Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Democracy Takes Hard Work

While sifting through my postings from earlier this semester I came upon something that I think really sums up some of my views on Democracy after our semester-long discussion of what democracy truly means in America. I've reposted it here, as I think it serves as a good reminder to us all whenever ''the going gets tough''and we feel discouraged.

"When we expect liberty and justice to appear miraculously, like fast food, without more rigorous forms of participation, definition, and sacrifice, we are like farmers who curse the dirt and pray for rain, but "want crops without plowing the ground. Yet some people are already plowing" (Stout 289-290).

This quote comes from Jeffrey Stout's book Blessed are the Organized Like so many of the authors we have been reading this semester (Putnam, Tocqueville, to name a few) Stout calls for the need for association and mobilization of the populace towards a grassroots democracy. This quote was a great analogy for me: it compared the democratic ideals we are striving for to farming, and reminded me of how it takes hard work in order to get somewhere. We cannot just expect that things will happen overnight and on an individual level we all need to put in the effort and sacrifice to see it succeed. However, first we must "plow the ground" and lay the foundation in order to see it succeed.

Symbolism Inherent in Transformation Spurred by Westward Expansion

As Neihart writes in Black Elk Speaks, "During the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, cutting the hair, together with the change to Euro-American style clothing, was symbolic of Lakota men's acceptance of the white men's way of life. When boys attended school their braids were shorn away, their hair was cut short, and they could no longer wear breechcloths and blankets. By the 1930s, only a few men refused to cut their hair. They were called "long hairs," a term that designated not merely their hairstyle but their orientation to traditional Lakota culture" (xxi). This footnote provides interesting insight into the life of the Lakotas, and in the extinction of much of their culture in the face of westward expansion of the European settlers. Their hair was an integral part of their identity and so losing their hair, after already being forced to conceed their land, was the last heartbreak for many of these Indians. Furthermore I think it's important to note how this practice occurred primarily in schools--something that would generally be seen as surprising today, given the uproar in many countries like America and the United States about freedom of expression to wear headscarves and other religious or culturally-designated items or practices. Nonetheless, though many Lakotas felt that they lost the last shred of their identity with the cutting of their hair a few resisted the Western influence, and those "long hairs" are still remembered to this day. Regardless though this is yet another aspect of native american lifestyle that was forced to go to the wayside when confronted by Western expansion.

Bin Laden through Walt Whitman's Eyes

As I wrote in Democratic Vistas, "it may be, a single new thought, imagination, abstract principle, even literary style ..and projected among mankind, may duly cause changes, growths, removals, greater than the longest and bloodiest war, or the most stupendous merely political, dynastic, or commercial overturn" (761). Personally I find it so intriguing to see the effects that Bin Laden has had upon the American psyche. Children who have grown up since 2001 believe that the intensive screening practices at airports are normal, and live in a heightened state of fear regarding terrorist attacks that had never existed before. Bin Laden and his subsequent death have powerfully shaped people's perceptions about America today, impacting their beliefs about safety, acceptability of wiretapping and increasing worries. One single man is seen (though perhaps mistakenly) at the root cause of it all, and so for this reason many people naturally rejoice in light of his death.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Reactions to A Country's Troubled History

In conjunction with the pronoun use that we discussed in AmCon this past week I was reminded of something that we have been talking about in Social Psychology looking at groups. We have been looking at ingroup attitudes and actions, and learned about how since the aftermath of Nazi Germany Germans sing only one verse of their national anthem, and sing it only at sporting events. This stems from the shame that the country still feels for the actions of Hitler and others responsible for the Holocaust. I also found this interesting in light of how patriotic America is; in our country our loyalty to our nation and the principles upon which it is founded (freedom, democracy, equality amongst our nation's many grand ideals) are an immense source of pride and expressing that through our own anthem and other patriotic acts are vital to bringing all of us together, uniting us as Americans. Given my own experiences as an American citizen it is interesting to learn that Germany doesn't have anything like that, having lost it since the Holocaust--though it clearly makes sense in light of the nations' history.

Guilt from our Predecessors Passed-Down

In our section of AmCon this week we had an interesting discussion about something that I have always found curious. While discussing Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt many of us used the pronoun "we" when referring to the European settlers who oppressed the Native American people. Someone commented upon this trend and we had a discussion about it. I have always found this to be an interesting trend amongst Americans today. It can be so easy to use "we" rather than "they"--why do we fall into this pattern? As Zoe rightly pointed out, today we as Americans really have little to no more relation to the European settlers than to the Native Americans. So why do we say "we" oppressed "them"? One of the things that I think plays a powerful role in fostering this tendency is the way in which we are taught American history in schools today. As far back as elementary school I can remember talking about the Native Americans and that it is more often taught using these same pronouns--therefore as a country and an education system our society is almost conditioning students into adopting this mindset. However, as this discussion reminded me, it is important to remember that this is not really the way things were. Americans today should not label them as "we"; rather when discussing the events of our past should say "they" because really American citizens today really had no impact on the oppression.

Though we can feel badly that the oppression of the Native Americans occurred we cannot (and should not) lump ourselves together with them because in reality the European settlers are no more related to us than the Native Americans and we should not take responsibility for their actions.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Don't Let the Bastards Scare You

One of the lines that I found particularly memorable in Dan Rather’s speech earlier this week was to “not let the ‘bastards’ scare you”. He was referring to the government and heads of news agencies that exerted pressure on him and other reporters to censor what they said or to skew the story in a certain manner. Rather acknowledged that a reporter (and people in virtually any line of work) can meet bastards “anywhere and at any time, but that ‘they’ should not discourage ‘us’”. I found this to be particularly moving. His use of ‘they’ and ‘us’ drew us together as a collective with him, which was a powerful tool in his speech. His acknowledgement that we will all face ‘bastards’ who tell us we can’t do something or shouldn’t. We are not alone in the fight, it is something that people all over the country are facing (and in our nation’s history have faced) against those who want to benefit from the system in unfair ways—whether that be from discrimination, censorship, or merely preventing us from pursuing our passions for their own monetary gains or personal satisfaction. I found this to be incredibly inspirational, and it was something that I will definitely take with me for comfort that I am not alone when I face adversity in my own life.

The Need for Relationships and the Expression of Gratitude in Our Lives

When Dan Rather mentioned in his speech that he has been married to his wife for almost fifty-four years, I have to admit I was surprised. That is a long time. Especially when compared to today’s statistic that almost fifty percent of marriages will end in divorce. Clearly Rather and his wife must be doing something right. A key thing to relationships is helping one another grow. In Prager's book Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Repair Manual the author talked about the need for relationships in order to be happy. Looking specifically at romantic relationships he said that we seek them out because we find meaning in fulfilling others’ needs. The bond found in intimate relationships is like no other.

In Rather’s case his relationship with his wife has clearly played a key role in his life. For example even look at the story he told at the beginning of his speech about the trip his wife decided they needed to make to her hometown. She felt Rather’s accomplishments were going to his head and efforts needed to be made to make him more humble. When Rather commented that if she had married her high school sweetheart she could have ended up helping to manage his convenience station she had a great response. She said something to the effect of “no, if I had ended up marrying him he would have ended up as the talk host for Good Morning America”. Dan Rather and his wife reminded me of how relationships are there to provide us with support and to give us the feeling that we are needed by somebody else. For Rather they help to keep him humble and for all of us can serve as means of growth and maturity.

Also, we must remember to appreciate what we have. The fact we live in America, something that we so often take for granted, is something to be thankful for. We live in a democracy where our voice can be heard and every citizen granted a right to vote. Rather told us that we should also express thanks for the incredible opportunity to go to St. Olaf. Sure things are not perfect at our school or in our country but they could be so much worse. For that we must always be fortunate.