Thursday, March 30, 2006

The AJC's Jay Bookman Listens to Our Elders!

I've been enjoying Jay Bookman's work in the AJC for some time. Today's "The dismay of our elders sums up U.S." is especially solid! Looking at the future of the nation, working off some e-mails he gets from older Americans, he gives us in part,

The real problem runs deeper, much deeper, and at its core, I think, lies the fact that out of fear and laziness we insist on trying to address new problems with old ideologies, rhetoric and mind-sets. ...

Our public discourse β€” which ought to be the source of renewal and energy in a democracy β€” has been stripped of meaning, with rudeness now mistaken for eloquence and anger substituting for insight. ...

The words vary from author to author, but the sentiment does not: "This is not the country I wanted to leave my grandchildren . . . Is this what we sacrificed so much for all those years? . . . I really don't understand how it has come to this. . . . We took for granted that in America it would always be better for the next generation, but I can't see that's the case anymore. . . . Where did we go wrong?"

These people are concerned not for themselves, but for what they may soon leave behind. And that concern for the future is all the more remarkable because it is so rare among those of us who are their children and grandchildren.

Unlike our elders, we refuse to tax ourselves to pay for our wars, our roads, our government. We elevate leaders who promise us tax cuts and free services and cheap oil and the strongest military in the world, and we shun any who dare to suggest that sacrifice might be necessary for such things.

Of course, as a nation we have faced worse. The generation that endured the Great Depression only to be hit with World War II had to confront challenges that make our own pale in significance.

Good piece from this good writer. I'd add that I also feel so little faith in our nation's ability to solve problems that face us. Truly leadership will come only when we have an informed and engaged public sending the right folks to DC or Montgomery of Atlanta or ... Jay Bookman beats on the GOP often, appropriately so I'd add, yet today he is an equal opportunity editorialist. Both parties are seemingly stuck in old ideas and rhetoric, twisted around modern circumstances to which they really don't fit.

Given my education background I often turn to our failures here. Yet so much of those limitations are understood by my interactions with parents, colleagues, friends, family, ... when I realize the basic level of ignorance so very common in our society. I am truly amazed at the level of isolation and misunderstanding about government, policy, learning, and the like. It seems that the level of basic knowledge of the world is going backwards rather than forward for the masses.

The Romans used "bread and games" to satiate their crumbling society. Today the U.S. has "bread" in the form of cheap consumer goods and easy credit. It's "games" via American Idol and 24 hours sports and ... American anti-intellectualism has long run deep yet, as one of my Dad's helpers around the farm used to say, "It's getting worser and worser!".

I'll leave you with some quotes that I've tried to share with my students through the years.
β€œThe ideal tyranny is that which is ignorantly self-administered by its victims. The most perfect slaves are, therefore, those which blissfully and unawaredly enslave themselves.” - Dresden James

"Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it's something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles." - Abbie Hoffman

"The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity, since the tastes, knowledge, and principles of the majority form the tribunal of appeal." - James Fenimore Cooper

"The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment." - Robert Hutchins
Peace ... or War!