Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Time of Rugged American Individualism is At an End

It's over at last. An enormous sigh of relief can be heard all across the land. Oh, not everywhere in America, but in most civilized parts of this nation the time of the so-called rugged individualist mindset is at an end. We Americans are slow to 'give it up' but, it seems, we always come around with some kicking and screaming along the way. Remember that odd clutch of people who refused to wear seat belts? Or those motorcyclists who refused the law of helmet-use [they're dead or quadriplegics].

Naturally, the rest of the civilized world already accepted the change long ago and have been waiting for us to join the rest of civilized society. Our European cousins, especially, have been watching patiently for our maturity to kick-in. Their forbearance is recognized and applauded. It is not unlike our own personal realization that we, ourselves, had grown out of adolescence and stepped into adulthood. Remember those awful adolescent years? Yuck!

So too this nation. It was a long, contentious, and quite extended period of adolescence, wasn't it? Rather than emulating our more mature European cousins, we did all of the stupid stuff that immaturity demands. Apparently those harsh and deadly lessons told to us by our German, English, French and Italian cousins went in one ear and out the other- just like the warnings and advice of our parents.

What a painful and ugly time we Americans went through while we were in that know-it-all stage of our development. Abnoxious, self-absorbed, greedy, narcissistic and intolerant. Ugly, wasted time of life.

Remember when we Americans used to cheer war? As if it were a football game? Flags, songs, marching, revelry? We're Number One! Yet, we ought to have thought back on those many bloody European wars, the wars fought by our relatives back in the old country- wars fought over territory, ethnicity and religion. We recall their stories of sending their young men into glorious battle for 'righteousness.' For 'honor.' For 'justice.'

Did we take learn from their many foolish engagements with each other? Our longest-ever war still goes on in Iraq, now in its 7th year with no end in sight. Seven years, thousands of our 'finest' young men an women in cold graves, tens of thousands in hospitals and nursing homes. Lives and bodies shattered. Families torn apart.

Remember when we cheered the war, the Shock 'n Awe, those opening scenes on our TV's like a Fourth of July fireworks display over the city of Baghdad? Those confident words of our president a few weeks later that, our mission in Iraq was over and that justice prevailed?

Surely we can also remember when we allowed guns of all sorts to be bought and sold and kept by anyone who felt that they 'needed' them? It was just like those grainy black and white cowboy heroes of early TV- carry a weapon and shoot it whenever you needed too. As kids, I must have 'shot' a hundred of my playmates. The foolish irresponsibility of youth. Remember those days?

European nations long ago banished handguns from common ownership because, as mature adults, they realized that there were just too many people in a society who would abuse the use of these weapons and become a danger to society at large. Yet, look how long it has taken us over here, on th eother side of the pond, to figure that out. Remember when there was a 'gun lobby' in Congress? Remember when there was a powerful Rifle Association that sent campaign money to congressmen who would not limit handgun use in this nation? Recall the hundreds of murders each day all across America during those gun-toting years?

Who can forget that mix of religion and politics in America? We did not learn from our gentile European cousins who killed one another wantonnessly because of where they worshiped on Sunday morning. As they grew up and saw how religious fervor could destroy an entire society, they wisely separated it from governance. Today there are no tests, litmus tests, or suggestions of a religious nature in their politics, their governments.

Yet, we can surely recall here on our soil the rantings and ravings of religion infused in our government and our politics. Remember when only white Christians became president and an atheist would not be elected? Recall when Bible beliefs were infused in schools, governments and laws all across America? Those were ugly times. Lack of mature thinking and insight blinded us to the realities of diversity.

Slavery. How long did it last in the Land of the free? Nearly 100 years after the Constitution. When did slavery end in Switzerland? Norway? Ireland? Apparently, we Americans thought it proper to keep other humans as unpaid workers. Not only slavery, but the civil rights of the former slaves languished painfully in this nation for another 100 years thereafter. When did Belgium, Denmark and Luxembourg demand full civil rights for all of their citizens? When indeed. Alas, not we Americans. In our extended immature adolescent stage, we permitted unequal treatment of our citizens, even initiating apartheid laws to separate one group of citizens from another.

Those were sorry days, shameful days, now gone. We have become adults at last, mature and fully functioning adults. Not all of us. Never, it seems, all of us have moved from the adolescent stage.

Recall that black slaves were forbidden marriage? Remember when a black person was forbidden from marrying a white person? Recall when a Christian could not marry another of a different denomination? Remember when two gay or lesbians were forbidden from marrying? Those were dreadful years, spiteful years- years that we would all like to forget.

But we can't. If we forget the past or ignore the lessons of past societies, we will not grow into fully-functioning and caring adults. We will fall back to those immature days that our European ancestors endured and to the days here in America when we were childish, brash, wild and narcissistic.

And, surely, we would not like to go back to 'those days' ever again.

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