the American Idol competition that might recognize our magnificence. Many will fight with great ferocity to defend our ambiguity and refusal to take a stand and many care little who gets hurt in the process.
The struggle with the tentative ‘would have, should have,’ that so aptly defines a cultural malaise is played out every day. Those who sure of themselves and their beliefs or take comfort in them, are suspect outsiders. What is wrong with them?
Rather than seek real solutions to real problems that affect real people that can be addressed and solved with hard work, there is a collective lemming-like drive to find ‘inner peace.’ Myopic New Age religions, Yoga, mystical expressions of faith have all supplanted the need for good works. Anything that does not demand commitment and accountability is good. Any expression of faith that requires accountability and real commitment is bad. We do not need to answer to God. It his He/She/It that needs to answer to us. God, the Master Of The Universe And Creator has no business making demands on us.
The only clarity is that we must be tolerant and forgiving of those who say God told them to kill us (See We’re The Problem And Other Fantasies for the absurdity of such thinking).
Free societies and civilizations are distinguished by how they see the world and in how they problem solve. They value life, knowledge and morality, in that order.
Life is understood in the finite and infinite expression. When we encounter death in our lives, we realize that our infinite existence is not a possibility. Intellectually, we know this to be an absolute truth. With greater knowledge, our understanding of our finite selves is increased. Nevertheless, we seek immortality. We look for ways to extend our physical existence and we are willing to do just about anything to find that elusive fountain of youth.
Our quest for that fountain does not really represent a quest for longevity. Despite our intellectual awareness and an ever increasing body of knowledge, what we really seek is immortality. We want to defy and deny the truth about ourselves and about the finite creatures we are. Even as our longevity has increased, so has our obsession with immortality. Medicine and lifestyle can indeed give us a few more years and cosmetic surgery can create all kinds of illusions. Still, no matter all our efforts, we cannot defy nature. We are not meant for immortality.
How tragically confused one must be to believe that longevity is the mark of a quality life.Western nations measure the quality of life in terms of age and lifespan. There is no measure of the meaningfulness of life.
In addition to the pursuit of life, western man seeks knowledge. In addition to immortality, he wants to be in possession of all the mysteries of the universe.
Next to life itself, man seeks infinity in the field of knowledge. He wants not only to be immortal, but to have boundless knowledge. It is true we have made great strides in our knowledge base, but we are barely scratching the surface of the secrets of the cosmos. Those for whom longevity and the obsessive search for knowledge are paramount, will be long forgotten.
The final human endeavor in which man seeks to leave a mark is in his expression of morality. It is in this arena that our failures are greatest.
The incongruity of our efforts are almost comical. On the one hand, we seek immortality. On the other hand, some seek to terminate the lives of those they feel have no quality of life. The same people who speak of moral and cultural relativism are often the very same people who believe that those who are a burden to them may be removed. They will go to great lengths to accommodate and make room for others, yet they will not tolerate those near and dear who might be a ‘burden.’
If man put as much effort into seeking a moral immortality as he does in seeking a physical immortality, the world would be a much better place.
Mankind can essentially be divided into two camps: One camp (western society) has come to see no morality other than the kind that serves the self. The other camp sees morality in imposing one set of beliefs over another, be they religious or political at any and all costs and force if necessary. That is why Communism and religious fundamentalism are so appealing to many: They require self discipline and commitment, two very human desires. The western pursuit of pleasure is counter intuitive (we want immortality and uber morality but we aren’t willing to rid ourselves of the pleasurable behaviors and adopt the necessary discipline and commitment to achieve that immortality and morality. Then, we blame others for our weaknesses and bad behavior). ‘We are doomed to fail’ is a mantra instilled in children today.
America’s participation in the first World War was predicated on the belief that we were making the world safe for democracy. In the second World War, we saw our participation as necessary to save the world from real slavery and oppression. As we and our allies pushed the Nazi forces back, we were seen by those we liberated as saviors. There was no moral ambiguity whatsoever. The Cold War was not fought for sovereignty of Siberia, but rather, to maintain the sovereignty over our beliefs.
Today, America is not so sure of herself. When faced by oppressive and repressive regimes that are no different than those evil regimes of the past, we falter and hesitate.
We are in a word, confused.
There was a time when China was understood to be among the most oppressive regimes in the world. Today we trade with China and break bread with them as if they were our moral equals. Political oppression is still rampant, tens of thousands of state sanctioned murders occur every year, prisoners are shot so that their organs might be harvested and Chinese miners are not given safety equipment because the regime has done the math. Replacing coal miners is cheaper than keeping them alive.
There was a time when African Americans were invisible in this nation. Now, universities have entire programs that dwell on ‘blackness.’ We went from fighting to include minorities into our nation to fighting to exclude minorities from our melting pot. The pendulum swings are extreme.
The American nation has much to be proud of and very little to be confused about.
Our greatest moments as a nation and people have always been the result of not caring about our personal longevity, not caring about what the books said what and wasn’t possible and about not caring about a morality that was self centered.
We built a nation with wretched refuse that made this country their home (see Culture Character And Cheese and Democracies Don’t Care). They may have come from elsewhere, but America was the place millions wanted to make home. They saw this nations certainty and commitment to freedom as another kind of Rock of Ages. They saw a nation that while not perfect, was a nation ‘whose best days were yet to come.’
Immigrants came- and still come- with the express desire to participate, to have his opr her voice heard. Immigrants can be active participants in whatever political party or organization they desire. They are free to passionately argue their beliefs with neighbors who speak their language and other neighbors who don’t, free of the fear of retribution. Immigrants are not confused about what America stands for and for whom she will stand up. America is not a terrible place as the lines for residency visas attest. No one in those lines really sees what America stands for as ambiguous or confused.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to symbolize America to the world. He was a not perfect and certainly flawed. Nevertheless, when the Nazi threat to Europe was at it’s darkest, Roosevelt behaved in a way that was quintessentially American. At great personal risk to his political career, he lied to Congress outright so that Europe might be saved from Nazi tyranny. He cared little about his physical limitation. He cared less about what his diplomats (including Joe Kennedy) said about not getting involved and he cared least of all about the self serving isolationist morality that enveloped the nation.
FDR represented American moral certainty to a fearful world. Had the American president been Woodrow Wilson or Herbert Hoover- two fine men- the swastika would have flown over the capitals of the Continent and Europeans would have been enslaved.
World War Two was FDR’s second victory. He stemmed the tide of Communism on these shores during the depression by feeding the poor and hungry. He tied the nation together with roads, electricity and national parks. demonstrated in front of the White House, but their pleas fell on empty ears. The secret answer was that the Jewish situation should not be brought to prominence because it would hinder the war effort, and a conference between Roosevelt and Eisenhower rejected the plan to bomb the concentration camps. Thus, the Jewish confidence in people was shattered.
Confusion can be helpful when it inspires a cathartic experience. We can find meaning, clarity and direction. Those liberating results come about only when we seek a higher purpose. We have to seek not more confusion, but less so that our lives however long or short have meaning. We have to seek knowledge that enhances our meaning and existence and we have to seek a morality that elevates ourselves and others at the same time. We cannot allow a pretend morality to immobilize us. We have to be sure of ourselves, of we are, in what we stand for and in what direction we must forge ahead.
America is not a perfect place, of course. That said, it is incumbent on us to make it better. That is the real legacy of the ‘wretched refuse.’
Of the almost 7 billion people on this planet, only 300 million are Americans. To put that in perspective, less than 5% of the population of this planet are Americans- and yet, the world is obsessed with our existence and what we represent. In the course of just over 200 years, we have provided the world with ideas, contributions and realities that are in the consciousness of every human being on the planet. Given our numbers and short history, we should not have had this profound influence on history and mankind- and yet, we have. The secret to our our successes and influence can be attributed to one powerful word: Freedom.
That is a truth we ought never be confused about.
For a terrific- and related- look at the America we have become, see Dr Sanity’s superb Beyond Parody, posted today.
Portions of this post have been previously published.