“rule”? (Early American History as I See It)

My polish sausage is eaten, my mochas are made, and I quickly glanced at the headlines.

Bush Charts Course for GOP Rule

Okay… stop the press here. The word “rule” strikes me as offensive. Perhaps it is my American sentimentality that causes it, but ever since grade school I’ve been given imagery which combated the notion of anyone ruling over me. There were the Disney t.v. show “The Swamp Fox” (a fave of mine), there were those really cool School House Rock bits, the one with the Revolutionary War and the passing of the bill (I’m just a bill, a lonely bill…), classes in school, the entertaining Libertarian party meeting during the 1996 presidential debate, my readings of the patriots during the Revolutionary War, and other factors. I’ve always been against any sort of rule because rule to me suggests government which is not a democracy or a repuglic. Oh, I’m sure that there are those critics today who shout that our government today is not democracy in action. Well, to put it simply, democracy never gave a good argument that it could enlighten the citizens. Even with all of the money problems in our elections, it was still a vote. To cry that the Florida problems and such allowed Bush to steal the election is, I believe, to pass the buck. I voted for Nader in the last election. How many people vote for the lesser of two evils? Sad but true. We’ve not lost the power of or voting system… we’ve lost our faith in it and likewise in our own soveriegnty.

Or did we? Does America still suffer from isolationism? Does anyone really give a rat’s ass about what happens outside our borders? Aside from labor unions protesting the moving of factories overseas, the increase of tarriffs on U.S. goods that cause economic results in our own little world, what in the world does the average American really care about what happens outside of our borders? The thought may be “let whomever become president, I don’t really care… but let me say what I want.” The freedom of speech. I wonder… the notion of the average American concerning our freedom of speech seems most likely a license of living la vida loca. “I’ll live, wear, say whatever I want to” and so we have the birth of the hoochie mamma… be yourself girlfriend and don’t let nobody tell you different. This isn’t an attack on hoochies themselves, but they seem to be a great example of the attitude that is prevalent everywhere in our society. We American’s are individuals and we’ll live and die by that right to be so. This is highlighted in the states rights votes, that American’s feard a central authority and while this is being said behind it all is the supreme being of individuality… the individual is sovereign.

I disagree with this outlook. I do not think that the first amendment and the notion of states’ rights had so much to do with individual freedom as it did with local rule. In reading on the early years of America, the colonies were all very different with timber industry in one area, ship building or sea fishing in another, tobacco in another. Each area had it’s own concerns and directives. Just look at the debates to form the Continental Congress. How could those in New Hampshire be expected to understand and appreciate the concerns for those in South Carolina? After the revolution with the creation of the first attempt of government, followed by the present system of government, the fear of a central government was seen as along the same lines as the forces which were strongly against the English Crown. Many of the forefathers were loyal to the crown in the early years, but the crown viewed the colonies as a resource for the betterment of the “real” country… England. Sort of as if you owned a large house for your large family, only to have your servants move to a small house across the yard and likewise expect you to hold Christmas dinner in the smaller house instead of the family house proper. The concerns of the colonies took small seconds to the primary concern of Mother England. As the commerce of the states increased, the economies grew, and local governing bodies spread, the bitterness toward being taken advantage of by England (which grew as the colonies surpassed England in several areas of commerce, notably timber, cod, and tobacco), the sentiments of the times had something “real” to latch upon. Enter Thomas Paine (and others) and the enlightened ideas of liberty. Freedom… it was a noble idea, something that stirs the heart and it became a rallying cry for everyone. America fights for freedom… LIBERTY! Yet the colonies really fought keeping what they earned through their own work. Is this freedom? Maybe a form of freedom, but there were disparities between what motivated the continental congress and what the idealists wrote of individual freedom. The Declaration of Independence, that esteemed piece of American theology, contains mostly charges against the English Crown for selfish behavior at the expense of the colonies. It was a business arrangement, a breaking of contracts, set against the tone of the times of the enlightenment and rise of natural law.

But the marriage of the ideals and the economy didn’t go away so quickly. While the abolition of slavery was a very taboo subject in the new congress, that records of the meetings were kept secret, and women and non property owners were not allowed to vote, the mythology of Liberty of the individual had made its roots in our collective lore. So much so that our popular retelling of the American Revolution describes it as enlightened men of honor fighting for freedom against the old crown, the old traditions of superstition… basically “not-enlightened” and more importantly, attacking our freedoms every chance they got. The colonist are portrayed as having to house British soldiers who ate all their food and were generally rude, of being afraid to mutter anything at all against the Crown, of harboring dread at attending their religous services, of being subservient to the English. Actually, the view was that the colonists were the brothers of those overseas (and they were) and the customs and behaviors and social orders were very similar. It was England’s debts and their squeezing the juice out of the colonies that really started it all, not the notion of Liberty at all.

Which brings me back to this notion of Liberty. It is part of our mythology that we won our independence for Liberty, a very personal idea and by God nobody is going to take that away from us. Okay, that’s nice. But While this might sound great, it has damning consequences. It turns the lense inward and everything is judged in relation to one’s self. The yardstick is “what does that have to do with me?” and when things are seen as not impacting one’s self then they are regarded with various forms of curiosity. The concern is not all that great about national elections. They appear to be, but the same ferver is generated (if not more) in office discussions about last night’s episode of “Survivor”. I’ve seen people get more worked up in talking about their favorite “American Idol” contestant than presidential elections. But the elections carry a sense of obligation to them, a distinctively American flavor to it. We believe, however wrongly we may be, that ours is THE electoral process in the world and so I believe that a large populace of those who vote do so only because the act of voting is tied to the notion of what is an American (just as overseas films typecast the American’s as loud braggarts who want their own way in the restaurant and have no clue as to the local customs). Yet while voting is tied with the image of being an American (like buying flowers for your date is tied to the image of being a boyfriend… especially around valentines day), the concerns of the voters are really concave… selfish and totally individualist.

Look at the issues on campaigns… most are individual issues, health care, taxes, welfare (usually implying taxes), abortion… and when it is a something which isn’t individual, it is given in individual arguments. A debate on the up/down-sizing of the military isn’t given nearly the attention to what is our role in the world as it is to local jobs around bases, taxes for individuals to support the military, and other individual issues.

A note on the upcoming war with Iraq. This issue may not be as concave as the other issues, but the reasons for not debating it in detail are. There is a fear that one is not American if one speaks out against the upcoming war. This wouldn’t be near as powerful of a factor, I believe, had not the World Trade Center been attacked. Because of the tremendous loss of life it is a quick and easy jump in thinking to go from “no war against Iraq” to “sympathy with Iraq” to “siding with the 9/11 attackers”. This might sound absurd, but one merely has to go back to the liberal writings after 9/11. It was the very anti-American sentiment of several members of the local Green Party that caused me to turn my back on them. Who in America did not feel horror and a great sense of loss on that day? I am not going to say that our foreign policy has it flaws, that we aren’t indeed that braggart in the restaurant overseas who wants everything our way. But America is not on its own in being a country looking after its own interest and along the way we’ve looked after quite a few other’s as well. But if your sister is raped in a back alley… are you going to chastise her for wearing that Vneck shirt and those tight jeans? You shouldn’t, rape is wrong even if she was wearing nothing but a string of pearls around her neck. The attacks on the WTC are wrong, period. (I can’t wait for my friend to argue with me on that one… citing my relativistic viewpoints). The tone of some liberals were that we deserved it, had it coming, maybe now we’ll understand what the rest of the world feels. It is precisely this mindless attitude that has hurt the liberal side of politics because to speak out against the war carries with it the looming association with those mindless, ignorant liberal elitist who carry around copies of Marx and wear black turtlenecks.

The states’ rights arguments weren’t so much about individual freedom, but about a smaller area of self-rule over one’s own concerns. We in the Willamette Valley have our own concerns, our own culture, our own beliefs. Some of those beliefs are different than the beliefs of those in Vermont, and they are world’s different than many in the bible belt in the South. Is it fair that those in the South should deem it immoral that alcohol be sold on Sunday and likewise effect us in Oregon? The Willamette Valley is a wonderful wine producing region (notably for the pinot noirs) and to drink wine here is like drinking ice tea or bush beer back in Arkansas. With smaller areas of soveriegnty it becomes more likely that laws would be more tailored to the cultures around them, that what is ours will not be taken from us and given to another. This argument is used a lot in one aspect of the forest defense. There is an entire agenda against Japanese imports of U.S. timber and at first glance it appears as something of a patriotic environmentalism. But it really is a commerce agenda moreso than it is environmental.

I am with Thomas Jefferson… let us diminish GREATLY the power of the central government and return that power to the states. I am with the greens in promoting organic, local economies. I am for the shift of power from the central to the local. The first amendment is primarly the freedom of speech against the government. The circulation of the written word and meetings were a large part of the early formation of ideas against the English Crown. But in order for one to be free to speak out against the government, one must be free to speak, and so while it appears to be an individual ideal, it’s application was intended primarily to keep the soverignty with the people instead of the government. The government derives its authority from the people! To make this a reality the first amendment was necessary.

On a quick note over the right to bear arms. I’ve read the arguments, listened to the debates, have grown up with the argument in my life as I owned a gun when I was 7 years old and have my entire life. The key piece of the bill is the portion which reads “well regulated militia”. Perhaps I should give it to you… A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. Again, the attention is often given to “well regulated militia” and militia groups all over the place spring up. I do not think that this is what it means at all. One must read Jefferson to appreciate this. Jefferson, and others of the time, write in an entirely different style than is popular now. It was while reading some of Jefferson’t writings that I was approached to write the .

During such time as men may find themselves in which the development and growth of one’s own character, intellect, and industry begins to explore the horizons of possibility, there arises both a need for a series of Beacons by which to navigate one’s own voyage with excellence and integrity, but also a vessel in which to propel him into that unknown ocean of character. It is therefore this purpose which brings together men into the creation of the Beta Nu Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity in order to establish a lighthouse of true brotherhood, where each man will be afforded, from such a foundation, the opportunity to enliven the Seven Beacons of Balance, Excellence, Accountability, Commitment, Opportunity, No Limits, and Stewardship into every aspect of his life, and likewise to become as a beacon to his fellow man through industry of service.

Reading this the Jeffersonian influence is readily seen. But the important thing to note is the readily added and exchanged ideas. Ideas are routinely built onto other ideas in the writings during the period. So in this respect I believe that what was being said is thus: that in order for a nation to remain free it must guard itself from the infringement of other nations, but in order to keep its own militia in check and not to become a military state the people will have the rights to own arms should they deem it necessary to overthrow their own government for a new one. I might make a note here that it is entirely American for us to discuss the disolution of our current government for the creation of a new one, that speaking out against our government and its actions is entirely American, that the debating among others about what form the next government should take is entirely American. But again, 9/11 has had an impact on this already weak spirit in our society.

I have a painting on my wall. It is the painint of Washington in the boat, leading his army across the frozen Potomac river to give a surprise attack against the encamped British army. The spirit of 76 had a lot of different ideas combined into it, it was complex, overarching and personal at the same time, here and now and timeless. It was a spirit which spawned a mythology of the city on the hill and a great nation. That spirit changed over time, but it lived on to fuel women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery, the civil rights, and hopefully further rights for other marginalized groups. Yet the spirit has been diluted through generations to where it is misunderstood and abused. Were all the flag wavings after 9/11 truly patriotic acts, or were they ways of saying “I’m a victim too”. It is too uncomforable of a question for people to answer… to even think about.

We’ve got a long road ahead of us as a country, as a society. I don’t see any easy answers. Maybe there isn’t any. If one should predict according to history, things will get a lot worse before there is sufficient angst for people to rise up. The room is going to have to get pretty messy before enough people want to get up and clean it.

Maybe I should run for senate.


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