Friday, July 4, 2014

Oh, Say, You Must See

A couple of days ago, I was reminded of an argument that I'd allowed myself to be dragged into concerning the state of the nation. It went a little something like this: A self-described conservative made the point that until President Obama and his liberal agenda came along, that the country had been doing pretty well at protecting everyone's rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Foolishly allowing my Truth Reflex to kick in, I noted that the United States had never really manage to live up to it's ideals in the past, and noted three historical instances where we had failed to protect the rights of certain out groups to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The response - "It's a shame that you hate your country."

Now to be sure, I wasn't being particularly critical of the United States, and this person and I both agreed that we were falling short on the whole "living up to our national ideals" thing. Yet I was being called out for hating my country because I saw American history as a process by which the United States was moving closer to living up to our ideals, as opposed to a halcyon age from which we had been forcibly, and recently, evicted by someone who was moving us away from them. And between then and now, I have encountered more examples of people seeing hostility, and even bigotry, in a failure or refusal to see people and institutions in a way other than they wish to be seen.

If we're going to claim to value honesty, then we have to be prepared for people to tell us things that we don't like, don't want to hear and potentially trigger us to feel badly about ourselves. We have to be prepared for the idea that when people see us differently than the way we see ourselves, that it's not simply due to them having an ax to grind, but may very well simply be an artifact of the different ways in which people understand the world around them. It's worth being on guard against an impulse to create a circular and self-reinforcing way of seeing the world where people are perceived as hostile because we perceive their observations of us as libelous, and we perceive their observations of us as libelous because the speakers are hostile.

"My country, right or wrong," is slipping out of the lexicon of the would-be patriot, precisely because it presupposes that the country can be wrong. And it is being replaced by an orthodoxy of perception that does not allow for error, and thus, for improvement, where everything other than a static perfection is seen as a unwarranted criticism, leveled by the traitorous. It's ego-preserving, but in the long run it sacrifices all else. Which seems a very steep price to pay.

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