Thursday, June 26, 2008
Question of the Month: A Serious One: Fractions
Religion, political affiliation, nationality, race, gender, and sexual orientation are all ways in which we as a society group ourselves. Are these groupings good for us as people - do they bring us together or do they tear us apart? Do these categories provide a positive function for mankind? Here below are my personal viewpoints on each - please feel free to chime in if you feel differently or would like to add an "Amen brother!"
Religion: I have discussed my personal feelings on religion at length in a previous post (see: "A Faith Reviewed) so I will keep it brief here. As a historian I can easily see the many ways religion has worked as a dividing factor. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust (although the Nazis were not by definition religious they were working from an anti-Semitic playbook written by the Catholic Church, whose own role in that sad event is not one of the prouder moments in the history of said institution) are all examples of man destroying man over religion. Our own conflict with the Islamic Middle East shows that religion has a strong grip on us still. In addition, Sunday morning is also often spoken of as the most segregated time of the week, as Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and others rarely co-mingle at services. Also, many religions have an evangelical aspect to them, which requires members to openly recruit new converts. Some of these evangelicals are a bit overzealous in their pursuit, which can cause conflict with those who choose to practice other faiths or prefer no religious faith at all.
On the plus side, religion can give us strength and unites us in times of trouble and distress. The church can also use its resources (money, manpower) to fight problems that afflict all of society, like hunger and homelessness. Historically speaking, the Quaker faith was largely responsible for the end of the slave trade in the British Empire and fervent practitioners of various faiths led the abolition movement in the United States. Religion, to me, is what you make of it, and your interpretation can allow it to be a positive force for mankind or a factor in its eventual destruction.
Political Affiliation: Don't spew your cocktail as a result of this dazzling insight, but politics is a dirty scene. There should be very little debate over whether political affiliation binds us together as a species. The field of politics is unabashedly competitive, the goal being to tear down your opponent - and take out his jugular while you are at it. Democrats and Republicans play adversarial roles and the media hypes their divisions in order to stoke the ever-burning fire that the twenty-four hour news cycle requires. Terms like horse race, contest, Super Tuesday, and political "arena" give politics the aura of sport. Sadly, such is the present state of our country. Instead of building consensus and solving problems through compromise, American government has become a battle over voter's souls and a method by which we are distracted from the real issues. The huge percentage of our populace that view themselves as independents should show the amount of distaste Americans have for the limited amount of answers the two political parties currently provide. Unfortunately, the future looks bleak for those who hope for more variety. Any change to a parliamentary system, which allows for more of the political spectrum to be represented, seems to be far away and some would argue that such a shift would not be an improvement at all.
Race: Now that politics has managed to get you all depressed, let's look at some positive developments. This year is a possible turning point for race relations in the United States. For the first time in our history, an African-American is the presidential nominee of a major political party. We have made great strides in a country where only a hundred years ago that person would have been enslaved or fifty years ago when Obama would have lacked the most basic civil rights, not least among them the privilege of voting (for himself or anyone else). In a nation that hosts perhaps the greatest mix of ethnicity on the planet, it would only be fitting if our head of state represented that diversity. We still have many hurdles to overcome, such as virtual segregation in housing and the lack of racial variety we see in the church pews on Sundays, but America seems to be headed in the right direction on race. Hopefully, our country can be a lesson to the rest of the world in regard to bringing mankind together to sing in perfect harmony like the Coke commercial says (sorry still trying to draw ads).
As far as my personal life goes, I, much like a sad monochromatic rainbow, would like to surround myself with a little more color. Although I pride myself on being open-minded and reaching out to others regardless of race, I have very few non-white friends (my best friend in high school was half Asian - where art thou Andy?). Is that fact a function of my own deeply hidden personal prejudices or is it just a reflection of the social circle within which I run? Maybe with luck I can get Obama to be my pen pal.
Nothing unites us as a country like the belief that the good old United States is the greatest country on earth, chosen by God to be first among nations. Of course, that is utter crap. There are many ways to judge the various countries that make up our planet and we would fall short in many of these categories (although we undoubtedly have the best pro football league). The rallying cry of "USA, USA, we're number 1!" is a form of government propaganda that goes back hundreds of years. The powers that be urge you on to blind devotion to their policies by creating the myth that the country is invulnerable and only outside forces could ever be the cause of any faults within the governing system. They urge you to believe in symbols like flags and lapel pins - pay no attention to what we are doing, everything is fine, except for those outsiders instigating trouble. IMHO it is the people who pay attention and keep the government in check that are the true American patriots. Regardless of your political affiliation, don't trust McCain, don't trust Obama, don't trust your Congressmen, don't trust your state representatives, and don't trust your local officials. Make sure they back up there words with actions.
The Jews were the scapegoat in Nazi Germany and the Mexicans/immigrants seem to be the target for many in this country who need someone to blame for any problems we may have. I find this attitude hard to accept in a country that is made up almost exclusively of immigrants. My grandfather came here in the early 1950s with his children, including my father, legally, but if circumstance had been different, I have no doubt he would have done what was necessary to take care of his family.
What should we do regarding the problem of illegal immigration? First off, if we are going to survive as a world we eventually need to break away from the idea of country, which only serves to tear us apart as a species. I know that such a change is just a pipe dream at this stage of our history as a planet, so what should we do about immigration for the time being? Like any economic issue, the problem is one of supply and demand. If you don't want people coming into your country and taking your job, strictly punish people who do the hiring of illegals. Once the supply of employment dries up, you may have to defend the border against the flood of people flocking back to their country of origin.
The fear of the creeping "homosexual agenda" has been used by conservatives for the last decade to motivate the kind of voters they want to see at the polls. God-fearing Christians who are gripped by the certainty that the world will be obliterated by a ball of hellfire if the fags are allowed to marry or adopt children. As usual, those in the world of politics are attempting to tear mankind apart.
Obviously, as someone who likes a little meat in his sandwich, these attempts to treat gays differently grates me. One of the main reasons I came out of the closet was to show the lie to so many of the stereotypes that exist in the straight community about gays. You can't really show pride in who you are if you keep your true self hidden. Why would you expect to be respected if you don't first respect yourself? Straight people as a whole just don't know too many gays, so how can they possible understand their perspective on things? As far as a gay community goes, I think that there was a time when that was a good thing; society was not ready for the shocking reality that the gays walked amongst them. Although we have still have a long way to go, we have advanced in the last twenty years to the point where a lot more of us feel safe being honest about who we are. I think it is about time to quit viewing ourselves as a gay community, separate from the rest. We now need to integrate more with the world around us so that we are seen as just regular guys and girls rather than something to be feared. Is it still hard to be gay? No question, but get over it and move on, always remembering that you are an ambassador striving hard to underline our similarities and work through our differences.
Women and men will never understand each other. Mankind will just have to cope with that reality.