Monday, July 04, 2005

Fourth of July!

Today is, of course, Independence Day, the day we declared that we were no longer going to consider ourselves colonies of England. It's a day when the thoughts of everyone turn to a day off, cook-outs, and yes, even in the cynical world we live in today, patriotism. Like many people, I'm concerned about the directions our country is heading. I sometimes wonder if the founding fathers look down on us sometimes and say, "Now that wasn't exactly what we had in mind..." But the Constitution, and more importantly, the system of checks and balances that was put into place has been remarkably flexible in meeting the needs of a country that bears little resemblance to the world of 1787. The system has its problems, but as a whole, it works -- not every country can say that.

Today, however, that system is in jeopardy. Not because the Republicans control both houses of Congress as well as the White House, in spite of what you may be thinking. For the record, I'm a moderate independent -- both the Democrats and the Republicans have some good aspects to them, and both do some really stupid things that annoy me -- and sometimes frighten me -- to no end. No, the reason our system is in jeopardy is because no one wants to think for themselves anymore. No one seems to recall that the real world can't be cast in black and white, good and evil, secular and religious, libral and conservative. The world is and always has been composed entirely of varying shades of grey. Many people, however, latch on to one or at best two issues, jump on some "party bandwagon" and death to the other guys. If you aren't for us, you're against us.

I'm sorry to say that the real world doesn't function very well that way.

The truth is that every situation is unique, and we should approach each situation giving that uniqueness the respect it deserves. It is patently impossible to make blanket statements about anything. Don't believe me? Okay, let's consider the taking of life. Some would argue that it's always wrong, no matter what, even in self defense. What about in defense of your family as a man is about to rape and torture your daughter to death? If there's no other way, would you do it? This is an extreme case, but the principle applies everywhere, especially when you start to consider that an action may seem reasonable when considered in isolation, but may be extraordinarily dumb and dangerous when the effect of that action upon other actions is considered. The world is a complex place. I wouldn't have it any other way, even if it means I can't be as mentally lazy as I might like.

One of the services fiction provides to society is the ability to look at the imagined consequences of actions that haven't yet taken place. We can hold a mirror up to our society and shine light on just a few aspects of a complicated picture at a time. Fiction can change attitudes, and that can literally change the world. It's a heady responsibility!

So celebrate our nation, but take a moment to recall that a nation "of the people" means that you have to make the decisions. Not your elected officials, not lobbyists, not your pastor, not corporations, and not your neighbor down the street. You. When we give the government power to decide what is best for us, we place ourselves in mortal peril. As Benjamin Franklin said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." (Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759) Listen closely to what you are being told by "authority figures." There are a lot of holes in their messages, often in the name of spin. Remember that the world isn't an either/or situation. Black and white is such a dull way to color the world, after all.

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