“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
As we approach this particular July 4th, I feel it is time to pause and reflect upon what has become of our American experiment.
Land of the Free and Home of the Brave…
We use this moniker to describe ourselves. It seems bold and speaks to the bravado that is America. We are brash, self-confident, loud, we exhibit a belief of global entitlement, and we believe that our country came about through Divine Providence. We love loud music, social and economic mobility and, while we acknowledge the existence of “class” in America, we also know that our status is not a birthright nor a lifetime sentence. What is also interesting is that we participate in the same cultural and recreational activities regardless of class. The poorest among us can, and do, rub elbows with the richest at the same baseball games, car races, and Broadway shows.
We have, quite literally, saved the world multiple times. We have also, incidentally, liberated more people on this planet from oppression than any other country in the history of the nation-state system. We are rough, scrappy, aggressive, boorish, entrepreneurial, emotional, tribal, and, at times, I dare say we show evidence or nuanced intellectualism.
Our national icon, the quintessential “American image”, is a migrant agricultural worker who wears a gun and funny-looking hat. It is no accident that the cowboy has been looked up to both philosophically as well as culturally. Alone, on the open field he is romanticized to have a ridged stoic moral code, occasionally following the law when it suits him, breaking it when it doesn’t. He speaks little and, when he does, each word is measured and has symbolic meaning. He drinks too much, he stays out too late, he works too hard, and he has a tendency to swear too much… in short… he is an American.
Yet is that where we are today?
I was inundated with phone calls from CCW holders asking if this meant that we could carry said magazines.
“Of course, there is no penal code statute stating otherwise, and there is no written policy issued by your issuing agency limiting you to diminished-capacity mags.”
“Yeah… but I called the Sheriff’s Department and the person I talked to on the phone said no.”
“Really… you called a magistrate to seek permission to do something? That is not how we do things in America! We don’t beg a state actor for permission to perform an act. We do it! If we have questions on the legality of said act we consult an attorney… we never, ever, ever ask for permission to do anything! That is fundamentally contradictory to our very unique American character!”
Or, at least it was.
Perhaps the romanticized view of the patriot, the cowboy, the frontiersman, the true “freeman”… (excuse the masculine language… I know it’s sexist and outdated but, honestly, I couldn’t give a crap right now)… never was really 100% accurate. Maybe many of us are in fact sheep, and we look at the wild ram with awe… we would like to be him, we realize that he is magnificent, beautiful, free and violent… we also know that we share similar DNA to him… but living with the farmer and being protected by the sheep dog seems so much more… civilized now, doesn’t it? Besides, as I understand it, the farmer is so much smarter than the sheep. Surely he will take the best of care of them, at least until he sells the farm to a developer, or the sheep to the butcher.
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Statues, Monuments, and Morons
No discussion about the Fourth of July would be complete without a reflection on what has been happening around our country. In this instance, I want to focus on the passions of the mob to tear down statues and monuments in a wholesale attempt to erase (or perhaps purge?) our nation’s history to satiate current political imperatives.
As you can imagine, I think this is both wholly misguided and potentially dangerous. Not only does it rob those of us in the present of our collective history, it also prevents future generations from understanding the American Experience… the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We are not a nation of perfection… quite the opposite really.
We are a nation, however, that lurches towards a “more perfect union”, sometimes through slow, organic growth, other times through great, explosive leaps. Sometimes our actions bring us closer to the goal of ultimate equality. Other times, our actions, while motivated by the loftiest ideals, actually create more barriers to full-throated equal protection.
I am not in favor of tearing down monuments or statues. Some Civil War statues were erected 100 years after the Civil War for the sole purpose of “responding” to the civil rights legislation in the 1960s. While their purpose may have been malignant, these statutes should not be torn down! They should have a statue or plaque erected next to it explaining why the statute was erected in the first place. In short… they should be explained.
Speech… or art… should never be censored by the mob or the State. The best, most definitive, answer to false or inflammatory speech, is more speech from the other side.
No… I call for more monuments, not less. Let future generations see the entire pageant that has been the American Experience. Let us not erase from our memory the sad tragedies of our treatment of Native Americans. Let us not erase from our memory the misguided racists who used enslaved humans to build an Antebellum South. Let us not erase from our memory the tragic nobility of our southern brothers (and sisters) who saw their state as their country, and fought to defend it against what they perceived to be northern aggression. Let us not erase from our memory the image of Martin Luther King, Jr., who taught us so eloquently to put race behind us and move on to a deeper introspection of a person’s character.
Now the fact that I referenced Dr. King is interesting, isn’t it? From the releasing of secret audio recordings of Dr. King made by the FBI, we now know some ugly truths about him, parts of his own character that for some, calls into question the veracity of his message.
Or does it? Can we not divorce the words of the speaker from the speaker himself?
The Apostle Paul was a deeply flawed, complex man, (as was Moses, David, and Peter, the guy at the gas station who just chewed me out for taking his pump.) Each of these individuals existed on a moral spectrum, and fluctuated upon it daily. There were times they displayed incalculable egotism and, dare I say, evil… yet there were others where they offered a message from God to the world (and arguably themselves) that has inspired western civilization.
Has God ever bestowed His wisdom to a prophet who was not, by definition, a flawed human?
Should we distance ourselves from that message, regardless of its transformative power because of the mortal coil that gave animation to it?
Tear down that statue of Washington! He was a slave owner!
Tear down that statue of Lincoln! He did not do enough!
Tear down that statue of Lee! He was a traitor!
Tear down that statue of Martin Luther King! He assaulted women!
Tear down that statue of Gandhi! He was sexist!
Tear down that statue of Jesus! He looks too white!
History must be sanitized! It must reflect a narrative of the current, and create the justification for a redress of grievances. In short… history, as some would see it, needs to provide the gravamen for the politics of victimization.
Yet, history… our history… is not for us to decide upon or expunge. What is… is and what was… was. We must study where we came from to understand where we are… the editorial process bears us no fruit.
If we are to create a system that pillories those in the past for transgressions that would not be tolerated in the present, I fear that future generations will see us through the same lens… and we ourselves may, ultimately, wind up on the chopping block of history.