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First person plural

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Message Dan Fejes
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[W]hen we're not affirmatively endorsing and providing protection for [Bush's extremism and lawbreaking], we're choosing not to know about it, or simply allowing it to fester. And the more that happens, the less that behavior becomes the exclusive province of the Bush administration and the more it becomes our country's defining behavior. - Glenn Greenwald

When it comes to religion I'm in the "you only hear about the planes that crash" camp. I think it's been a source of strength, inspiration, comfort, wisdom and many other wonderful things to billions of people throughout history. I don't think the vast majority of religious people are credulous boobs or mortifiers of the flesh concerned only with the afterlife. Religion on the whole has been a great thing for us but in the same way the news isn't filled with reports of planes landing safely history only tends to record the crusades and inquisitions.

The religions I'm most familiar with - Judaism and Christianity - have what I suspect is a common element in all major religions, an emphasis on community. In Jewish Passover services they remember how God "brought us out of Egypt". It isn't God bringing "them" or "our ancestors" out of Egypt, but "us" - the community even down to the present day. Christians read Jesus teach that "where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" - he specifies more than one. I believe the sense of "we are all in this together" is one of the most powerful drawing points for religion. (While I'm in the neighborhood let me say that I have absolutely no patience for the "I don't need to go to a building to feel close to God" business. You don't go to feel close to God, you go to worship as part of a community.)

Nations also act collectively but in democracies there seems to be tensions against thinking that way. Most particularly political parties put people into ideological camps and we break down further as individual voters. America has a particular history of individualism as well so for us it may be even more pronounced. Prayers seem to almost always be collective - it's not the "My Father" - but even our most basic patriotic equivalents seem not to be ("I pledge allegiance").

Unfortunately between our individualist impulses and the sharp divisions that began forming in 1994 we are now pointing fingers at each other over a great divide. It's possible that one of our most divisive presidents may unintentionally give us the gift of unity - in repudiating him. The war he urged on us is horribly unsuccessful and unpopular, as is his SCHIP veto for a transparently unbelieved principle, and there's a general uneasiness with his push for a blank check when the Surveil America Act expires in February. No one on the right is making any kind of full-throated defense of anything he does at this point, though there is still the lunatic fringe that occasionally criticizes him for not being crazy enough (latest example: he isn't sufficiently enthusiastic about executions). Candidates won't campaign with him and the best anyone seems willing to do is to look discreetly away. There isn't much mystery at this point how the polls will look in a little over a year if things don't change. Why not make a clean break now?

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The left has a challenge of its own. Not to put too fine a point on it, there seems to be a certain moral smugness settling in. It's as though Republican control of for six years and persistent obstructionism as a minority since then has absolved liberals from any blame. Yes, many were against the war from the beginning, sounded the alarm as Bush's nature slowly began to reveal itself, and in general took positions that have since been vindicated. Congratulations, good for you, but in the end you too are party to the collective sin. A teacher of mine once said "nothing happens to us that we do not create, promote or allow." Progressives need to find themselves in that formulation and internalize it, because what is happening isn't being done by Republicans or the President, it's being done by America. There is no "they" doing it, it's us. We are torturing prisoners in Guantánamo and elsewhere, and we did so at Abu Ghraib. We are killing people randomly in the streets of Baghdad. Here at home we sat by as one of our cities reverted to a state of nature, and we are still sitting by as it languishes. We - all of us - are responsible for these things and we share the blame. Years from now people won't care which branch or level of government is most culpable for what is happening now, only that all of us let it happen and should be ashamed.


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Dan Fejes lives in northeast Ohio.
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