Thursday, November 26, 2009

Being American on Thanksgiving

[from billlifka - Photo added by Ira]

The Holiday of Thanks falls halfway between the Holiday of Fear (Halloween) and the Holiday of Joy (Christmas). That suggests one must be thankful for one’s blessings before overcoming fear of bad stuff, some of which is real and some imagined. Many Americans fear the path upon which they’re being led by their nation’s leaders, and for good reasons. In itself, fear can be good or bad, depending upon one’s reaction to it. The instinctive physiological reaction is a choosing between fleeing and fighting. Either can be the better choice, depending on the circumstances.

A current movie tells of the end of the world; in 2012. Some have credited its popularity on one possible interpretation. Why worry about the economic crisis, cultural clashes, etc.? It’s all going to be over in a few years; enjoy what you can right now. That’s the flight choice. A fight choice may be an instantaneous decision but it does require a nanosecond or two to assess the weapons available to fight successfully. The Holiday of Thanksgiving is assessment time.

America’s blessings flow from the American trinity of Democracy, Theocracy and Meritocracy as intended by the Founders. None of these were invented by the Founders; each had been tried in human societies many times; never successfully and lastingly. The American invention was in allowing the best features of each to emerge while muting the worst features in a harmony of opposition; each against the others.

Through the ages, democracy has had a poor record of success. Usually, it’s resulted in anarchy, lopped heads, defeat by neighboring states, dictatorship, in some combination. The problem is not the concept that people are best governed by the people but that people have human failings that must be taken into account. The American version of democratic government addressed the problem of human failings with law (U.S. Constitution) and organization that provided checking and balancing of power. It relied on aspects of theocracy and meritocracy within the national culture to temper the “hardness” of raw democracy and influence original law of the land. The intent was to assure freedom and equal opportunity for individual citizens; to protect against any “tyranny of the majority”; to minimize government size and locate it close to the governed.

Theocracy has prevailed more often than democracy and has failed more dismally. Even Christ emphasized that religion and politics are separate realms of power. But, it was Judeo-Christian beliefs that provided the foundation of personal freedom upon which modern Democracies are erected. More importantly, it was the moral code that shaped American culture and permeated the U.S. Constitution in many ways. Similarly, it calmed the wildness of unbridled meritocracy.

Meritocracy is a broader and better word(s) than market (or free) economy. It’s definitely better than capitalism. It implies that people who have skills and work hard can succeed without being an absolute guarantor of huge success. At least, it guarantees that one has a fair shot. Even more importantly, it guarantees that the government will not steal the fruits of success from citizens.

Many special interests have tried to disarm us from these powerful weapons. We retain them, at the moment. For this we should give thanks and wield them confidently, in great joy.


1 comment:

Ira Glickstein said...

Democracy and meritocracy will be accepted easily by most, but why should we be thankful for theocracy?

Well, Abraham, the first person to understand that God is One (or that everything in the Universe is related to everything else), was also the first lawyer. His clients were the wicked towns of Sodom and Gomorrah and God was going to destroy them!

In Genesis 18, Abraham claims that the Law applies even to God (and by extension to the King and the President and all other government officials and members of the intellectual elite, and the media elite and the rich elite!)

What a concept! The Law applies even to the Author of the Law! No one is above the Law, not even God!

Abraham says: "Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous [in Sodom and Gomorrah] with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Abraham also teaches us the limits of negotiation and knowing when to stop. “What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?" God agrees to spare the wicked towns if there are 50 righteous. Abraham asks about 45, and 40, and 30, and 20 and 10 righteous and God says OK, He will spare the towns if there are as few as 10.

Notice that Abraham does not negotiate further. He does not seek "perfect justice". God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. presumably along with as many as nine righteous.

Ira Glickstein