We need to come about our values have gone awry
Meserve, Harry C
THE PHRASE IS FAMILIAR to anyone who has ever sailed boats, large or small. When one comes about, one does not change the mark but the side of the vessel the wind strikes and the side where the sail is set. Heading toward a windward mark, coming about is a frequent act that changes the strategy but not the basic purpose.
All my life I have hoped and believed that government was the instrumentality through which social ideals like economic justice, racial equality, freedom of mind and spirit, and compassion for those in deepest need could best be achieved and protected. Now I am coming about. I seriously question whether we can trust that government will help us reach these ideal marks. We have stumbled or been coaxed and pushed into a situation where we have no major party deeply committed to these democratic ideals. Money and corporate welfare for the big companies and well-heeled people who profit from them now constitute the brisk wind the ship of state sails by. Government may do things to you, but it is certainly not of, by, and for the people. I’m not an anarchist, just a watchman.
Now we have the depressing spectacle of two parties that shamelessly buy votes and have tacitly agreed to do nothing to correct the situation except talk about it. They have failed so far to create any kind of comprehensive health care system. We have the largest prison population in the world in proportion to our size, and we have the most powerful military establishment, treated by government as if it were sacred. (Who needs an established church?) Our schools, natural environment, roads, bridges, railroads, relief for the poor, cultural and artistic institutions, and many other concerns of a truly democratic state must accept handouts from what’s left over.
We don’t pay our dues to the UN, though we continue to push its members around. We are becoming, if our government is any indication, a morally shabby nation more concerned with pork than with people, with profit for a few than with justice and humanity for all. Some vestiges of our former values continue, and we must preserve them; but we must find credible alternatives for the protection and extension of social concerns. Where shall we look?
We should look to the schools, where some of the most concerned people try to make up for the failure of government to support them adequately. We should look to the churches of all denominations and creeds, where there is a reservoir of goodwill and compassion with social skills as yet untapped. We should look to the agencies that are continuing the long struggle to protect our natural environment. All life depends on that effort. We should look to the labor unions that are showing growth and political power. We should look to our communities and the private groups in them that create and spread constructive ideas for social recovery and change. We should look to the poor, the homeless, the people who have been forced out of our society but are capable of turning things around if given encouragement. We should look to our colleges and universities where there are many scholars and scientists who have not sold out to big business or the military. An alliance of these groups could make the difference. We do need a third party.
I do not despair of our government. There are heroes and heroines who are doing the best they can. Viva Wellstone and his ilk. But we are suffering from what William James called “the moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitchgoddess success.” The best cure is to go back to the sources of ethics: the minds and consciences of individuals and their voluntary efforts for the public good.
Our ship of state is a good ship, well made and durable, but it is off course. It needs to come about, trim sail, and go for the mark of a just and cormpassionate society. *
Copyright The Human Quest Mar/Apr 1998
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