TBD on Ning

The man looked into the mirror and saw staring back at him a handsome, youthful gentleman with flowing black hair, flawless skin, broad shoulders, and washboard abs. This was notable, especially in light of the fact that the man was way past his prime, graying and balding, with liver spots, toothpick arms and legs and a belly that almost reached his knees. Still, his image of himself continued to favorably embellish what his eyes saw in the mirror, and he smiled to himself, satisfied.

Is this scene a metaphor for the United States? It would seem so. True, there are individual moments of courage, confidence, or insight. There are even times when communities temporarily behave as though the stated ideals of the country were, indeed, how we conduct our lives. Everyone can name an example or two of people or small groups personifying our lofty ideals (or even our less lofty goals of relative fairness or equitable treatment of others.) These represent our image of ourselves—the way we prefer to see ourselves in the mirror—handsome, youthful, capable, caring, and wise. Yet is that how we really are? Is that how we appear to others?

From what I've been able to see, just how "handsome" the nation appears depends quite a bit on how well, how long, and in how many places you look. Some of us are in serious and complete denial. Others know how we really look, but get furious if anyone dares to speak the truth to us. Still others recognize that we are not what we once hoped to aspire to, but prefer to see our "potential," and focus on what we "could be," rather than what we are. Understandable? Sure. Helpful? Probably not.

Collectively we're acting as though we are "past our prime," "arthritic," fearful of the future, and more interested in "reliving past glories" than looking bravely into the future with purpose. While some are trying to forge a strong future in a changing global environment, other are trying their hardest to drag the nation back to the 1940's or before. We all know (or should) that democracy is usually a messy, rather inefficient process. We have long ago accepted that characteristic of our form of government. Lately, however, we have seemed paralyzed, whether with fear or indecision, it matters not. Like an old man suddenly deprived of his walker, we teeter on unsure legs, fearful on walking into the future, but mostly unwilling to sit back down and give up.

The world is not waiting. Time is not waiting. With the US taking the role of the sleeping hare, the rest of the world, even encumbered by a tortoise shell, plods steadily past us. China and Germany surge ahead with green technology and research. We fall further and further behind in educational prowess. In the Midwest, where I write this, people still think of Africa as a backward continent with backward people and backward technology, yet many young Africans are increasingly urban and in some places most every child either has a computer themselves or has ready access to one. Many young Africans could "mop the floor" with the vast majority of students in the United States scholastically, yet the image of the United States educational superiority persists. That dang mirror again.

In 2008, I thought we could get past our myopia and senseless narcissism and clearly assess our position in the world while outlining a path to secure our future. Now I'm not so sure. While we argue and fight over minutia, or try to undermine our bill of rights for fear of one group or another "losing power," the rest of the world steps boldly into the future. While the "Arab Spring" reaffirms human rights and democracy in their own region, we curtail and squash democratically elected officials in Michigan, take away collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Ohio, racially profile in Arizona and Alabama, and re-establish new versions of poll taxes and literacy tests that increase voter registrations and voting restrictions.

Indeed, I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Star Trek. Seven of Nine, a Borg/Human hybrid, is talking to Commander Chakotay about human wavering and indecision after reaching an agreement with Captain Janeway (Chakotay's C.O.) which the Commander now wants to abandon.

She says, "When your captain first approached us we suspected that an agreement with humans would prove impossible to maintain. You are erratic, conflicted, disorganized. Every decision is debated, every action questioned. Every individual entitled to their own small opinion. You lack harmony, cohesion, greatness. It will be your undoing."

It is also one of our strengths, but that doesn't mean the Seven of Nine was (or will be) wrong. We do need to debate and question, but we also need to act, and act together if we are to compete with the other nations of the world, or indeed, to prosper.

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Comment by Maricel Evasco on June 16, 2011 at 2:23pm

To restore hope in our greatness... here is a passage I saved from an email from a buddy an AOL.

We still have the ability/potential to embrace freedom. No country has as much freedom of speech as we do.


America is an 'anything goes' culture. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave--those brave enough to embrace freedom. That means freedom for everyone. Freedom to retain one's culture. Freedom to adopt another. Freedom to speak out against prejudice. Freedom to BE prejudiced. In a free society, the good comes with the bad and that in itself is subject to interpretation. It should be anarchy here--and often feels that it is--but it is the absolute devotion to freedom that we Americans hold as our basic and inalienable truth that keeps it from being so. We are held in line by our opposites. Without those opposite views and values, freedom would cease to exist. 
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction--it holds true in every aspect of life. For every person who says "be like the rest of us or go home!" there is another who says, "I'm not like you and I AM home!"
We don't have to ascribe to another's beliefs or values or biases to respect that person's right to have them. I can despise everything the KKK stands for but the fact that they have a right and a liberty to ascribe to it themselves is sacred. We, as Americans, MUST remember that. To forget it allows might to make right. It allows genocide, witch burnings, gay bashing and censorship.
Comment by Maricel Evasco on June 16, 2011 at 2:15pm

I admire your eloquence and insights Vernon, but I would like to add a feedback which may or may not cause offense. There is a very strong Boomer patina underlying your assessment of the current state of our nation.  "Collectively we're acting as though we are "past our prime," "arthritic," fearful of the future, and more interested in "reliving past glories" than looking bravely into the future with purpose."  Many in my generation do not have the reference points of "past glories" and though we look to the future with trepidation, it is not fear that underscores that trepidation, but rather a sense of resignment that we have a lot of work ahead of us.


For those of us who grew up early in the digital revolution, our perception of change is a bit different that generations prior. We were conditioned to expect rapid change as a natural part of digital evolution, a mindset which transfer to other parts of our lives. To us, the end products are moving targets, always changing. We have developed a tolerance for rapid change and even instability, but not for intolerance and inhumanity. I think many of my contemporaries tend to have a pragmatic outlook about our future, dismal as it seems. I also think that many in my generation look at technology as the means to change our world.  I do not believe the USA is past her prime. After all we are only 200 something years....I think we just got too cocky and we're paying the price for our narcissism. I have great faith we'll get our game back, maybe not as a team leader, but a key player in global evolution.

Comment by Bob Stepp on June 16, 2011 at 10:30am
Well written, and unfortunately very true.
Comment by funesthememorious on June 16, 2011 at 5:19am

An instant replay of Wisconsin is occurring in 'progressive' New York. Cuomo,  the Democratic governor who was voted in as the lesser of two evils, ( the other being the ignorant bigot Carl Paladino ) is strong arming the CSEA and PEF unions to give up medical/sick time benefits and threatening massive layoffs. 

Republicans/Democrats have morphed into varying shades of the Tea Party philosophy...a continued support of the same economic pyramid - shit flowing down to the workers at the bottom and money flowing up to the elite and powerful at the top. There are viable third party alternatives supporting a radical democracy, such as the Green and Socialist parties.    

The market can not be allowed to make social and political decisions, corporations must not be given total freedom, trade unions should be a strong component of the workplace, government should not reduce its role in the economy, and people must be given adequate social protection. 


Oh, and things are a lot worse than they appear.



Comment by CWO3ROBBIE on June 15, 2011 at 7:32pm
Vernon, I have read it. I cannot disagree. However, the unresolved question remains; which proposed solution should we chose?



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