Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Founding Father Mythos


The battle for the future is sometimes strangely fought in the past.  Like time-traveling soldiers vs. terminator robots, our culture warriors seem to travel back in time to the dawn of our nation in order to do battle with each other, each one trying to stake claim to America’s foundation as its territory.  The notion seems to be that if our nation was intended as either Christian or secular by the Founding Fathers, that this means that’s the way the nation should be today.

Of course, the whole notion is daft.  It's as absurd as saying that if the original rule book was intended a certain way, then that’s the way the rule book should remain now.  Let the NFL do away with instant replay while Major League Baseball segregates a separate league for black people, and you get an application of this same, silly principle.  But this doesn't keep the religious Right from trying the tactic anyway.  If the Founding Fathers were Christian, it is preached, then we should be Christian too, because that means it’s the American Way.  It is somehow absurdly believed that the authors of the Constitution were somehow Constitutional themselves, and that therefore their personal beliefs, or even foibles, are somehow applicable to policy making today.

Let's have a reality check: The founding fathers were, for all their virtues, for all their vices, merely human beings.  They made brilliant decisions along with some colossal blunders.  They achieved great things under the cloud of unforgivable failure, and blazed an important trail while leaving a hideous mess in its wake.  In the end, we must see them as the belching, farting, shitting, slave-fucking and halitosis-ridden homo sapiens that they truly were.  And we should no more follow their example than a modern-day physician should return to bloodletting.

The bottom line behind the founding principles of our nation is simply this: they were a good start.  Not perfect, but a good start.  And ever since then it has been up to succeeding generations to keep improving upon the idea, eliminating the mistakes in the original version where they are found, revising the outdated areas when technology and cultural progress dictate that they need to be, and adding new ones as novel situations dictate.  Sometimes we might get it right, as with public education and investing in the infrastructures of transportation, power and water.  Other times, we might get it wrong, as we did during prohibition.  But always, hopefully, we gradually ratchet things forward to an improvement upon what we inherited when we were younger.  As such, looking back upon the starting point, and those who helped start it, as some sort of "ideal," is nothing more than flipping the middle-finger at our modern-day world, and advocating a return to the "good old days" when life was nasty, brutish and short. What rubbish!

It is our turn to improve upon the original. We may make mistakes, but if we do things right, we will produce more progress than setback. So how about, instead of looking backward for guidance, we look forward?

I’m sure the founding fathers would have wanted it that way, in any case.

Eric

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