Are Your Civic Judgments Reality-Informed?
It is time to make reality great again. There is no autopilot setting for citizenship. We need learn anew that civic judgments, including judgments of civic history, are improved by fact, reason, and science. Sound civic judgment cannot be replaced by simple formulas of good and bad or by blindly following the lead of an individual, faction, or party. Decisions guided by faith or ideology, impulse, and intuition can be idiotic.
As I photographed, recently, the famous statue of an armed militiaman on the Lexington Green, the site of the first skirmish of the American Revolution, I smiled to think that maybe the Thought Police were working to have the musket removed from the statue. Certainly I doubt toy muskets are being wielded by the boys in elementary school history pageants, as they were when I was a kid.
What is Next for the Thought Police?
The Thought Police have been hard at work recently, trying to prove Donald Trump right in his inane assertion that if we stop honoring the leaders of the lost cause of Southern succession, all our historical figures will have to be discarded for their various evil acts, failures, and prejudices. Most recently Columbus Day has been toppled in Los Angeles in favor of “indigenous people’s day.” An attack on “Western Civilization!” opines the Wall Street Journal.
Should we next reject the Declaration of Independence, the foundational text of our democratic republic, because it refers to “merciless Indian savages” or because its principle author, Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves, including his wife’s half-sister, who might now be considered a “sex slave” and who bore children apparently by him that he then legally owned?
Or should we start to learn, perhaps by middle school, that human affairs involve a balance of factors which do not easily fall into child-like versions of good and bad, are often murky to those experiencing them or observing them, and can be best understood when one is informed by relevant facts. At some point we need to introduce to our children, the severed Indian heads rotting on the palisades of Plymouth Plantation, where the Mayflower landed. That grim fact does not mean we give up our national holiday of Thanksgiving, but it informs it.
When People, Guns, and Money are Involved Real Prudence is Necessary
Let’s get real. We (and by we I mean all of us, of all tribes, skin tones, geographic origins, sexes and sexual preferences, religions, etc.) are all capable of evil as well as good. Real civic judgment involves the use of both productive resources and of destructive resources and can only be based on the beliefs held by those of us making the judgments. Given that government uses guns as well as money, we need to be careful about how we form our beliefs.
In the practice of citizenship, like the practice of medicine, business, law, farming or most other human endeavors, belief in observed fact, tested by reason and the social system of science is our best guide. No fact dictates that everything depicted in our history or celebrated by our holidays and historic monuments, has to remain untouched.
Prudence however, should dictate that beliefs long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. The very magnitude of past evils may give us better appreciation for the magnitude of past positive accomplishments. What we honor is worthy of serious consideration and careful judgement.
Like it or not, we Americans would not be who we are as a people without the realities of our shared history. Our history, like that of any people, involves good and bad. Nobody is born on the morally right side of history. Your “identity” by birth is no better than mine. Only fools deny the reality of American accomplishments or its failures.
My First Civic Act
I grew up near the Lexington Green and it was the site of my first civic act, performed in the early 60’s while I was still in elementary school. It was there that I joined a civil rights demonstration. My Mother remembered that it was in support of the Freedom Riders who were meeting violent popular and government resistance in the South at that time and official resistance in the North where they were using historic sites like the Lexington Green without permits, to dramatize their cause.
My mother claimed that my resolve to participate was my own and that she accompanied me to the assembly because townspeople were inserting themselves between the protesters and the Police and that she was afraid of violence. Ironically, all I actually remember is my initial child’s fear of the tall black stranger next to me and his kind response, when we were asked to join hands and sing “We Shall Overcome.”
A cruel reality was that the Freedom Riders needed and sought resistance to bring attention to their cause. The larger reality is that political-economics always involves at least the threat of violence.
Let’s Make America Greater Than Ever
Our founding fathers had ideals but they were political-economic realists. And like the rest of us, they were flawed human beings. Making reality great again could help make America greater than ever.