We know there are always; at the very least three sides to every object. Our world can be seen as an object and we must understand, we live in a multi-dimensional world. Our conversations however sometimes seem to lack this understanding as we push one point of view or another forward to promote a certain position or, you might say, perspective. We move from the beauty of a world of infinite perspectives to the stark and barren land of a binary world. We trade the awesome wonder of our true multi-dimensional nature for a mutilated and therefore a false image of the world.
We lose so much as we abandon the possibilities of the broader perspective and we suffer the consequence of ignorance too when we limit ourselves to the perimeters of one or two narrow points of view, as to be ignorant is to not know and we cannot know a thing when confined to the limitations of only two viewpoints or perspectives when understanding actually requires a more complete, a broader frame of reference.
Let us consider for a moment this thing we call The United States of America, the ideal and the reality of what it is and its image of itself, both today and also from the perspective of the past to see if there is something that we might find that can inform us as to how we might proceed from this season of confusion and despair that many claim. I suggest that some of the confusion and despair is the result of the limited possibilities imposed upon ourselves through the inadequate process of binary thinking. Our efforts to limit ourselves to binary positions of good-bad, right-wrong, the A team-the B team, have not brought us closer to the truth, to solutions we can use, to the fulfillment of the ideal but further away. This is not to say, as some might hope that the ideal should be compromised but that our own understandings of the ways of humans, that they are what they are and we must deal with humans as they are. The ideal is sound but people are not and it is this that we must change in order to have some or any other outcome.
We can’t move forward and of course we cannot go back because rather than educating and illuminating ourselves with open and broad thinking we are using our energies and intelligence in defending various narrow perspectives which in real human terms can, as it so often has, meant radical and violent actions to support those positions but also as a way of moving out of the pain of stalemate; as humans we cannot stand the static existence. There is comfort in a view that is not limited to one side or another and there is peace in a more complete understanding. There is wisdom in being able to see not only the left or right position but in looking at those positions and at every position in-between. Perhaps there is a view, and there is, that is neither an exceptionalist view of a country that can do no wrong nor a view that says that we can do nothing right. The exceptionalist view removes critical thinking with fantasy of a deed already done while the defeatist position removes critical thing with cynicism, anger and despair. Is there then a view of our world that would give us the freedom, courage and insight necessary to move forward towards some true exceptionalism or at least to a point a little closer to it?
What is the verdict that we come to when we fully analyze the truth of the American experiment up to this point?
We know, whether we wish to admit it or not that we did not start off so well, if we take the arrival of the Europeans with their dreams and ambitions as the starting point of the national story that is. This point of reference is of course not going to be the starting point for those who we call indigenous peoples for they have their own stories of this land that became another nation with their own stories that preceded the arrival of Europeans, of migration, conquest and defeat, relationships both fair and fearful with each other, also with the land and with those times that we must take into account as we learn to come to a better understanding of our nation. For as the Europeans brought what they brought to this nation so too did the Africans, the Asians and those Native Americans who did not arrive but still very much contribute to who we are, Americans now; and when we consider it, it’s clearly true that we each must pick up our place in history where others left off and this is where we, all of us together have been left off, at this point we call today. In searching for understanding here is no use in crying or complaining that we must bear the consequences of the sins of our ancestors as there is no shame in enjoying the fruits of their best actions and accomplishments, that is as it is.
The people here now in the U.S. are here now and we must pick up from where we were left off regardless of how we arrived, regardless of the actions of our ancestors. Our story, the story of this nation, is an interesting and amazing story, a one full of twists and turns and flavored throughout with elements of all cultures from around the globe, both ancient and diverse.
This nation now consists of people from every corner of the world including, as just referenced, the hundreds of indigenous cultures that existed here on this land before the huge European invasion and forced African diaspora.
This melting pot, as they used to call it, was not just a mash-up of human flesh and bones, it is along with each and every one of those bodies a continuation of thousands of years of various ways and various ideas on governance, justice, law, religion and every manner of land use, social organization and way of life so far known to man.
One might be forgiven for taking some pride in such a nation as this as some of us were taught to do in our innocence as children in schools, looking at the country from the patriotic angle of aspirations and possibilities. It’s an inspiring story told to children that instills patriotism and pride if we only focus on those possibilities and aspirations and leave out the brutality, theft, murder and rape that lies under so much of whatever was changing above the ground where real lives were being lived or real lives were being lost.
We cannot forget the violence and brutality that formed so much of this nation but we must not allow the memory of that violence and brutality to lead us down the road of cynicism, doubt, apathy or frustration to that place where we choose to forget those universally recognized ideals so many respect and love because of the failures of the nation. We must use the stories of our failures along with our stories of success as we continue to pursue that society that we dream of. It is made easier in that these ideals have been and were recognized and embraced by most everyone involved in the building and maintaining of the nation. The ideas of justice, fair play, equality and simple kindness, truth and beauty have been in the hearts of humans the world over from as far back as we can see, they have always existed in some mind, some heart, somewhere. The spirit that we claimed through the expression of those ideals was a universal spirit that covered the land and the world, the United States was by no means the only country aspiring towards this kind of greatness, a greatness not disputed or condemned in the ideal but in the failure of those who lived under those ideals.
Indeed, there was and is a greatness that lives in the spirit of the nation as it was advertised and proclaimed in the statements of the founders of that new order, a greatness recognized along the way by even those who had been most abused in It’s making, by those who held the power, those same ones who carved in stone and wrote the words for all to see and hear. We know then that it was not the words that were in question but the integrity of those who used those words and failed to up-hold them by living according to their own words.
So the greatness then was in the ideal, in the words and hearts and minds of humans but not so much in the actions of the humans themselves except for those few in some times and the many at other times who kept their word through right action.
And so in the land that had been declared free and equal with rights unalienable to any man we had men and women slaves and subjects who had been overpowered by men who believed themselves to be heirs to the blessings of certain gods, in part because of their knowledge of the ideals, blessings over and above those others who, they pretended were not men at all but animals or savages or most unfortunately for some a woman. But again, even these who were oppressed by the criminal power of those who betrayed their own ideals saw the truth and the wisdom of the ideal which was professed by the thinkers and book writers, that all men, though no mention of women yet, were created equal and were worthy of a right to a life both free and happy.
It may be possible and could be said that the European immigrants made the mistake of thinking that their rightness was in the books that they kept those great words in rather than in the living out those ideals in truthful lives on the ground and in the company of one another. Yet it was also possible and could be said that in having those books full of the written codes and expectations, that we sometimes have found ourselves pressed when we do not uphold those ideals, as we could hardly escape what has been so clearly stated and defined. In this way and for this reason it may be more of an advantage than disadvantage that the ideals have been written out and held up for us to see.
As time moves on the sins of those people who oppressed, murdered and stole were exposed and are being exposed still today. The words that were written to try and actualize the ideals, to bring the desire of those ideals to our real lives are still visible in the stones and on the pages that were provided. As the possibility of fulfillment of the dream becomes ever better understood and expected by some who have examined their bias, prejudice and privilege for the goal of living true to their desire, there are those of the mind that the brutality and violent oppression of some others must continue in order to protect a power and privilege held by a minority against the other. There is a fear that those very ideals which are being forgotten by the oppressor to justify the oppression will somehow vanish if all humans are allowed to rise to the glory of humanities best ideal. There is a false belief that somehow still these truths can only be maintained by a privileged few, ridiculous, hypocritical and paradoxical as that may be. We find that some have an ability to believe in grand ideals for themselves but still are lacking the faith to commit to those convictions for others to see the others as human and just as deserving of the ideal life. This of course cannot stand for the prejudices of some have never for long; overcome the dreams of those seeking freedom and justice.
The U.S. it would seem is tottering on the point of a mountain. Having reached great heights we risk now tumbling to our death. There are higher peaks yet to climb but only if we unburden ourselves of the weight of our mistakes by freeing ourselves from the burden of our failures. What are our failures then, the same as they ever were for all people, the failure of living up to what we already know, living up to that history of humans that brought us to this point of greater understanding, to the point where we are now that is, a global community with universally shared ideals and great access to the knowledge of them.
Make America great again the tyrant screams without a clear understanding of America, greatness or the good and the bad of the history that he somehow wishes to reclaim. The tyrants and their followers have done us a great favor however if we can choose to take it, by reminding us that we were never great and by causing us to earnestly consider how we might be great should we wish to accept that challenge. They have helped to expose a greater hypocrisy that we have become so accustomed to that we have become blind to it. We have the opportunity as well now in showing, to those ready for the lesson, that the lesser of evils for those wishing for greatness, is nothing to hang your hopes on.
In our political world, the source of so much of our trouble, Republicans and Democrats are being exposed as liars and hypocrites because they both have surrendered the ideal in order to promote their party, their binary view. The ideals are being forgotten in order to win a race between two sides and the people are forced to believe there is no other perspective, which is false.
All in all this puts us in a unique position however, of acting on what we know, on what we have had the opportunity to learn. We come to understand that the ideals are pointless if they are not observed and honored properly; in the living actualized reality of those ideals and that no amount of team spirit for a team that has lost its commitment to the ideals will ever bring us satisfaction.
This has always been the challenge of civilization through every generation, the challenge of living up to our own ideals. We have seen, we have studied and examined those societies that tumbled when the ideal was lost, abandoned or forgotten.
Politicians’ tyrants and demigods diminish the value of our ideals and our hopes and dreams towards them when they speak as though they are committed to those ideals and dreams and then act contrary or in opposition to them. In this way they make the ideals appear to be unobtainable, false and out of reach, the people become cynical. The laws that were created to up-hold those values and ideals are disrespected and become seen as nothing more than obstacles for wily and cunning operators, something for them to negotiate over or around.
The public in turn not only finds that they have become complicit in their own downfall but are the victims of it as well.
The ideals themselves are not so much in question but whether or not we will live up to them, whether we will extend them to all, or not. Are we capable now of accepting that “all” means all including those whose configuration or lifestyles are completely foreign to us, to those living across borders because borders do not eliminate human rights respecting their rights as well in an ideal fashion as because it is not in being committed to the ideals of basic human rights and freedoms for all that we falter and fail it’s in those moments and times when we lose sight of those ideals and fail to stand by them and for them that we fail. It’s when we forget ourselves as members of the human family that we falter and fail.
There is a chance and an opportunity for finding a piece of stable ground now, as there most always is, this time is not unique in that way, unless of course we collectively decide that this is that unique time. To do so we must steady ourselves and reconsider the values and ideals that we know in a fresh light, in the light of those who were not included, in the light of those whose ancestors were both free and enslaved. We must look at our future from the perspective of those who stole and from those who were robbed, from the perspective of those who overpowered others because of their identity or race or gender as well as from the position of every identity, race and gender.
We of course must acknowledge where we have not succeeded in living up to these ideals and commit to demanding that we start doing so now, to the best of our ability. It really cannot be any more simple or any more difficult, to acknowledge the ideal and then to live in it.