Saturday, May 27, 2006

We The People

The new $10 bill in the U.S. has emblazoned across its face in red script letters to the right of the portrait of Hamilton, We The People. Those are, of course, the three words that begin the U.S. Constitution.
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
This opening is a long sentence that is focused on political ideals, not identification as “the people.” You might argue that there is nothing wrong with shortening this historic political statement to a three-word rallying cry. I would disagree. The problem with rallying cries (and the modern global communications equivalent, the sound bite) is that they are intended to drive people emotionally, to disengage their minds and convince them that their “belief” will carry the day.

In this case, the words “We the people” implies, for one thing, being set apart and special in all the world. We the people who have a democracy. We the people who God has favored. We the people who have achieved a level of civilization that is the envy of the rest of the world.

We the people who have taken the lead in arrogance and hubris for the twenty-first century.

It is taken as axiomatic by far too many people I talk with that the citizens of the U.S. are more free than the citizens of any other country. I admit, there are places on the Big Blue Marble where speaking your mind can land you in prison or worse, or where the government intrudes on the lives of citizens by opening their mail, tapping their phones, tracking their spending habits and keeping dossiers on them. For example, one of those countries would be...well, the U.S.

It could be argued that there is hardly as single human rights violation that this government is not guilty of. It is currently thumbing its collective nose at the Constitution and spying on its own citizens under the pretext of taking anti-terrorism measures. It has arrested hundreds of people and kept them locked up without formal charges being leveled. It has waged an illegal and aggressive war against a country powerless to defend itself, blatantly lying to its own citizens in the process about the reasons for the war.

One reason all of this has stood, so far, is the belief in “We the people.” Other empires have come and gone. Even tiny Portugal was an empire, once upon a time. Yet, that won't happen to us, we assure ourselves. We are “the people.” The middle of the 20th century saw a democratically elected president of Germany stoke the fires of nationalism and fascism and turn their democracy into a dictatorship under the pretense of fighting terrorism. But that won't happen here, we are sure, because we are “the people.” How can “We the people” suffer the fate of those others who were “them” not “us?”

Talking with a coworker the other day, the conversation managed to turn toward politics for a brief moment (normally a taboo subject in the workplace). His politics tend toward the left, so I felt pretty comfortable espousing my own opinion that this government is attempting a repeat performance of the Nazification of Germany here in the good ol' U.S. of A. His response was typical. He said, “I'm a cynic, but I'm not that cynical.”

I could have asked him what was cynical about coming to the conclusion that when a government follows essentially the same steps the Nazi party took to seize absolute control over Germany, they might be working toward the same goal? Rightly or wrongly, I didn't press the matter because I figured I already knew the answer. “We the people” love freedom too much. “We the people” are special and destined to lead the world to democracy and liberty. “We the people” have faced difficulties and always risen above them.

Of course, we haven't risen above anything really. We have become progressively less educated, more enslaved and less able to decide our own fates. Rather than rising above, we have learned to justify, rationalize and call each loss of freedom part of the evolving nature of our government. Subjugation to the whims of authority becomes the rule of law, virtual indentured servitude to corporations becomes economic opportunity and unlawful surveillance and detention of citizens becomes nation security.

The problem is one of belief, at least at one level. I don't mean to say that this is the whole or our problems, but it is at the root of them, I think. We believe that evoking the magic words, “We the people,” will make everything alright. The system might be going through a difficult time right now, but it will correct itself. It always has.

That begs the question, exactly how will the system correct itself? If the system is made up of “We the people” and we are not taking responsibility for the corrections, what form will those corrections take? The answer is, the system will correct itself in accordance with the desires of those who are putting energy into it. An apathetic “We the people” who are satisfied with accepting the direction and decisions of those in positions of authority will get a form of government that consists of those in authority making all the decisions. In other words, our belief in “We the people” means nothing when our actions are more in line with “They the power.”

The system will correct itself and it will do so in the way we deserve, based on our actions. If “We the people” choose apathy and self-absorption, allowing all manner of atrocities and human rights violations to be carried out in our name as long as we remain well fed and left relatively alone, we will become the slaves we are already acting like. And, if we think we are going to pull it together at the last minute and save our beloved democracy and freedom in a Hollywood-esque, “save the day” moment, think again. That makes for a nice feel-good ending to a movie, but it is wishful thinking.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Democracy and the Religious Right

Here's an interesting thought that occured to me while reading some analysis of the Old Testament. The religious right is fond of saying that this nation (the U.S.) is a light unto the world, bringing democracy to the opressed. We sing God Bless America with the understanding that God has blessed America, which leads logically to the conclusion that this spreading of democracy is something God has ordained.

So here is the question: why didn't this God give democracy to the ancient Hebrews? They, being "God's chosen people," could've been the light unto the world, showing the world how God intended government to be...but no! They had kings. Always kings. This God, an allegedly unchanging God, also allegedly decided who the king would be. And priests...this God seemed really big on priest. There is nothing democratic about a priesthood! The priests proclaim God's word and that is the end of it.

So when did God become such a fan of democracy? The answer, of course, is the "He" never did. Or, more precisely, He did when democracy proved itself a good way to control people.

The Democracy Illusion

Get out and vote. That is the rallying cry of those who champion democracy. Determine who will lead us for the next four years. Take control of the destiny of your country. What hogwash. There has not been an election in my lifetime (born in 1960) that has not been described in terms other than these: the lesser of two evils. Alright, maybe there was one. I was born during the Kennedy presidential campaign. Fifty-two days after I was born, JFK was elected President of the United States. Many people, even in retrospect, don't see that election as a choice between the lesser of two evils.

Kennedy's words did not make him seem evil. He once said, "mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind." I couldn't agree more. But, Kennedy was no saint. Let's not forget the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. We remember that Kennedy stood firm against the Soviet Union when they installed missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States. What we forget is that the United States already had missiles in Turkey aimed at the Soviet Union. Fair is fair, as I see it.

Today we feel like we have a voice and a choice in our own future, because we vote for who will represent us in the senate, the house and in the white house. But do we, really? What choice do we have? Several hundred million people choosing between this guy and that guy. Is that a choice? We cast our ballot, then we turn away, while those we elected proceed to rape and pillage the rest of the world in our name.

Is it any wonder that our elections have turned more and more toward the lesser of two evils? We don't care any more. We cast our ballots...that is our definition of democracy. Once we've left our individal chad hanging, we leave it to whomever we decided was the lesser of two evils to do as they please. That isn't democracy. That is choosing the rapist, but getting raped nonetheless.

Excuse me for quote a broadway song, but this one pretty much said it the way it is. The musical was Shenandoah. Like most musicals, the lyrics are corny, but they have some truth to them:

Freedom ain't a state like Maine of Virginia
Freedom ain't across some county line
Freedom is a flame that burns within ya
Freedom is a state of mind

Democracy is not a matter of simply casting a vote then sitting back to see what happens. If you want freedom, you will only find it within your own mind. Freedom is not political. Freedom is individual. Freedom comes from knowledge, not from votes. And, freedom is not to be found in adherance to any religious doctrine. Think...for yourself. Are you free if you blindly follow the repetitious patterns prescribed by some religious leaders? If the God you follow was actually a proponent of freedom and liberty, would He supported kings for so many millinia, then given you mechanistic rules to follow each Sunday of the year?

Something fishy is going on here. The religious, whose God is clearly not a fan of freedom are claiming they are the champions of the same. Is it freedom they represent, or subjugation in the clothing of freedom? Think about the story of the wolf in sheep's clothing. Very often, those who proclaim most loudly that they are for us are actually against us.

Think...for yourself. Take the time to consider what you have been told. The words sound beautiful, but look at the man behind the curtain. As Jesus said, by their fruits shall you know them.