Where to begin

There is nowhere to begin but in the middle. We are thrown into this ongoing world. In youth it seems to be just beginning, building up to some sacred purpose. We are imbued with the innocence of possibility. Slowly, subtly the unspoken truth dawns on us.  Something has gone wrong. We must choose sides — no, it is too late, the sides have been chosen for us. A line in the sand was drawn long ago and it can never be undrawn. We can no longer see it, though many claim to know its location.

It is this line that oppresses us. History is the original sin. Irreversible and irresistible, the past determines the present.

It is not your fault. Yet you must be held responsible.

Where we go from here

We must atone for our history.  We, who had nothing to do with it, we alone can redeem it.

Beyond the fundamental exploitations underlying Western civilization generally — of nature, women, and the poor — the original sin of Americans, specifically, is our treatment of Native Americans and Africans who forcibly became African-Americans.  If we could redeem those histories with five hundred years of nation-wide tribute to their lost possibilities, it would be a worthwhile way to spend half a millennium.  But that assumes there can be any redemption from conquest, genocide, and enslavement.

What we can do is confess our sins, become living acknowledgments of our past, and commit ourselves to creating a world as far from that past as possible: a world in harmony with nature, with people, with itself.

First, we must be educated in the brutality of our history.  For example, how can we as a society intelligently discuss “affirmative action” today if we do not acknowledge the far more affirmative actions through which the U.S. has favored some people historically?  The affirmative action programs of the past include conquering native tribes and giving their land to white people, enforcing white men’s claims to own black people, and giving men but not women a say in government.

Naiveté

If history is the original sin, our cardinal acquired sin is naiveté.  This ignorance of the domination pervading our past and present is not an innocent state, but a self-serving obstinance justifying the status quo.  Among our most naive beliefs:  the era of slavery was long ago; individuals are entitled to own natural resources; technology can solve social problems; freedom is a quality that describes economic markets or individual choice; violence can make peace; individuals can be self-made and self-reliant.

Often liberals are considered the bleeding-heart idealists, while conservatives fancy themselves hard-nosed realists.  Yet the latter ideology is premised on the mythical existence of justice and freedom, while in truth we are mired in the long, bitter fight for their realization.

Cowardice and courage

There is an exception to the ahistorical justification of the status quo.  Some conservatives are historical realists who recognize the brutality and injustice determining the world, but are resigned to this way of the world and believe the right thing to do is ensure security for you and yours against the rest.

They could be correct, but that does not make them right.  They are intellectually honest, but cowardly.  To lead a life worth living and leave a world worth living in, we must have the courage to posit a better way:  the possibility of equality, abundance, and cooperation.

What we need

The prospect of a better way has been the vision of many religious thinkers.  But this vision of redemption has rested on the flawed premise of dogmatism, that others must share our theological beliefs in order to rise above brutality.  This premise presupposes the opposite of what we seek:  inequality, that others’ views are inferior, that ours alone are correct.  We need a better way toward a better way.  What if we were, instead, to presume equality?  Where would that lead us?