We, Thee, and Me

There are lessons to be learned from looking at such things as the Protestant Reformation, the break in the dam that held devout Europeans for so long close to the bosom of the Catholic Church.

Put simply, perhaps too simply, the break with the Catholic Church marked a radical change in the world view of the vast majority of Europeans. From identifying with a major Authority figure that demanded obedience and exacted tribute suddenly (from an historical perspective) men and women were on  their own. With the invention of the printing press the Bible was available to an increasingly literate population and folks were being told that it was up to them to determine right and wrong and find their own way to Heaven. They were no longer to be shown the way, though it was clear form the Bible in their hand. In a word, their mind-set went in a very few years from We, to Thee, to Me. The individual was born and the Enlightenment brought with it a new fascination with human reasoning powers and a sudden awareness of human rights — with little discussion of the responsibilities that went along with those rights.

To be sure, there were thinkers like Immanuel Kant in Germany whose profound books wrestled with the new awareness of ethics based on human reasoning powers, and Kant stressed the priority of duties over rights — without the former the latter make no sense whatever. But few read Kant and many who read him didn’t understand him. And in any event thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke were busy constructing political theories that made the individual prior to the community of which they were a part. The concept of the “social contract” stressed the benefits to the individual over the state. What’s in it for me?

If we think back to the political thinking of folks like Thomas Aquinas, Plato, and Aristotle we realize what a radical change this was. To the ancients, the state was prior to the individual in the sense that no human being could be regarded as in any sense human without membership in a political community. Political communities brought with them laws and the peace of mind that made possible the growth of intellection and the creation of beautiful works of art, the development of our human potential. Membership in communities made possible such things as language which is not necessary for the hermit in the cave who lives alone and cares about no one else and is therefore less than human. The remnants of this view found their way into the writing of such thinkers as Ortega y Gasset early in the last century who warned us about the dawning of a “new barbarism” and also remind us that “civilization is above all else the will to live in common.” The Enlightenment had given us the notion of the common good which groups of virtuous individuals were supposed to realize made possible their own good. But by this time “Me” had gained ascendency over “We and Thee,” though folks like Adam Smith insisted that others are necessary for each of us to fully develop our sympathetic nature. Still, it’s a case of what others can do for me, not the other way around. Increasingly it was the case that the individual is seen as one who lives in a social body because it is of benefit to him.

Today we have groups and individuals that insist upon being recognized and accepted for what they are. Everyone is a victim and everyone is shouting (at the same time) about their rights. Rather than think about how greatly they benefit from membership in a social body we clamor for the benefits we insist we have coming simply because we are who we are — whoever we are. The alteration in mind-set is radical: from seeing the whole as prior to the part we now see things the other way around. The part is prior to the whole. From a preoccupation with my rights it is a very short step to insisting “it’s all about me.”

This transition is made clear, if we stop to think about it, from a consideration of our attitude toward such things as income taxes. We resent having to pay a part of our hard-earned income to the State in order to have them take that money and do with it we know-not-what. We really don’t know, we just know it’s our money and THEY are taking it away from us. In fact, however, the concept of taxation is consistent with any sound political philosophy: the State needs funds in order to protect its citizens. Today, for example, despite the fact that the lion’s share of our tax money goes toward what we call “Defense” it also takes care of the infra-structure, supports education and also such things as health care and the preservation of the environment. Or it is supposed to until or unless some clown declares himself Lord Muck-A-Muck and decides to cripple those agencies that are designed to make life better for the majority of our citizens.

In any event, the point I would like to stress is that radical alteration in worldview, from We and Thee to Me. We demand our rights and ignore our responsibilities. We insist that the State exists to serve us and not the other way around. We applaud John Kennedy when reminds us not to ask what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country, but we don’t think about the demands this places upon us, demands that our need to live with others requires that we recognize that others are just as important as we ourselves and we are a part of a whole that is ever so much greater than our little part.

 

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On Voting

I voted this morning as I am sure my readers have done. Now it’s up to the gods of chance to see whether we have elected the right person to run this country for the next four years. It is customary during the days leading up to the vote to urge everyone to “get out and vote.” This has become a commonplace and it is one of the embarrassments this country must admit to that many who are qualified to do so do not vote. But the real issue is not voting itself. The real issue is to cast an informed vote, though we hesitate to talk about that. It is not the vote per se that matters, it is the time and trouble that people should take before they decide to cast their very important vote — in any election.

Years ago when Richard Nixon was running against John Kennedy for the presidency my mother, a lifetime Republican, decided to vote for Kennedy because she had watched the debates and thought Nixon “looked like a thug.” Well, as it turned out he was. But Kennedy wasn’t much better as it turned out, either, and his successor Lyndon Johnson turned out to be an even better president than either Nixon or Kennedy — in that he actually got things done. And yet he looked a bit like a thug as well. And he spoke with a thick Texas accent that put me off. But, then, it really matters not what the person looked like, or sounds like, whether he had five o-clock shadow (as Nixon did in the debates) or walks with a hitch in his giddy-up. What matters is whether that person is qualified to get the job done.

Which brings me to the most recent election which was a debacle by any standards one chooses to employ. It was. assuredly, a popularity contest, in the worst sense of that term — I hate Trump; I can’t stand Hillary. And so it went. It was a vote about personalities and character (less of the latter and more of the former) and not about the issues at all. And yet the issues are what will determine whether this country moves ahead or ends up in a mess. The issues are pressing; the personalities of the candidates didn’t matter in the least.

All of which makes me, once again, raise the issue of the failure of our school system, the fact that so many who do actually vote do so for all the wrong reasons. The standards in our schools, at all levels, have dropped and we have busily “dumbed-down” the standards and demand less and less of our young people in the hope that they will stay in school and like their teachers. I have blogged about this many times and I am sure many readers are sick and tired of the mantra, but there’s no getting around the fact that a better informed citizenry would demand that the candidates stand and deliver, that they address the issues and stand ready to defend their positions on the complex issues that face all of us. They would also demand it of the media which likes to turn every event into a circus as long as it guarantees them high ratings.

There are many reason for the unpopularity of both of the candidates. Neither seems to have been liked very much, though Trump’s followers were blind to his faults in their determination to get him elected. But this devotion was just that, blind. And the fact that the man fooled so many people for so long stands as an indictment of all of us because it should never have happened. To be sure, there were subconscious motives at work: Trump struck an ugly chord in a great many people that most of us were totally unaware was there. But we should have been aware if we listened more closely to one another and watched with a critical eye instead of turning away toward our own personal reasons for preferring his opponent. Again, the election should have been about issues and ideas, political choices made in the light of information and awareness of positions taken in the past and promised in the future. But it was not. It was about people and their peculiarities, whether they were cheaters or liars, whether they were the kind of people we might want to invite to dinner. That’s not how it should be. Ever. But until we realize that our educational system is the one (and only) way out of the impasse we are in at present, that is the way it will be from now on.

We must save the planet. Clearly. And we should make every effort possible to restore the middle class and avoid war. But we must also educate our young or we will have a crippled democracy that cannot function as a government of, by and for the people. It will always be about money and power and about the personalities of those who pull the strings that are put in place for them by the monied interests.

The Real Victim

We have already heard the claim that this election is “rigged” and that Donald Trump may lose as a result. What this translates into it: My name is Donald The Trumpet and IF I lose it will not be as a result of my own failings as a person and a potential president, it will be because the Democrats have rigged the election.” In a word, it’s an escape clause that Trump has built into his ridiculous candidacy, because in his mind he cannot lose fair and square. The facts, of course, do not matter — though his claim is, indeed, based on the fact that the DNC managed to guarantee that Hillary would be their candidate and Bernie Sanders would not be. There is certainly some truth in that (if truth matters any more).

But it is a huge jump from that particular unpleasant fact to the outrageous claim that the entire election will be rigged to guarantee that Donald Trump will not be our next president. Why, we might well ask, should the Democrats bother to rig the election when the Trumpet is managing to undermine his own candidacy by continuing to shoot himself in the foot? If only he wouldn’t open his mouth, he might have a chance. But whenever he opens it another outrageous claim comes gushing forth and another doubter is born (we would hope).

To be sure, things have been done in the past to promote the interest of one particular candidate — Mayor Daily in Chicago practically delivered the election to John Kennedy back in the day. But there have been numerous other attempts, such as Jim Crow laws designed to disenfranchise certain voters (usually Democrats) and help the candidate of choice. And it would appear that Florida was pretty much delivered to George W. Bush by his brother not long ago. But to “rig” the entire election in favor of one candidate over another would appear to be practically impossible.

But that doesn’t matter, as we have learned. It’s not what is the case, in fact, that matters. It’s all about perception and the Trumpet is a master at deception — making the “truth” out to be whatever he says. He will say the word “rigged” enough to convince his mindless minions that it is a fact. And when he goes down in defeat in November (if he is not forced to resign sooner) he will shout “foul,” and his minions will rise up in protest. Let’s hope and pray that they not do so in violent protest — though I would certainly not bet against it.

The real victim in this race is not Donald Trump. If the real victim is not the Republican Party (which may well be the case) it is the truth. It is facts. It is what happens to be the case and not what people perceive to be the case. Truth is the real victim because the consequences of this transformation of lies into The Truth From On High are incalculable. The Donald will, as he says, take a long vacation and then probably work for Fox News and do the lecture circuit to help reimburse himself for the expenses he has incurred in this contest — and keep his face in the public eye. But what his mindless minions will do is anyone’s guess and those consequences follow directly from the rocks this man has turned over and the rage he has ignited in the hearts of so many people who might otherwise have simply remained mute. And, again, the truth will lie in tatters around our feet, unrecognizable and incapable of resuscitation. There’s the real victim.

Religion Doesn’t Matter

I am not sure what possible difference it makes what religion the president practices — or doesn’t practice (though I confess I am puzzled about Mitt Romney’s religion. What is the Mormon “take” on marriage?  Polygamy is OK but gay marriage is taboo. What’s with that?). But ever since John Kennedy’s Catholicity bothered many and was a bump in the road to his presidency, it seems to be a topic of some interest to voters — or at least the media think it is. A reporter from Yahoo News recently went to Northern Virginia, to a place near Arlington they call “Little Provo,” and interviewed a number of Mormons to see whether Mitt Romney’s religious preferences would make a difference in their voting (Duhhhh!). The story begins as follows:

Some 10,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints live in Northern Virginia, a crucial battleground region in what is expected to be one of the most tightly contested states of the 2012 presidential campaign. Situated next to the nation’s capital, the area is a hub for politically active Mormons in their 20s and 30s. With Mitt Romney on the verge of formally becoming the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, we traveled to Northern Virginia in June to talk to these voters about what that historic moment–the first Mormon to be nominated for president by a major American political party–will mean to them.

Strange to say, there was at least one interviewed who planned to vote for Romney’s opponent. But, as expected, most align themselves foursquare behind their man, for better or worse. None of this seems to me to be terribly important. There is a movement afoot to besmirch members of this Administration for their alleged practice of the religion of Islam. And while I have blogged about that and the force behind it which smells much like decaying McCarthyism, I ask again “what possible difference does it make?” The question is not what religion these people do or do not practice, rather it is whether or not these people can do the job they are called upon to do. And the answer to that question seems to be a reluctant “No” — at least at the top of the pyramid.

Both of the major players in this Fall’s election carry considerable baggage with them into the contest. Barack Obama has been all-too-conciliatory for many, cozying up to Capital and making deals with devilish companies to win accommodations; escalating the war in Afghanistan and ordering drone attacks in crowded civilian centers in the name of “anti-terrorism”; and weakening his stand on the environment, especially of late. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is not forthcoming and has a checkered past with only modest success as Governor of Massachusetts; he also has a questionable connection with Bain Capital and its tendency to outsource while he preaches “job creation” at home. Further, he is regarded by many as aloof and insensitive to the needs of the lower and middle classes — an image that was further sharpened when his wife was interviewed recently on ABC News. In response to a question about her husband’s unwillingness to release his tax records, she is reported to have said: “we’ve given all you people need to know” about the family’s finances. As one of “you people,” I find this offensive.

But the pyramid shows signs of deterioration further down as well.

Our government has broken down and lies scattered in fragments, including partisan politics, lies, deceit, deception, self-promotion, and greed — a great many politicians have their hands out to the all-too-generous corporations who are ready and willing to dole out the treasure that will guarantee them the results that will benefit their bottom line. What the country desperately needs is a Third Party candidate who is tied to no large corporations and who has vision and tenacity while at the same time he or she is unwilling to sacrifice integrity to achieve political success. But such a person could not succeed until or unless constraints are placed on political gift-giving and the hands of special interests are tied and the playing field is made level.

It’s not about religion, folks. It’s about competency. It’s about character and courage. It’s about a person’s willingness to stand up for what is important and ability to put the interests of the country ahead of their own self-interest. This country has produced such people in the past; one hopes that another is out there in the wings waiting for the opportunity to step forth.