Between the Self and the Truth

“All men are created equal.”

– Thomas Jefferson

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“Money, not morality is the principle of commercial nations.”

– Thomas Jefferson

“…just starting with the question of “What happened to black people?” is not sufficient to understanding that at the end of the day, the very notion of settlement in this country was about procuring resources for the purposes of wealth accumulation. That was true for most who came to this country, maybe not true for a small band of Puritans who landed in Massachusetts, who imagined the recreation of a very special, religious community. But even that vision of American society didn’t last very long…it’s certainly true, as far as I’m concerned, that over the last 225 years, Thomas Jefferson’s second point about money– has far outlasted and triumphed over the notion of freedom.” – Khalil Muhammad

Happy Fourth of July.

Here is a link to the Bill Moyer’s interview with one of our most prominent young black historians. In light of an election that will be, as was the last, decided partly around the issues of race, I think that this is an important perspective for all Americans to understand. Unfortunately this is a time when most Americans will do almost anything to avoid the truths of their own history, a time when the vestiges of white supremacy will attempt, perhaps successfully, to purchase the upcoming elections.

This is one of the best and most informative interviews I’ve ever seen, and given the brilliant history of Moyer’s interviews, that’s saying something. The fair minded clarity of both men is beyond reproach, offering an unmatched glimpse of the undercurrents that run through our culture along with their historical roots.

America has been living a contradiction since its founding, and over 200 years later we have yet to overcome that contradiction. We are at a crux in our evolution as a society. Along one path, the path known as “conservatism”, America continues to be viewed primarily as the “ownership society”, where absolutely everything is valued only as a commodity, including our concept of freedom and speech, our communities, even our closest relationships. Along this road we are a society bought and sold, where human rights are measured only in terms of what we own. In my opinion this path, in the long term, is doomed to collapse and failure.

Fortunately, emerging out of this collapse is another point of view, mostly held by the young, who have grown up in a world where the boundaries between nations and races has been largely broken down through the rise of global digital culture. Surveys have shown that young people are less susceptible to the influence of television and religion, the primary tools used by the ‘Baby Boomer Generation’ for the promulgation of bigotry and paranoia. (I was both surprised and encouraged by a debate I recently listened to on NPR’s Intelligence Squared that asked the question Would The World Be Better Off Without Religion, where both sides were very eloquently argued.)

I recently returned from a trip through the midwest and part of the deep south and was dismayed at the level of ignorance and cultural isolation that I sensed as I crossed this wide and beautiful nation. On the other side I’ve been inspired and uplifted by watching the HBO drama Treme which goes to the true heart of America through the music and culture of New Orleans as it rebuilds itself after Katrina. In these episodes I’ve seen reflections of myself and my own attitudes, both good and bad. There’s the hopelessness that turns into depression and rage, directed both against the outside and against the self. On the other side there’s the sheer joy of being alive and the will to continue on, to celebrate and to be a part of one another. Maybe its only through something dying that something new can be born.

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