To My Republican Brothers & Sisters,
and to All of Us who need to hear it said.
As the U. S. Presidential campaign heats up, Republicans lie more and more, and the usual high-flown, tired, vague, meaningless catchwords are bandied about, many of us responding to them like the dogs in Dr. Pavlov’s laboratory, or the rats in the laboratories at U. C. Berkeley a matter of blocks from where I write. But what do they mean?
Words are sacred only in as much as they have a contextual meaning and state a truth. If you are going to fling them at me, I must insist that they have a definition we can agree upon. Let us begin with a few:
“Patriotism” means to me putting the welfare of the country above my own, or seeing the welfare of the country as inseparable from my own. What does it mean to you?
But what is “The Country”?
Is “The Country” the land, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains, the valleys, the trees, the plants and animals that constitute its terrain?
If so, what do we propose to protect and nurture them?
Is “The Country” the people who inhabit the land?
If so what do we propose to ensure the health of the people? What do we propose to ensure that the people have enough to eat? What do we propose to ensure that the people have a shelter over their heads? What do we propose to ensure that the people learn and have the knowledge through which they can make decisions that will make them happy? What do we propose to ensure that the people may have work by which to earn the money to purchase what they need? What do we propose to better the lives of the people?
Is “The Country” the Constitution that codifies its ideals and sets it laws?
What do we propose to do to protect that constitution and ensure that the laws of “The Country” are in accord with it? How do we propose to ensure that those laws are just? How do we propose to ensure that those laws are equally applied?
Is “The Country” the government? Is it the government even if the government does not protect or nurture nor the land, nor the waters, nor the plants or animals that its borders define? Is it the government even if the government does not protect or nurture and ensure the well-being of the people that inhabit the land? Is it the government when it does not honor the Constitution or its laws? Is it the government when it serves not the land, nor the people, nor their ideals but only serves some of those people ensuring that only they have what they need, and more?
A government that does not take care of the land or of the people or of the Constitution is not “our” government and therefore it is not “our” country. For then, who is us, and what do we call “ours?” It must then be the government of those few it serves — and the few do not a “Country” make.
I hear “Democracy” and the words of a great Republican sound in my ears: “. . . a government of the people, by the people, for the people . . .”
How do we propose to make a government of the people? How do we propose to make a government by the people? How do we propose to make a government for the people?
When I hear the word “Democracy” mouthed by politicians and demagogues who do nothing to ensure a government of, by, and for the people (not just some of the people) and instead shred the Constitution and Bill of Rights, do away with habeas corpus, torture prisoners, spy on us the people, deny women decision over their own bodies, kill the folk in other lands in the name of us the people, sacrifice our youth in illegal and senseless war, and refuse to care for those who do return, wounded in body and mind, my blood boils for I am sick of bullshit.
For me, then, “The Country” means the land that defines it, the people that inhabit it, its institutions that manifest its ideal and its laws, and its government that protects and nurtures it in all its aspects, a government of, by, and for the people, all of the people not just the privileged.
I hear the term “The Flag” flung about often and see red, white, and blue stars and stripes promiscuously waved giddily about and become dizzy. But what is “The Flag?” Is it a piece of cloth sewn or printed in certain colors and patterns? What does it mean?
As a sign it may mean something: if flown over a building or ground, it may mean “this is a center of government or public building”, or “this is a car dealers’ lot;” if it is flown from a ship, it may mean “this is a ship of the U.S. government or this is a ship from the U.S.”
As a symbol, it is so vague and complex in its connotations that it is only as meaningful as the things it is supposed to stand for: Country, Government, Democracy, the Land, Ideals. And all these are so confused in the minds of the flag wavers and of us that “The Flag” can only mean whatever we have been indoctrinated and conditioned to believe. When demagogues and liars wag “The Flag”, it is demeaned.
Don’t confuse me with flags; “The Flag” can only have meaning for me once you have defined “Country” for me and proved to me that you care for and promote the ideals for which it stands. I detest hypocrites.
Often with “The Flag”, I hear the term “Morality” mouthed. What is “Morality?” What it means to me is treating the other with respect and with compassion; it means holding the other’s, my brother’s or my sister’s, well-being as important as I hold my own. My sense of “Morality” has been formed by what a great Teacher was supposed to have said: “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned,” “Judge not lest you be judged,” “you who are sinless cast the first stone,” “you are your brother’s [and your sister’s] keeper,” “turn the other cheek,” “blessed are the peacemakers,” “the law was made for [people] and not [people] made for the law.” And when a wealthy young man asked him how to achieve paradise, he told him, “Give what you have to the poor. It is more difficult for a rich man to enter paradise than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” He also said “as you do to your brother and sister so you do to me,” “a new law I bring you, love god above all else, and your neighbor as yourself,” that is to say that my welfare is inseparable from yours.
What do you propose to do about feeding the hungry, providing water for the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick, caring for the imprisoned, teaching the ignorant, bringing about peace? Until you can answer these questions, I can hold nothing but contempt for your “Morality.” Don’t confuse me with crosses; I detest hypocrites who hide behind these as much as I detest those who hide behind flags.
The same holds true for “Family Values.” What are these? Are they any different from “Morality”? I know what “Family Values” are; my father and mother, my grandfather and grandmother taught me these. “Family Values” predicate that we take care of one another. They predicate that when a member of the family is a child, or is ill, or old, those who can work take care of them, feed, clothe, shelter, heal, educate, nurture them. Family Values predicate that what there is must be shared equitably among all members of the family. Family values are that we respect and love one another.
What “Family Values” are you talking about? What do you propose to give work to a father so that he may support the family? What do you propose to assist a mother in caring for the children? What do you propose to shelter a family? What do you propose to cure an ill father, an ill mother, an ill son or daughter, an ill grandfather or grandmother, aunt or uncle? What do you propose to educate the children of a family? For the life of me, I cannot distinguish “Family Values” from “Morality.” Until you can answer these questions, I cannot take your “Family Values” as anything but more bullshit.
And “Freedom?” Freedom is nothing more than but the ability to choose among alternatives, the more alternatives there are available to us, the more alternatives we are aware of, the more freedom we have. To exercise freedom, we first have to be alive; to live, we must have food, and water, and health, and clothing and shelter from the elements. To be free we must learn what is true and what is not, what is healthy and what is harmful, what makes us happy and what does not; we must learn sound values. To exercise freedom we must be made aware of alternatives, opportunities, and trained to take advantage of them; that is what education is. Freedom requires that every person be able to elect and be part of the government which rules over “The Country". Freedom requires a culture, a society, a government that will assure that everyone in the “Country” meets these conditions for “Freedom” and then make laws to protect the people from coercion, from fear, from predators (unethical employers, unethical money-lenders, unethical merchants and manufacturers, unethical politicians, unethical government itself.)
What do we propose to ensure “Freedom”?
And if these apply to “The Country”, then “Morality” decrees that they apply to entire world. If we truly believe in “Globalization”, that the world is one interdependent whole, then we must treat the entire world justly, protecting the Earth; its people, for humanity is as a family; the highest ideals of justice, and compassion, and peace. Only then, can freedom, and justice, and peace have any meaning and such terms as “Free Market” are only more bullshit when what they refer to is predatory and immoral, depending as it does upon coercion, abuse of the environment, and poverty.
I have addressed my questions to you who are Republicans, but they are equally addressed to Democrats, and to us all. Until these questions are answered me, I am under no obligation to listen with respect to any vague and bombastic appeals to “Patriotism,” to “Country,” to “Democracy,” to “Flag,” to “Morality,” to “Family Values,” to “Freedom.” When “The American Dream” has become a nightmare, too much of the real thing is at stake to put up with bullshit. Our lives, the very health of the Earth depends upon us and what direction we decide to take in a world grown too small to make borders meaningful and a wounded Earth that will soon refuse to sustain us. Now let’s get with it.