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Have We Lost Something as a Nation?

Do you feel with me a growing dejection among people today? That somehow we have lost something of our greatness as a nation; that the luster of our society has been replaced with a sort of dismal dullness.

The political climate in America is about as bad as anyone could ever imagine. These endless elections seem to set the tone for how the whole country is to operate all the time. They have created an attitude and atmosphere in which we deal with one another with a cold indifference to people’s feelings; where we display ferocious and ruthless acts of competition, mistrust of others, unmovable bullheadedness, and a win at all costs in nearly everything we do.

There have always been two corrupting forces in every society that finally fails its people and makes democracy almost impossible: money and power.

Those forces seem to be driving our nation in nearly all of its institutions whether they be political, commercial, religious, entertainment, or otherwise. I think they may be all we as a people think are important after the profoundly psychic wounds we suffered from the acts of 19 terrorists.

The horrors of 911 still hold us. Many in this country seem to have been so damaged by it that they cannot escape a lingering paranoia and an all consuming anger and vengeance against Muslims, Arabs, or someone, anyone, who might be a possible suspect.

While browsing the bookstore the other day I stumbled on Caroline Alexander’s enthralling book, “The War that Killed Achilles.” She writes of course about the infamous Trojan War that went on for 10 brutalizing years sometime in the 13th or 12th century B.C.E. It was first thought to be simply a part of Greek mythology but historians now believe there is evidence that Troy did exist and something devastating occurred there.

The classic story tells of an Asian prince from Troy abducting the wife of the king of Sparta . There is speculation she wanted to leave. The king’s brother gathered an army of Greeks and fought for a decade to bring her back but was consistently defeated. They finally devised an ingenious plot by offering the gift of a giant horse, the Trojan Horse, as payment for the beautiful Helen. Once inside the highly fortified gates the Greek soldiers, hidden in the Horse, crawled out at night and slaughtered the people and destroyed the entire city. Troy was burned to the ground.

The age of heroes had ended. The long war had consumed the world. And afterwards no one believed it had meant anything at all.

I worry that perhaps we are heading in that direction. Our energies are spent in defending ourselves against few but clever enemies who seem determined to have us return to them something of value. What have we stolen? What represents to them our taking of their beautiful Helen? Disrespect for their culture. Abuse of their resources. Disregard for their people. Insults against their religion.

And so we pretend to be above all of this. We distract ourselves from any responsibility for these wars by busying ourselves in petty pursuits. Our politicians use the terrorists as ways to win elections. They conjure up coming catastrophes that must be stopped by voting for them alone. As if there really are Americans who want us to be defeated by terrorists. They talk of Socialism and Hitler and taxes and health care all in the same breath. As if each of these things is as evil as the other.

But what is anyone doing to help us actually understand our enemies or find intelligent ways to deal with them? Ten years of bombing, killing, brutalizing the innocent, destroying whole countries, sending our soldiers to their deaths; for what?

When it’s all over will it have meant anything? What will we have protected? Our ability to hoard money and wield power?

What are we making in this country? What do we produce other than complicated financial schemes that boost Wall Street and enrich the already wealthy? Where is there a sense of community in the nation? Or fairness? Or the allowance of differences? What do our places of worship do to inspire and guide us beyond banal cheerleading and snappy choruses and silly theme days?

It took Jon Stewart and a bunch of comedians last year to ask the country to return to sanity. Why hasn’t the church asked that of us? Why doesn’t our government? Why won’t Congress?

What are we really fighting to defend? What are we living for that will matter in the end? Freedom? Really? Freedom to be and do what? Get rich? Have power? Beat the other political party? Have more than our neighbors? Live in luxury? Get advantages over the next guy?

Henrik Ibsen, the imaginative 19th century playwright, wrote a devastating play in 1882 titled, “An Enemy of the People.” It confronted the irrational tendencies of the masses, and the hypocritical and corrupt nature of the political system that the masses end up supporting. In the play, one of the characters says, “The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That's one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population -- the intelligent ones or the fools?”

And that’s where we are today. Will the majority of our population consist of the intelligent or of fools? Will a Trojan Horse be our ending? Or those corrupting forces of money and power?

Or will we finally come to our senses?

© 2011 Timothy Moody

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