Thursday, July 3, 2014

Out of the Cul De Sac

My friend Suzanne posted on Facebook today, "What SHOULD a country be? What should its citizens be proud of as a national identity, as national characteristics? What should it not be proud of?", and although my first reaction is that the answer will be different for everyone (for better or worse!), I don't know exactly how I would answer those questions, and that got my wheels turning. 

I love this song. I think it's a beautiful love song, but I also love the tones of exploration, freedom, and perhaps immigration, which I'll touch on later in this blog. 

When I think about my political, or even patriotic leanings, I'm well aware that I'm a product of my environment. It's easy for me to think that my view on the world, which is pretty narrow in some areas, is simply reality, but I appreciate when I can see past that and realize that anyone who considers their own views to be the way everyone sees the world is kidding themselves. When I am in those moments of realization, it helps me reevaluate what I believe and why. That being said, most of the people in my life are pretty conservative, politically, and some are grossly rude in their vocalization of their opinions. I could link to some of the nastier memes I've seen, but I like to think myself above sharing them with any more eyes. I'm aware that I don't have a lot of exposure to the opposite side, though I know it exists, with equally disgusting displays of opinion on the other end of the political spectrum. As it is in my small slice of culture, my disdain for the hypocrisy of a lot of conservatism (particularly when it comes from those who bare the name of Christ and then defile it through their hate speech toward other humans) has led me to be a firm moderate, which reads almost like a radical liberal in my circle. As followers of Christ, should we not be both as wise a serpents, and as gentle as doves? I openly admit my struggle to be both wise and gentle in my response to those that I find both foolish and harmful, and I realize that if can't control myself, I am not in a position to contest anyone else's words.

I wanted to explain that only to give you some background on where I stand politically, and the reasons I'm moving in the direction that I am, even if that reason is often a reaction to others as much as it is my own convictions about particular issues. I say "as much as", because I don't want to downplay that I do think issues through for myself as opposed to simply deciding to resist the larger culture around me. I don't seek to be irritating or rude or hateful when I express my own beliefs, but sometimes I do seek to unsettle people in an attempt to get them to question their beliefs or behavior. I know that not everyone appreciates that, but I do it partially because I appreciate it when someone brings something to my attention that causes me to see an error in my own ways and then I am able to alter my thinking and actions. I think any one of us would be crazy not to want to be righted where we're wrong. Granted, I may not have the skill or the obligation to convince many people of the things I think they're wrong about, but I genuinely feel that I have a calling (pardon how conceited that may sound) to be a challenger, if not a persuader. 

Having grown up in another country, I feel that my perspective on America and being an American is different than a lot of people who grew up here. Although I am, in general, an Obama supporter, I too have questioned and worried about the apparent trend in the dwindling of some rights and freedoms in the past few years, despite the fact that most of the freedoms that are in question (gun ownership, privacy of information) are not things that I feel the need to be completely unhindered in. I assure you, I have felt pangs of anxiety and sadness over what I see happening in this country, BUT, I am far from thinking the country has gone to hell. I firmly believe that history and nations show a repeated cycle of rise and decline, and that America will fit in to that - whether we are truly in decline is up for debate, in my book. Even if we are, that doesn't completely trouble me in the grand scheme of things. I don't believe it's possible to maintain "greatness" forever, nor do I believe America started out as great or as smiled-on-by-God as a lot of people do. While I think my expectations of America started out lower than many, I think my hope for it is greater. [image]

In comparison to all other countries I have ever lived in or visited, I can confidently say that we have been and are still so very privileged and free in this country. Although it would be foolish not to fight for the things that we consider to have made us so privileged and free, I wish there was a greater sense of awe and gratitude for what we do have. A constant doom-and-gloom attitude doesn't contribute to a healthier state, in my opinion. 

Without trying to sound too doom-and-gloom myself, I find my faith in democracy dwindling. Not only from the standpoint of feeling like my voice doesn't affect how the country is run, but whether the model itself is even the best idea. When I see America trying to impose democracy on other struggling nations as if it's a cure-all, I stand back and grimace. Democracy seems more and more like communism to me - an excellent idea, but a system that can't be sustained very well in the long run. As I mentioned above in a slightly different scenario, I find it arrogant to assume that our way of thinking ("democracy is best") can or should be applied to everyone else. I'm not sure that democracy IS best for every country, not only because of any flaws in democracy itself, but because other nations are built on different cultures and principles which may not thrive under democracy.  In the case of many of the countries involved in the Arab spring(s), I think it was noble and necessary for the people to rise up against their corrupt governments, but is democracy then the next step, when the people don't share the same beliefs about what the next form of government should be? I don't know the answer, but I find it embarrassing that we push democracy so hard on other countries, particularly when it seems to be falling apart on our own turf. Democracy has god-like status to many Americans, yet consider that neither we nor our children dream of becoming president when we grow up anymore. 

I'm not sure what that speaks to more - our deep-seated loss of faith in the democracy and the ability of our government to affect change, or a new and better understanding of democracy as we focus on affecting change in one smaller area in our lives that we find important, rather than thinking the only way to have power or influence is to be the president. For better or worse, I think Americans have come to see the position of president in a much more real light - regardless of the person who is president, the position has less power than we thought. As discouraged as I feel at times about my voice or vote mattering at all, I think it would be fundamentally un-American to give up because of that. In the words of Margaret Heffernan, "she had freedom and she [is] ready to use it". Just because my vote may not seem to matter (side note: do we only feel that way when things don't turn out the way we voted for them to turn out?!) doesn't mean I don't have the freedom to speak and act out in other ways - politically and socially. We have almost unparalleled opportunity in this country to say and do what we want in the name of furthering causes that are important to us, even if we have to focus on taking much smaller steps than something like a presidential policy. 

Even so, I definitely feel that pull to give up on failing social systems. I used to be staunchly against getting federal aid of any kind that I may qualify for, but don't really need. Low income housing, WIC food, money taken off our PG&E bill based on how much we make - I didn't want to be a freeloader and further break down systems that have, in part, been ravaged by people taking advantage of them and/or thinking they deserve what is actually a gift. But the further along I go, the more discouraged I feel about maintaining ideals like that. It's hard to get by when everyone else uses what's available to them to get ahead, and in the end, I ask myself what the point is of resisting free help. I already paid for it all in taxes anyway (though somehow the government gives us more money back than we paid in taxes? Not that I'm complaining, but they wonder why this country is broke). Giving in to that cycle is kind of what gives me a soul ache. 

I love this country, and I think my fellow Americans do too. Sometimes love drives us to do stupid things out of fear, when we feel that our treasure is threatened. Yet, what does love mean, if not that "the odds are irrelevant - do whatever the hell you can, the odds be damned." A "hopeless problem" does not deter you from doing any and everything you can. Those are sentiments of Lawrence Lessig in his talk about how .05% of money givers to campaigns control the outcome, or have what we call "influence". But, he points out, imagine you have a child with brain cancer and what you would do to save that child. We would not consider any odds, no matter how tipped against us, to be irrelevant. For the love of America, all is not lost! 

If I could heal one American wound, it would be our immigration system. You know who I think are some of the most patriotic people of all? New immigrants! They appreciate the United States in a way that many of us don't. I'm grateful to have a small
taste of that having spent over a decade living outside the United States and then moving back, even if I didn't have to struggle to be accepted legally. 

Sometimes I feel left out of some deeper level of patriotism because my 9/11 experience, which I think defines patriotism for my generation in some ways, wasn't on US soil. Other than stories about kids being hurt, 9/11 stories are the surest to make me tear up, and that makes me feel intrinsically American. In the end though (and the road there is a different story), I'm so grateful that my experience of living through 9/11 has given me the foundation for that little bit of change that I am seeking to affect in the US, and it has everything to do with protection of immigrants and asylum seekers, especially when they're coming from countries that aren't on good terms with the US. Isn't that what America is about? Don't we have a big lady hanging out at the entry way to this place tattooed with the words, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me." Why don't we focus on THAT when we talk about the values this country was built on that we're losing? [image]

I get completely disgusted when people go on about how our nation was founded on Christian principles, and we've now turned away from being a God-fearing nation. Bull shit. There's no such thing as a Christian or God-fearing nation, and we sure as hell never were one. God isn't obligated to bless America, and why should he? We aren't and never have been set apart from the rest of the world in his eyes, and the creation of America as we know it wasn't his pet project. Oh, and P.S., our forefathers weren't pillars of the Christian faith or infallible in any way. They were politicians (granted, with many wise and commendable ideas and traits) just like we have today. Why do we insist on clinging to their ways so blindly? Nations, times, and people change - it's okay for us to amend laws and practices created over 200 years ago when the founders had absolutely no way of knowing what their fledgling nation would be like centuries later. We think people who haven't adapted to the last 200 years of life are cooky, so why do we think that sticking to a national code that's 200 years old is always the right thing to do? 

This country was founded on greed and hostility, as well as a need for a place of asylum. Why do we gloss over the greed and hostility, and get rid of the asylum, one actually great part about our beginnings? Furthemore, if we're so worried that our country is losing ground on the world stage, wouldn't the diversity and fresh pair of eyes and new talent brought by immigrants and asylum seekers only aid in making us more relevant and competitive as a nation? Immigration is the issue closest to my heart because I think it is very closely tied to the future and health of our nation. I think there is nothing more hurtful or disgusting than American citizens forgetting that they're only where they are at now because America once let their forefathers in as immigrants. 

Let's get out of our suburbs and our cul de sacs and use the freedoms we have to ensure that our kids have a great, if different, America to live in 50 and 100 years from now. Did you know that the term cul de sac is a French term meaning "bottom, or ass, of the bag". "The cul-de-sac especially, with its uterine shape and having the word 'sac' in it, gave me the feeling that I spent my early years coddled and sheltered in an asphalt womb" (source). Remaining sheltered and blind to our role in a world that is increasingly interconnected is folly. 

As frustrated as I get in the face of bigotry toward immigrants, I love this quote used by Jeff Speck in his excellent TED Talk: "Americans can be counted on to do the right thing after they've exhausted the alternatives." I have hope for this country and I believe in it, even when it's a big pain in my ass. We fight for what we love, right? Or in Biblical terms, where your treasure lies, there also is your heart. As Sarah Vowell put it, "when I think about my relationship with America, I feel like a battered wife. Yeah, he knocks me around a lot, but boy, he sure can dance." Sometimes America and Americans really hurt me, especially when I see how I contribute to the parts that make my soul ache, but I think there is still great potential here. 

So back to Suzanne's question,"What SHOULD a country be? What should its citizens be proud of as a national identity, as national characteristics? What should it not be proud of?" To me, at this point in my life, I think my country should be a safe place, a mother with arms wide open to embrace those who need her. I am proud of my fellow citizens who work diligently to give others the opportunities that we have has American citizens, and I'm proud of my fellow citizens who utilize their freedom to make some small mark on this planet, even if they'll never have the chance to give the president a piece of their mind, change his mind, or be the president themselves. We should never be proud of being exclusive about what we've been given. This independence day, let's remember those who want nothing more to be in on this dream, and think about about how we can make that dream a reality for as many people as possible.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails