Saturday, September 5, 2009

Then and Now: A Reflection on the Civil Society

I ran across this while I was cleaning out my trusty day timer thingy. It's got zip lockable pockets into which I put my stuff. So I was rummaging in my stuff to see if there's anything in there that time and experience have transcended when I ran across this prayer, said to be Ben Franklin's.

Now, please don't feel that I'm pushing religion down your throat. That's none 'o my biz. I'm just asking you to read this sociologically, within the context of then--the period when our Constitution and Bill of Rights were written--and now--the period when folks protest a President who encourages learning and hard work, and actually take Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh seriously.

O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! Increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to Thy other children as the only return in my power for Thy continual favors to me.

I get really hot under the collar when I hear conservatives blabber about personal responsibility and individual rights. That's all well and good, but it ain't the whole hog. They would have us believe that poverty is a choice and that success is self-made, and that lending a hand to a neighbor is creating a nanny state.

That's when I go on about how there's no such thing as "self-made." What I mean is what Franklin recognizes here. Whether we attribute it to God or to human technological and intellectual advancement, the fact is that in the USA especially, all of us rise up by virtue of enormous advantages that we personally had no role whatever in creating.

These are the myriad advantages without which none of us could claim to have "made it," no matter how hard we worked. All of us are indebted to a great, collective social bounty. (The only reason that conservatives don't hyperventilate and call it "socialism," too, is because that would really mess their ideology all up. Oh wait. They do call it socialism and they want to "privatize" it! More about THAT later!)

Here's what I'm talking about, and even if we don't all have each one, we all have some of them. I'm talking everything from driveable highways, free public schools, emergency medical technicians and ambulances, libraries, book stores, museums, parks and truck farms, and phones that work, and gas and electricity on demand, and civil order, and national security, and accessible food supplies, all the way up to the elegant essentials of nature: air to breathe, water to drink and play in, sunshine, moonlight, vast canyons, awesome mountains, great wheat and corn fields, fish and plants and animals large and small.

I'm talking from spiritual and physical to technological and communal and intellectual, and, yes, political: We have the greatest constitution and bill of rights the world has ever known.

It all counts. ALL of it is ours without our every having even acknowledged it, let alone had a hand in creating it. And I haven't even gotten to the individual advantages of race, class, culture, gender, wealth, and connections that grace so many.

So wouldn't you think we'd be honest enough, and humble enough, to own that massive debt, and to get that there's only one way to repay it? To get that it can only be paid forward because it can never be paid back?

Franklin understood that unequivocal, inescapable, profound, and universal truth. I think it's no coincidence that he could help to write our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. These come, ultimately, from the same wellspring: a proper, grounded, fact-based understanding of the human being's place in the cosmos.

For all their "Christianizing," the Right, the GOP, and conservatives don't seem to have grasped this at all. Therefore, it's no coincidence that they would lead us, if we let them, straight to Hell.