Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.
We are born, we live a little while and then we die and will someday be forgotten. No man, no matter his contribution to humanity, can change the tides of time. No matter your race, creed, wealth, or lack thereof, faith or lack thereof, political leanings or lack thereof, the world keeps turning and time moves ever on.
What matters is not how we die but how we live. Do we wake up, go through our routine, and go to bed? Lather, rinse, repeat until the end? Or do we work with those around us to make the world a better place for those that come after?
We can never recapture the past, no matter how we try. We can only live our time allotted and hope that we made a difference, no matter how small. We stand on the shoulders of those that came before and give a boost to those to follow.
The how of it is the thing. How do we make a difference? We can’t all cure cancer or solve our climate problems. There are those out there living today who may hold those answers but for most of us, we can’t effect change on a grand scale by our lonesomes. We can make a change, however, by working together.
English poet John Donne once wrote: No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
I am involved in mankind. Aye, there’s the rub. We have been taught so well to believe that we are that island. The cult of individuality is a sickness that has played no small part in the mess we find ourselves in today. In the midst of a raging pandemic that requires us all to play our part, some are convinced their individuality is more important than their fellow man. They no longer see themselves as involved in mankind.
If America were an individual patient seeking healthcare in these United States, he’d be denied insurance because of preexisting conditions.
That cult of individuality is like heart disease. It might just kill us unless we find a way to change our diet of fast food-like quick answers that shift the blame to the elusive “other”; at once absolving us of blame and building walls to keep us apart.
Systemic racism is the hypertension of our public body. One part genetic and one part learned. Anti-racism is the medicine to help us unravel what’s been seemingly designed to perpetuate from our founding, but by itself, it won’t solve the problem. We must change the way we think. Reduce our intake of salt that sows discord and greed.
Income inequality is like diabetes. It affects people differently. Some can control it through a diet of caring and sharing. Others need intervention to see what’s missing. Left alone it’ll kill as thoroughly as any of the others. Hypermasculinity, homophobia, and misogyny are the mental disorders that plague our thinking. They make us lash out, drive some to despair, and others to violence.
No American insurance company would look at a list of preexisting conditions like this and want to take on the patient destined to cost them money in one form or another. But unlike the elderly uncle who stews in his own anger and futile ways of viewing the world, we can’t just ignore the problem. Because that uncle resides in each of our families. Maybe he’s our parents. Maybe he’s our sister. Maybe he’s us. But he’s not happy and he’s not afraid to share that misery. There are enough people out there just like him that we ignore him at our own peril.
If our nation is sick and we the public body of that nation are plagued with all these preexisting conditions, what are we to do? Do we accept our decline and wait for the end? Or do we fight to stay alive?
The powers that be believe they’ve got us under their control. They’ve convinced so many of us that nothing can be done or worse, that we just need to go back to “the way things were” when America and American exceptionalism seemed to rule the world. The problem is that American exceptionalism is as much a diseased way of thinking as racism, classism or sexism. American exceptionalism died on December 7, 1972. That’s the day the last Apollo mission launched. Fitting somehow that came 30 years after Pearl Harbor. In those 30 years we did some damn amazing things. We fought and won a World War, harnessed the atom, created Medicare, passed the Voting Rights Act, made segregation illegal and passed the Civil Rights Act, built the Interstate Highway system, and put a man on the moon. The period from the end of World War II to the early 1970s was a golden era of economic growth. The G.I. Bill financed a well-educated workforce. The middle class swelled, as did GDP and productivity.
Of course, some of the things we did in the name of American exceptionalism weren’t so hot. We divided up eastern Europe, jump starting the Cold War. We started wars in Korea and Vietnam, and lost. We used our understanding of the atom to make bombs, which we dropped on Japan, nearly used against Russia over Cuba and kept building until we had an arsenal big enough to kill every man, woman and child on the planet. Twice over. We turned weapons on student protestors at Kent State and caught five men breaking into the Watergate.
Goddamn, did we try. We came so close but our better angels lost out to greed.
That’s not to say that positive things didn’t happen in the years after 1972. Computers kept getting smaller until Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak came up with a version for consumers. Sandra Day O’Connor became the first women Supreme Court Justice in 1981. Barack Obama became our first Black president in 2008. The Supreme Court granted marriage equality to same-sex couples in 2015. Today, our smartphones have more computing power than over 120 million IBM System/360 computers. That’s the one the size of a car that got men to the moon.
So sure, our technology is exceptional but it’s not entirely American in origin. We live in a global economy. The chips in that smartphone are built in China. They’re just as likely to have been designed in Europe as the US. The rare earth metals needed to make them work? African. That game you’re playing incessantly on your iPhone? Whoever wrote it could live anywhere in the world. All they need is a computer, a modem and a modicum of entrepreneurship and whammo, profit.
The point is, when you look at American history from 1973 onwards, there’s a litany of real garbage. Nixon and Watergate. Regan and Iran-Contra. Regan and the AIDS epidemic. Regan and deregulation. Gun violence and mass shootings on an ever-increasing scale. 9/11. The Gulf War 1 and 2. Afghanistan. Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, or as I like to call it, you’re damned if you and damned if you don’t. Oil spills so commonplace they hardly make the news. Anti-intellectualism. Fox News. The rich getting richer and the rest of us getting screwed.
And through it all, the powers that be keep telling us how great we are. How all our problems are because of ____. For a long damn while, it was African-Americans, particularly that most dangerous of the species, the Black male. Then it was Brown folk, particularly those lazy Mexicans and Central Americans who mow our lawns, build our houses, pave our roads and pick our food. In the 80s, it was the Gay Agenda wanting to pervert our children. The old reliable is immigrants, the only difference being their nation of origin, usually the largest current group. Sometimes it’s the liberal, the communist, the socialist, the Muslim out to destroy our way of life. Most damn days it seems it’s all the above in some twisted, tangled mass who’s only common denominator is that they aren’t white, male and straight.
So, what do we do? What can we do? They say the first step to overcoming your addiction is to admit that you have a problem. That’s step one, according to Bill. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable”. Ok, take out the bit about “over alcohol” completely. Doesn’t that sound really familiar right about now?
We’ve admitted we have a problem. Yes. Good. We are afflicted with the diseases of systemic racism, income inequality, hypermasculinity and the fear of anything and anyone that doesn’t look, think or act like us. Let’s keep going and see what else AA has to offer us.
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. One of the great things about Alcoholics Anonymous is that it believes the individual should define Power greater than themselves on their own. I’m going to define it as Donne’s involved mankind. The collective we. The antithesis of individualism. We, the people, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. Damn, Tom. You done good.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of that Power as we understood it. Yes. Our collective effort is the only thing that can save us. We must turn to community to fight the injustices of our institutions. Our union, as President Obama said at Representative John Lewis’ funeral, is still a work in progress. The powers that be want us to believe it is inviolate, unchanging and defined. They are wrong. Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Ooh. Here’s where it gets sticky. We must look at ourselves and admit our wrong doing. Are we racist? Are we fearful? Do we look for the easy answers and ignore the big picture because it’s too confusing? Do we care at all? In the life of an alcoholic working the steps, step 4 is amongst the most difficult. Who among us wants to admit our flaws?
Step 5: Admitted to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. So, we’ve looked at ourselves naked in the mirror of truth. Now we have to share what we’ve seen. Remember, what’s going to save us as a nation is our community action and our willingness to transform. That doesn’t happen in a vacuum, hidden from sight. We must be bold. We must admit we don’t know what the hell we’re doing but that we’re sure as hell going to try and do better.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have that Power remove all these defects of character. Hmm, what’s this mean? We’ve looked into ourselves and discovered our flaws and our part in the problems that plague us as a nation. We’ve shared this with others like us. That’s not enough. Now, we have to decide if we’re really willing to change and to do the hard work to form that more perfect union.
Step 7: Humbly asked that Power to remove our shortcomings. If we’re looking at the collective we as our version of the Power greater than ourselves, then it means we have to listen to it, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. And we must be ready to do the work it takes at all times and with the help of our fellow Americans.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Long or short, we must understand who we’ve hurt with both our inaction and action. Were we bystanders who remained quiet? Did we take part in the harm? And just exactly who did we harm? Ourselves included.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. This is where the action comes in. We know who we’ve hurt, what we’ve done and left undone, what we need to change. Now we must act. There’s lots of ways to do this. Join a protest. Vote. Speak up on social media when others spout hate. Vote. Educate yourself and others. And, oh yes, vote.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. Ah. One time isn’t enough. To really change and make it stick, we must keep working. When we’re trying to break a habit, like chewing on our nails, we can’t say we’re gonna stop and think that’s it. One and done. We’re going to backslide. We’re going to get tired. This work is hard, but oh so worth it.
Step 11: Sought through reflection and meditation to improve our conscious contact with that Power as we understood it, praying only for knowledge of its will for us and the power to carry that out. Communication is the key. We are not islands. Keep checking in with others. Keep learning. Keep growing.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Remember that grumpy uncle? Yeah, even him. It seems like a pretty damn insurmountable task. And it is, if we try to do everything at once. You don’t eat that big burrito from Chipotle in one bite. It may be two steps forward and one step back. But, as the immortal Jonathan Larson said in “Rent”, “might as well dance a tango to hell, at least I’ll have tangoed at all.”
The trying is what’s important. Will we see the change we want this year, next year, a decade or more from now? Maybe, maybe not. But if we do nothing, then the grand experiment of American democracy will fail.
We must be a nation of people striving for that more perfect union.