31 January 2010: To Be an American
I am more than 500 pages through Howard Zinn's comprehensive history of this country from 1492 to the present. More than previously, I am in a turmoil about the contradictory nature of patriotism. All that we have has been gained over the dead bodies of the vast majority of the Indian nations and the brutal enslavement and continuous racism against "people of color" who co-habit the greatest democracy in the history of the world.
Those of us with our heads above the turbulent waters of the current recession survive it over the harsh labor of the working classes if they're employed full-or part-time, while so many are unemployed despite the happy statistics of recovery; others homeless shivering for pennies on the street or overcrowded sharing shelter with relatives or friends. "Help wanted" . . . if you happen to live overseas and want employment with many American economic supernovas.
All this has been written before by me as well as others--even the observation that if the economy were turned upside down I'd feel as sorry for the oppressed as ever, human nature being what it is. Can we inhabit a nation where wealth is equally distributed? Did we inhabit that nation back in the fifties when the wealthy paid much higher taxes? At that time also attention was paid to the infrastructure, including Eisenhower's innovation of the Interstates we all travel grumbling at the pollution and the weather that is always worse than what's going on farther inland--those areas that receive lower priority whenever snow plowing is needed.
During the fifties, far more than 14 percent of the workforce was effectively unionized and the middle class thrived, still over the bodies of the underclasses, but in far larger numbers than today.
Of course, there was the cold war mentality that kept us as frightened as we are today of terrorist attacks. There were those awful air-raid drills and bomb shelters, culminating in the Cuba Missile Crisis, resolved by the dismantling of well-nigh useless and outdated warheads aimed at the Soviet Union. I remember that time vividly--how for the first time in my life my parents admitted to inability to do anything about it, inability to make things better--the entire middle class nirvana hung on the slender thread of diplomacy. We survived that.
In my "umble opinion, pace my respected colleagues of the ACLU, I'd much rather be searched in Metro stations than be blown to smithereens by a terrorist attack. My only reservation is that the successful attacks always succeed by novel, unanticipated methodology or unexpected targets. Otherwise they are caught in the act, most of the time.
So once again, as in the fifties, we live in fear. The term "Communist" sent shivers down my spine the way "terrorist" does now. Back in the fifties, we had a neighbor everyone shunned because he was a Communist. I remember collecting for UNICEF and knocking at his door, recalling he was a Communist only when I heard him approaching and fled with terror as I heard him call out gently, "Marta, where are you going?"
To the next house, next door, to collect from good, solid Democrats or Republicans. Not from a Communist who would have been as willing to donate as anyone else, to win some acceptance in our frightened, paranoid neighborhood.
There were the McCarthy hearings, which I remember vaguely, eliminating so many of the most talented and creative people from our society. Today, so many of this elite population are openly gay, and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a thing of the recent past--a positive donation of the Obama administration. The number of people applying for unemployment compensation has decreased, also good news.
But undeserved suffering, discrimination, and oppression continue. Will that ever go away? Unfortunately human nature as it is, is probably incapable of allowing the Peaceable Kingdom on earth. That's why I suggested the possible adjustment of masculine chemistry, but as far as I know, we're still far from that, or else the largely male populations in charge of the chemical innovations that would bring that about, don't want to. Or else I'm full of it, but that's the only solution I could offer.
What does this all have to do with the New Year? Unfortunately, reality as we have it now could get even worse. There's a spot of optimism, useless to the vast numbers of suffering people, many of whom probably consider death a blessing.
But so much of our mentality rests on that premise--it could be worse. Many voters always vote for "the lesser of two evils." I'm going to see Voltaire's Candide, featuring the naÃ¯ve assertion that we inhabit "the best of all possible worlds." That's just not true. As long as undeserving people suffer, none of us should sit still for a minute. What to do beyond that, beyond what we're already doing, that would really be effective, is one question I'm taking into the New Year. How can we be more effective? How can we combat the cancer of greed? The heart disease of indifference and contempt?
If there's one word to take into the New Year, then, it's more. Other methodology hides in the realm of ideas not yet realized. We've got to dig deeper into our wealth of resources. We have more than enough capability to change things. I'll keep on thinking, for what it's worth. If more of us keep on thinking, even more than we already have, perhaps we can brighten up reality in 2011. Not just by doing more, but finding more and better ways, eliminating all the overhead and corruption and getting right to the disease, human nature and, once and for all, curing it.