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Wretched in the Generality 

October 9th, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

I am dumbfounded by my fellow citizens. As I watch social discourse I am reminded of the epigraph of William Shirer’s massive The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, where he quotes Goethe, “I have often felt a bitter sorrow at the thought of the German people, which is so estimable in the individual and so wretched in the generality…”  Shirer set out to record how a nation sure of its civilization and humanity could succumb to the siren-song of Nazism and carry out the most gruesome lawlessness the world has ever seen. As I see Americans respond to tragedy after tragedy, I fear that my country may be sliding down the same slippery slope. 

How can people who profess to believe in the principles of the Enlightenment on which this country was founded, principles that call for life, freedom and equality for all, blithely, almost blindly, argue in favor of inequality and injustice? How can people who claim to subscribe to the idea that all men are endowed with the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness act as if that right is resaved to only some men, those who “look like me?” And how can people who give nod to the right to life enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, a landmark product of the Age of Reason, advocate life-denying policies justified by fictions, lies so blatant a mere glance at the facts would vanquish them? 

And yet this is what drives our national discourse. Otherwise estimable individuals parroting ideas planted in their consciousness by greedy and power-hungry interests seeking to profit from their gullibility, creating a mass of ignorance propelling the nation toward oblivion.  

Dr. King prescribed a solution: a revolution of values. In a speech denouncing the war in Vietnam, he differentiated between the outlook of a thing-oriented society vs. a people-oriented one. What defines our sense of value? Is it really economic well-being? Or is it commitment to the liberation of the human spirit? 

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. 

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. 

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. 

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. 

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood. 

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. [1] 

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence” (lecture, Riverside Church, New York, New York, April 4, 1967), accessed October 9, 2017, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm. 

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