This Isn’t My America
This is not my America. The Founding Fathers didn’t envision a land where children would die from drinking water contaminated with lead. In my America, ordinary men and women didn’t fight to defeat Nazism just so it could resurface in Charlottesville. In my America, young people don’t die from rationing overpriced insulin in order for a billion-dollar pharmaceutical company to fatten the bottom line.
No, this is not my America.
But it’s where I am living now.
In this current twisted, grotesque mockery of America, concepts such as capitalism, Christianity, morality, and patriotism conflate into a single amorphous entity. Here, it is antagonistic to even suggest that one patriotic and not a Capitalist, or moral and not Chistian (despite the fact that true Christianity — i.e being Christ-like —in part means speaking truth to power even if that power is the dominate religious dogma). My conception of true American values included service to community, caring for your neighbor, not turning away or rationalizing as thousands of fellow Americans are dying from overpriced drugs, gunfire, homelessness, and violence. In my America, laws were designed to be in service to the broader community, not shelter power and wealth. However, this current repulsive imitation of America has managed to hold conflicting narratives together by force of ignorance, apathy and anger. But this America is reaching a critical mass. As social ills continue to grow, so does the need to continually increase that apathy, ignorance, and anger.
The incessant undercurrent of fear and anger has eroded what was left of a greater American unity. Tribalism has replaced community, intolerance has replaced pluralism. Anger and hatred have become our most plentiful resources and are often channeled to become a powerful weapon used to silence critics and defend dogmas. Noble ideals such as the pursuit of truth are meaningless in a world that is post-truth. “Truth” has come to defined as whatever operating principles govern the particular little bubble of reality in which we find ourselves. We are insulated by seething anger, comforted by our denial, and threatened by ideas. We are not the land of the free and home of the brave — we are the land of the fractious, home of the fearful.
This America is only a collection of tribes, each asserting its claim to the throne. We don’t have countrymen, we have rivals. About the only thing Americans can agree upon is that there are fundamental problems eroding American society; however, everyone’s tribe holds a vastly different interpretation and treatment for those problems. Instead sharing ideas, listening and understanding, tribes descend into aggression and slander in an attempt to be the dominate tribe and thereby dictate cultural norms. As Alan Watts once observed, “we have no common sense, no way of making sense of the world upon which we are agreed in common. It’s just my opinion against yours, and therefore the most aggressive and violent (and thus insensitive) propagandist makes the decisions. A muddle of conflicting opinions united by force of propaganda is the worst possible source of control for a powerful technology.”
This type of culture is simply not viable. I believe we are beginning to reach the limits of our collective apathy. As Lincoln observed, we will become all one thing or the other, but our divided house in its current incarnation will not stand. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the homeless encampments, or the faces of children in detention centers, or weeping parents who have lost loved ones in the senseless mass shootings that first invaded the news and eventually invaded our own neighborhoods. In the age of ubiquitous information and “fake news,” its difficult to shape a single defining message.
The course of nature is simply this — change, adapt, or die. We can change. People can push back, join forces, and establish a community based on the shared values of plurality, tolerance, and mutual respect. Or we will adapt. The new normal will be a violent life filled with dangerous, self-interested rivals fighting for scraps, or as Hobbes describes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short ” affair. Or we will die. The divisions will continue to grow, our society continue to degrade, the violence continue to expand, until all that is left is a hollow, crumbling dystopic shadow of a society populated by a feral people who will never understand the dream that was once America.
The choice isn’t up to fate, the government, God, or chance. It is up to each of us — before we can hold collective values, we must have individual values. As for me, I cannot continue to live with fear, suspicion, selfishness, or anger. I will not have my empathy or identity dictated by a church, government, or culture. I will not exchange a life for mere survival. I choose to reach out and connect with my fellow human beings without regard to superficial differences of race, age, gender, ethnicity, or tradition. This value requires trust, and trust requires courage. If America is truly the home of the brave, we will attract like-minded individuals and perhaps spark a change that will sweep across the nation. Or I will be branded an idealistic fool and will remain isolated, marginalized, and outcast.
Regardless, I will live and die as a free American.