We live in a culture today that makes feigned reference to the rugged individualist when in fact our country wasn’t built on the Marlboro man cowboy fantasy but as a nation of communal barn builders where neighbor helped neighbor. Our politicians implore us all to take personal responsibility for our lives and if somehow we are not successful that we are to “blame ourselves” (to quote Allen West). There is a philosophical war that has been fought in this country since before the civil war and it has to do with the nature of humanity and how we care for one another. The Puritans evidently came to this country to live an even more oppressive life than they were allowed to live in Europe. My grandparents were hellfire reformed church preachers. As today, they believed that Man is wretched and we are all scum in the eyes of God. Some are ordained to be saved, others to be damned. As this theology of its originator, John Calvin, has morphed and been perverted, it has become the foundation of a vast swath of our American culture to justify greed. The true American philosophers, however, were those we called the Transcendentalists; The most prominent and well known (at least by name) were Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. I think that if we were to understand and take to heart more of what these great thinkers espoused and how they stood in defiance of inequality, oppression and greed, we would be able to have a more intelligent conversation of what it means to be free.
Too often today, Calvinism forms the basis of religious and political thought – that capitalism is the measure of human worth and that you can know who is divinely chosen by their wealth. Those who believe this, even though they don’t even know anything about the Calvinist origins of their thinking, have chosen a pseudo-intellectualist and sociopathic author, Ayn Rand, as their champion. If one stands against this, the quick McPhilosophy or mindless response is to label someone a socialist (most these days not having one clue as to what that really means).
If we could resurrect the deep thought of those who taught that all people are one and that no one is superior in any fashion to another, perhaps, like Thoreau, we would spend more time caring for one another and sit amongst our bean fields contemplating the deeper thoughts of life. Indeed, it seems likely that we would learn to sit still and quit running east looking for a sunset. Our country is badly off course and inequality of wealth is being hoarded at the very top as though they did anything legitimate to earn it. We don’t need to look to Stalinist Russia for a scapegoat. We simply need to understand that there is another way of looking at true American Freedom and what that really means. Our philosophers are still here and now, unfortunately, to hear them requires that one put down the remote and read. If we agree that America has lost its way and that our founders never wanted us to become an empire in the way the Romans, The Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Soviets and the English all have tried and failed, the Transcendentalists of our own land and our own history point us in the direction that could restore us to a peaceful and pastoral land.
When you have some time, this is a 6 part series on Emerson. The Calvinist/Baptist offshoots all have the megaphone of these ridiculous “church” monstrosities that have sprung up in the past 30 years. Because we don’t value philosophy in our education departments anymore and religion is too concerned whether or not we are descended from apes, the greatest minds this country has ever produced are being lost in the cacophony of nonsensical noise we call consumerism.
Think local, think community. Think peace. Re-learn how to share and care.