I have a question for Jon Stewart and those organizing the Rally to Restore Sanity this Saturday: Can something be restored that was never present to begin with? “Rally to Foster Less Hatred” might be a more appropriate title considering the general lack of sanity in the American project. I’m not referring only to the tone of violence and hatred that pervades political discourse, but to the insane values that undergird society, such as individualism, capitalism to extremes, uninhibited choice…the list goes on. So, here are 3 American myths that I don’t believe even a rally as exciting as Jon Stewart’s will question deeply:
Myth 1: Everyone and anyone can achieve anything they want to, as long as they work hard for it and never let anyone tell them “no.” This notion of unlimited possibility is quite ludicrous if you stop and think about it. Not everyone can and will be President. No, not everyone will become rich and famous. Not everyone will even graduate from college, even those who try really hard. American “feel good” gospel promotes this rugged achievement idea. While it sounds great in a speech to a group of school kids, it’s not realistic or possible, and does a disservice to noble vocations that aren’t as flashy as political careers. What’s wrong with being a farmer, or a bus driver, or any number of jobs that kids are taught to shoot “beyond?” Of course there are kids who have been told they’re not worth anything and need encouragement to see their own potential, but potential is not measured solely in one’s potential income, but in who they become. We need more speeches that foster the real worth of a person, not that give shallow and trite advice.
Myth 2: As scientific knowledge progresses, we will eventually solve all of the problems we’ve created in our ignorant past. Though this myth is not uniquely American (and indeed we inherited it from the Enlightenment), the myth of progress courses through the veins of American society. We don’t have to consume less because future technology will clean the air, provide guilt-free energy sources, and restore any land damage. This myth has led to the (no offense here, science friends) over-financing of “important” disciplines like Math and Science and the utter disregard for the arts and literature. “Real” jobs work to solve the problems. Yet, in this haste, nothing is ever actually learned from the past, and thus its destructive patterns will be repeated by people operating in the tiniest of contexts, continuing to doom ecosystems and local economies.
Myth 3: Despite it’s failures and problems, “America” is still the best nation on earth and we should be proud of it and those who defend it. I would phrase this as others have: “It may be the best Babylon that ever existed, but it’s still Babylon.” We live in the shadow of an empire and are still called to “come out of her” as were the 7 churches in the Revelation of St. John. Lest we be duped into worshiping the Beast, let’s look to the Lamb who was slain for our salvation and freedom from the clutches of this empire.