Monday, December 24, 2012

The moral decline of America...or moral ascent?

Never before in the history of our country has life here gotten so close to the ideals expressed in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

When in our past have women had a better shot at "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" ? Or any of our minorities and ethnicities? At our inception only white male property owners could vote. My own white ancestors were here for a long time--perhaps centuries--but they were poor tenant farmers, so, like so many white male Americans, they could no more vote than could slaves or women. Even after slavery ended, the South set up a system of near-serfdom and vote denial that kept blacks in bondage until the 1970s. 

Cripples and blind people only gained the right to access public buildings without help recently. 

It's not remotely rosy, of course. Many older people remember when they didn't have to lock their doors. Racial tensions continue in many places. We imprison more people per capita than any other rich country and most other poorer countries, partially as a system to emasculate black men and prevent them from voting. Too many immigrants from Mexico and their offspring continue to regard themselves as Mexican even when they have American ciizenship. Not since the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons have the richest people moved such a large proportion of the nation's wealth from everyone else's pockets and into their own. Over half of America's public school students graduate (or just leave) with no idea how to do critical thinking, making them the pawns of slick demagogues. A third of the nation are theocrats who believe, like the Muslim Brotherhood, that God gave them the right and the obligation to impose their narrow view of morality on the majority--which is deeply immoral. 

Still, when my wife & I come back from abroad (we've been in a dozen countries together), we always click our heels and say "there's no place like home; there's no place like home; there's no place like home."

Americans who haven't traveled extensively can't know that the deepest morality of America rests on its citizens desire to obey the law voluntarily. A few years ago all the power went our in my town for 24 hours. No street lights, and not nearly enough cops to man the intersections. Yet people obeyed the law and moved through intersections fairly quicl;ly, because we all knew that if we all obeyed the law we'd all get where we were going more safely and quickly. 

Foreigners are often flabbergasted at how law-abiding we are. Go to YouTube and search on "Russian drivers." The resulting videos are absolutely terrifying. Now I know why my Russian friends are so happy to be here. I wouldn't drive on Russian highways unless I was in a HumVee with a roof gunner.

We queue for movie tickets and pretty much everything else. Line jumpers are rare and seriously frowned upon. Again, we're not ideal, but compared to most other countries we are an amazing civilization. 

And among all the nations of Earth, of how many of them is the image of one of its citizens limited to one image of one kind of person or at most a narrow range? Here it could be someone who looks like anyone from any other country.

Something the rest of the world should heed, since so many places are mired in tribal conflicts.

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