By Mike Cronin
Every so often it helps to re-examine one’s goals and purposes. My goal and purpose for this blog is to help others learn to look at the world through the lenses of reason and liberty. Sometimes that means offering dry descriptions of how things are vs how they ought to be, other times it means promoting an independent viewpoint on a hot-button political issue. No doubt I have appeared to be a right-wing radical to someone on the left, while I might seem to be a leftist to the right-winger. To others, it might seem like I’m simply sitting on the fence and refusing to take sides.
I have never claimed to be unbiased. In fact, I have described my bias on more than one occasion, but I haven’t ever really described my full worldview. I thought I might do so now:
It starts with reality. As Ayn Rand said: “Existence exists, and only existence exists.” Carl Sagan said that the cosmos is “all that is, all that was, and all there ever will be.” The evidence that existence exists is axiomatic: If it did not exist, there would be no one to ponder its nature – there would be no nature.
Speaking of nature: Humans are part of nature. Everything humans have ever made, from bone tools and mud huts to spaceships and iPhones, and every action humans have ever taken, from procreating to mass destruction, is ipso-facto natural. That is not to say it is good or bad.
Evil exists. There are good people and bad. Context matters: good people are sometimes capable of bad things, and evil people may sometimes perform a benevolent act. Hitler might have treated a pet well, for instance…but that cannot begin to atone for the fact that he inspired and led the industrialized murder of millions. Because Hitler was human, his actions were natural…but because he failed to credit whole segments of humans with having any humanity, he dehumanized himself. He became a monster of natural, not supernatural origin.
Nor was he the only one. Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao Tse-tung. Saddam Hussein. Every era of history has its brutal dictators and ruthless rulers who don’t hesitate to bathe in the blood of millions. The rational failing of all of these monsters is their inability or refusal to recognize the worth of other humans as humans, or to even recognize other individuals as human at all. They have actualized the ultimate expression of collectivism: the subsuming of the individual human being into a collective. Collectives that can be branded sub-human and disposed of at whim.
Humans have been ruled by such men as could take control of the levers of power since we were clans of hunter-gatherers. Every so often, a breakthrough would occur and the building blocks of civilization were laid, even if technology advanced at much more stately pace. The Mesopotamians or other earliest civilizations gave us agriculture and the division of labor. The Egyptians gave us paper and the concept of a massive library to store the sum of human knowledge. The Greeks gave us the concepts of reasoned philosophical debate, and democratic and republican forms of government, and more. The Arabs gave us Algebra, the concept of zero, and names for many stars we see in the night sky. The Persians or their predecessors gave us Indo-European languages, the wheel, chess (probably by way of India), and more. Largely unbeknownst to the west, the Chinese developed many of these same foundations earlier, or at roughly the same time, as their Western counterparts.
All throughout history, threads bind early developments to later ones. The Greek concepts of democracy and republicanism found a circuitous path that eventually led to the founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights…and the United States of America. An imperfect country, established with imperfect, yet eloquent documents, written by imperfect, yet remarkable men…the first country ever founded on the basis of an ideal: recognition of individual rights, liberty, and the rule of law, protected by a government chartered for that sole purpose. Imperfect though it is, via the combination of the freest form of government, ample natural resources, and the best geographical location, the US rose to become the most dominant economic and military power in the world, and to raise the standard of living for more people than any other nation, empire, or civilization in human history. That much power attracts pathological personalities –both to wield it, and to destroy it. Thus it became inevitable that the US would make enemies. No matter how benevolent the US might be or might have been, our very existence as de-facto world hegemon is a threat to those who aspire to great power, such as Hussein or Osama bin Laden. To wit: something like 9/11 was inevitable.
As beautiful as the founders’ vision of the US was, the implementation of their vision was flawed from the start by four major areas of dysfunction, which I examined in five posts in 2014.
Slavery was chief among those, as it was incompatible with the spirit of the Charters of Freedom. Our earliest Congress partook of the same sin as Hitler, if perhaps to a slightly lesser degree and without the nationalistic zeal: they justified slavery by willfully neglecting to grant the status of “human being” to slaves. It took nearly 3/4 of a century from the founding to end slavery, and nearly 200 years to reverse most of the direct damage of that failure. We are still dealing with the indirect damage to this day.
This is not to say that things can be put right by going the other direction. Dehumanizing and hating whites, especially white, middle class males, cannot free the long-dead slaves of times past, nor can it improve the lot of the descendants of slaves living today. Holding inter-generational grudges leads to incessant conflict – such as that between the Israelis and Palestinians, which is but a proxy for the much older conflict between Arabs and Jews.
How can we overcome the pain of the past without inflicting all new pains now and in the future? More on that next week.