Looking back on my early education in the public schools and the Churches I was obliged to attend, I find that education wanting. Little on ecology, the interrelatedness of all things and the fundamental Laws of Nature, nothing on economics beyond "capitalism is good," almost nothing about the true nature of my species, little in the way of useful skills, like how to build and grow things. Mostly, I was taught a hollow sense of history meant to encourage nationalism, fear of a vengeful God who sanctioned violence and rewarded the powerful, how to sit in a chair for extended periods of time and be quiet, how to obey the rules - but not to question them. A very shallow education, and very effective, as evidenced by my generation, Generation X, as I come to the middle of my 38th year.
Here is a brief tutorial on American history. Thomas Jefferson warned that banks might prove to be an enemy of the Republic. Abraham Lincoln warned that corporations might take control of the Republic and encourage the people to fight amongst themselves. In 1961, Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell presidential address, warned of a Military-Industrial complex, about the influence of money on intellectual curiosity, a path that could destroy the Republic if we let it. In 1962, President Kennedy challenged us to go to the moon. By 1969, we had. In 1973, the year I was born, we were given a warning about the finite nature of oil and what would happen to our economy without it. In 1977, President Carter challenged us to build a new, sustainable economy based on renewable energy. The Republican party presented us with an actor, Ronald Reagan, who modeled for us a militant, empirical stance. We chose Empire.
In the 21st century, our Government-Military-Industrial-Financial complex has brought us the on-going destruction of New Orleans, a crumbling infrastructure, privatized prisons, a breadbasket agriculture that is polluting the Earth and people, a Health Care Industry designed to treat the illness it helps perpetuate, the war in Iraq, the implosion of the housing market, the theft of the Treasury, a national debt equal to GDP, a contraction of the middle class, a new class of sky gods who grow ever richer even in the midst of recession, banks that grow without oversight or restriction at one with the extra-judicial Federal Reserve, continued fossil fuel dependency and a Congress that continues to encourage a path of Empire, even as that Empire appears to be on the verge of collapse. And every step of the way, the Christian leadership of this country lending that Government-Military-Industrial-Financial Empire moral legitimacy, in direct contrast to the teachings of Christ. Continuing to do so, fanning the flames of social in-fighting and distraction.
Democracy was conceived in Europe and born in America. We remain a very young, immature nation. It is no surprise that maturation into a true democracy would prove to be difficult, that we could lose our way. We imagined the country was born a democracy, that it would always be one. We forgot, or never new, Democracy requires practice, engagement, that every generation has to work to maintain and strengthen democracy, to maintain democracy. Instead, we absolved ourselves and left that work to leadership. As a consequence, our Republic is about to get a lesson in the collapse of Empire.
Whether or not we pursue a path of democracy from here, will depend on whether or not we revive a notion of the common good, for all Americans. The common good has not been a part of the national lexicon as long as I've been able to participate. Mostly, I hear about the virtue of self interest. Which has led to an increasingly pervasive economic amorality that is indifferent to the health of the Earth, of the Republic, or the well-being of people.
Here we stand. On this beautiful Earth. This widely differentiated biosphere, this cradle of Life. Revolving around a star which warms our atmosphere just right, a star myriads of interstellar bodies revolve around, all encased in a protective heliosphere of outward rushing solar energy, revolving in turn on a great arm of a great galaxy of 100 billion stars, in a universe of 100 billion galaxies. All the Universe the residual energy of some grand creative event, some 14 billion years past; perhaps some many billions of years hence to contract to a single point as in the beginning, like one great, grand breath of a Creator.
Here we stand, on this Earth, alive, of nature, of the biosphere, of the ascendant species, the last surviving species of Hominid, in whose hands the fate of the whole of the biosphere now rests. We will destroy the biosphere and ourselves, or we will find some way to live in harmony with Life, in rhythm with the rhythms of the Earth. Whatever we do, the Earth will survive, and even if we destroy ourselves and most of the species of the Earth, in another few million years the Earth will recover a measure of the biodiversity we destroyed, life flourishing once again.
I'm optimistic there will be descendants of Homo sapien sapien around most of the rest of the life of Earth. I am not so optimistic that we will prevent ourselves from causing the sixth great extinction event and the loss of civilization. Though I believe Americans can lead the world in the healing of the planet, if we choose. First, we will have to choose to heal ourselves, our Republic and the land we inhabit. That will only happen if we de-emphasize self-interest in favor of service, and require the same of our leaders. If we re-evaluate the path we have chosen, the path of Empire.