Archive for the ‘Personal Perspectives’ Category

379. Hansel & Gretel

Life is often simpler if we view it simply – “just the facts, ma’am,” as the detectives used to say on the old TV series Dragnet.  But just because something can be viewed in simplistic terms doesn’t mean that’s all there is to it.

In the criminal justice system “just the facts” is the way it should be.  Yet how many times do courts err, convicting the innocent and acquitting the guilty?  No one knows, but I think we’re all aware that trials do not always result in justice, and this is in large part because the “facts” of a case are often hopelessly entangled in the motivations of those involved and the perceptions and biases of both witnesses and juries.

Once removed from systems that strive for objectivity, interpretation becomes a largely subjective process.  Even the Bible is open to multiple interpretations.  Some traditions ascribe four meanings to Holy Scripture – the literal, the allegorical, the moral and the anagogical (the way in which they lead followers along their spiritual path).  Other traditions interpret the Bible in only the literal sense, and much unholy acrimony has occurred as a result.

One can find multiple meanings in secular lore as well; take, for example, the fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm.  Pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung looked at these stories in the same way he did his patients’ dreams and fantasies, and found that both individual’s dreams and cultural myths contain common elements.  Jung termed these elements “archetypes” and believed they conveyed universal truths that could be applied to many different situations.

As a child my great aunt Ruby Wright read fairy tales to me.  They were pretty violent and their characters usually acted from the basest of motives.  Beleaguered orphans and evil stepmothers figured prominently.  These tales have survived for a very long time because they have meaning in any time and place – people will always be greedy, stupid, and evil, and perseverance and cleverness will always be needed to overcome these forces.  These tales help us apply eternal, “archetypal” truths to the particulars of our own lives.  Besides entertaining us, these stories help us deal with the world.

In looking back at the political course our nation has embraced, it’s easy to see a similarity to a number of stories, including Hansel and Gretel.  Just like children abandoned in a forest, many voters today see themselves abandoned by politics as usual (embodied in an archetypal “wicked stepmother”).  Just like Hansel and Gretel, they’re searching a forest of uncertainty for something to save them.

And then they were promised a house made of candy, offering every imaginable delight.  And so voters rushed to the candy house only to become hopelessly entrapped.  Instead of salvation they found exploitation – they were duped by empty promises just as Hansel and Gretel were duped by empty calories.

Last November these voters elected candidates who offered simple answers to complicated problems.  Yet in the six months since these candidates took office, most of what they’ve tried to do often seems designed to hurt the people who voted for them.  Like the hungry children in the story, these voters are now hopelessly mired in the deceptive fairy tale world they so naively embraced.  Only by waking up to the truth, by seeing through the morass of “alternative facts” and simplistic too-good-to be true promises can they ever hope to turn the tables on those who exploit their fears.  To find a valid path out of this forest, voters are going to have to reject fairy tale solutions and return to a mature embrace of “just the facts”…

376. We The People

We the People” are perhaps the three most radical words in the political history of the world.  Why?  Because until the framers of the U.S. Constitution vested the power to govern in the people, the right to govern had always come from God.  From time immemorial, leaders had routinely claimed a divine right to rule.  Often, in fact, from at least the time of the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs, rulers have claimed to be gods themselves.  Until America forbade it at the end of WWII, the Japanese Emperor was believed by his subjects to be a direct descendant of the Sun Goddess.

There are, of course, those who believe government should be a theocracy.  While not claiming their leaders are divine, conservative Muslims try to follow the strict tenets of Sharia or “God’s Immutable Law.”  There are many Christians who believe that the Bible trumps the Constitution and there’s often an attempt being made somewhere to put the Ten Commandments on public property.

One of the many problems that arise when combining religious and political leadership is that only those in power are allowed to determine God’s will.  Theocrats have a long history of interpreting religion in a way that bolsters their worldly ambitions yet their edicts carry divine sanction.

King George III, the British monarch the American colonies rebelled against, was believed to “rule by the grace of God.”  Thus the colonists’ act of rebellion wasn’t just political – they were deliberately defying God’s will.

And it wasn’t just the British – until modern times all European regents were believed to have been selected by God.  Though some of our founders wanted America to be a theocracy, the danger for abuse was too well known.  So rather than place government in the hands of God, our founders gave it to the people instead.

It wouldn’t surprise me if today some people are questioning the wisdom of allowing the people to choose our leaders.  Nebraska’s governor is using his personal wealth to elect state senators who will blindly support his agenda.  And nationally one need only scan the headlines to question the choices our nation made last November.

But that’s the risk of democracy.  Individuals sometimes make poor decisions, and sometimes our nation does too.  This shouldn’t serve as a condemnation of democracy; it is instead a stark reminder of how serious the business of selecting our leaders is.

Yet even as we struggle with the consequences of our electoral choices, events this past Saturday serve to illustrate what I believe is the true character of “we the people.”  I’m speaking of the way people came together to honor the memory of Sheriff Lawrence Smoyer and Constable William Wathen, two Boone County law officers who were killed 80 years ago by unknown gunmen.

As a member of the group organizing this project, I witnessed a variety of people gather voluntarily, starting many months before Saturday’s events, to design the monument, select its location, raise funds, publicize the event and plan a series of activities to honor the memory of these two lawmen.

At the dedication ceremony I witnessed friends and neighbors speak sincerely of courage, responsibility and respect.  I saw hundreds of people arrive, some from many states away, to be a part of this event.  And I saw a lot of volunteers working very hard behind the scenes to make sure everything went well.

This simple, small town event was “we the people” at its finest and reaffirmed our founders’ faith in our ability to work together.  The challenge now is how do we accomplish this as a diverse and increasingly divided nation?