Sunday, November 9, 2014

No Balm in Gilead?

It's interesting that we expect others to understand, or at least recognize, phrases or stories taken from the Bible.  The Old and New Testaments have permeated Western imagination and thought, at least to the extent they supply ready grist for a variety of mills, reference points, expressions, thought-images.  The West has other common reference points as well, of course.  Most of us know instantly what is intended when the Trojan Horse is mentioned, for example, or when reference is made to Caesar crossing the Rubicon.  These are commonalities of the Western mind, foundations on which may be placed all manner of constructs and comparisons.  Analogy can instantly prompt understanding in certain cases.

Here I refer to the sickness which characterizes our Great Republic, and the question whether we have become a hopeless case; thus, no balm in Gilead.  Jeremiah 8:22 according helpful Google.  Not quite as common a reference as would be one to the Walls of Jericho, or Daniel in the lion's den, I know, but you see this healing balm referred to by Poe in his poem The Raven, and elsewhere.

I know--you tire as I do of doomsayers.  There are so many of them and they are so insistent and noisy.  This is especially the case, as it always is, with those who have much to lose and are fearful of losing it, and with the old.  What was the case will not be the case, more than likely, and change, though the darling of nature as it was called by Marcus Aurelius, has always evoked fear among those who cannot abide change.  The content are satisfied with what they are and what they have and care next to nothing about anything but remaining content.  When there is a chance that something will happen which would endanger their satisfaction, however, they are rabid in their defense of the status quo. 

"Radical conservatism" has a nice ring to it, but I hesitate to call "conservative" what passes for the Right Wing these days in our Glorious Union.  "Radical" seems an appropriate enough word, however, though "reactionary" may be more appropriate.  Intelligent conservatism doesn't deny that change will occur or maintain that change is in all cases something bad, something to be avoided at all costs.  If that was the case then J.S. Mill's remark that most stupid people are conservatives would be true, as stupidity is required if one is to object to all change, any change.

A true conservative may be cautious in making changes, and leery of social experiments when engaged in by the government, but isn't ipso facto against all change and an unswerving supporter of tradition.  Conservatives once thought, and may even have thought truly, that they were more reasonable than their Liberal counterparts.  But it is necessary to employ reason in order to be reasonable, and reason seems to be something those who style themselves as conservatives now conspicuously lack.

Today's conservatism is in fact anti-reason, anti-science, anti-education.  It scoffs at evidence of climate change.  It would be more reasonable to acknowledge the evidence and do something about it rather than yammering over whether or not it is in whole or in part or not at all related to the conduct of our rapidly multiplying and exceedingly selfish species.  It seeks to require than creationism be taught in school; that homosexual relationships be at best ignored if not criminalized, but in any case recognized as qualitatively different from heterosexual relationships and accorded no status in the law; that our nation involve itself militarily in disputes all over the planet; that drug use be criminalized; media regulated; religion (Christian, that is) not merely tolerated but encouraged and granted special benefits by the law, and seeks to make what was intended to be a secular state assuring religious freedom into a state actively fostering religion of a particular kind.

I don't mean to claim that conservatism is the disease we suffer from, first because conservatism has been jettisoned but also because what may be a fatal disease is one that runs deeper, and has its basis in the abandonment of reason as a guide to conduct.  This has many consequences, but among them is a tendency to tribalism and thoughtless adherence to what is familiar.

What conservatism has lost sight of is its roots in classical liberalism, which emphasized individual rights and civil liberties.  Today's conservatives want people to act in specified ways and to think, if at all, in a particular manner.  They do not want people to have the freedom to live as people themselves think best; they want people to live as they do.  Today's conservatives seek to create their own version of a nanny state, they've merely chosen a different kind of nanny interested in pursuing other goals.  Their nanny is God-fearing, traditional, close-minded, distrustful, insular and unreasonable.

There may in fact be balm in Gilead, though, but if so it is not a balm which need be applied.  Death may be the ultimate medicine for our nation's illness.  Death and globalization. Soon, those who call themselves conservatives will die off, and it is not at all clear that there will be others to take the place.  Unfortunately, it's not likely that this will result from the fact that younger generations will be better educated and more reasonable than their hidebound elders.  It will more likely result from the fact that the traditions to which their elders adhere will dissipate as we all come to be more familiar with different customs, different traditions.

What conservatives should be doing is assuring that reason and science are given prominent places in education and that the young grow used to employing critical thinking in decision making.  This would be the best way to assure that actions are taken only after intelligent consideration.  But critical thinking is not respectful of tradition and generally not indulged in by those who want nothing more than to have things just as they are or were.

No comments:

Post a Comment