This morning I read a couple of pieces, one in the NY Times by David Brooks, "The Education of Robert Kennedy," and the other, "The job's not done," in the Roanoke Times by Jerry Fuhrman.
It occurs to me that one article is talking about learning the past while the other hopes to preserve the past by legislating it. Last night we stopped by one of our favorite spots in Croatan National Forest to watch the sunset. A mother was there with her young son. We did not notice him until we got close to the water. He was climbing high up in a tree. Eventually we struck up a conversation as we watched the sun burn into the water.
She said that she wanted her son to feel like he owned the world. She did not want him to live in a world of "no you cannot do that." That is probably an admirable strategy as long as there are limits to that ownership and an added measure of responsibility.
I am a believer in the government staying out of our lives as much as possible so we do have a chance to fairly own a piece of our world. Having the government outlaw same sex marriage in our state constitution will have little impact on whether or not people form same sex unions.
It will not change most people's opportunity to be happy. It certainly will not help improve the lot of people in same sex unions who help drive our economy just as much as those in same sex marriages.
It is a interesting idea that we can create a more comfortable or safer society by trying to legislate people to be like us. We are actually better off building a society that excludes no one except those who are a real danger to us. You should take that to mean, that I am not in favor of holding people indefinitely without trial on charges just because they do not look like me or do not worship the same way that I do.
Is affirmative action a danger to our society? I can think of plenty of other dangers that I would put well ahead of it. If you want to see how American culture has changed for the worst, spend some time in our corporations that are held so dear by many in our society. I wrote about this new corporate society, "Cult of the Buddies," back in December 2004. That new corporate society is a far greater danger to American life than any affirmative action. If your position in the corporation has more to do with who you know than what you can accomplish, we have some very serious structural problems.
Our experiences shape our prejudices and even how we write. My life in Apple's buddy dominated corporate world colors how I see corporations. I tend to view governmental power from the perspective of someone who got whacked on the head while attempting to go get a burger during the student marches in Cambridge in the late sixties.
I would like to see government have as little power as possible while still meeting our basic needs which in my mind do not include invading places like Iraq for specious reasons but do include providing basic health care for its population.
We have to understand in our minds what government can and cannot do. Government can legislate all it wants, but if there is no enforcement there, then the legislation is worthless. We have laws about age discrimination in business, but talk to any male over fifty in the high tech world, and you will realize that most companies consider older employees an expensive burden even if the employees are highly qualified. The laws are on the books, but with the current state of enforcement the companies can do whatever they want including putting older employees into situations where there is not a chance to do anything but fail. It has even reached the stage that there are Dilbert cartoons on older high tech workers like these published this past Thursday and Friday.
Can government fix this? I seriously doubt it, and the cost would likely be prohibitive. Can government legislate marriage between a man and a woman? I have no doubt that government will try to do that, but I suspect over time it will fail.
We can all yearn for the fifties and sixties, like George Will in his "In the market for the '50s," or me in my post, "Growing Up in the Fifties and Sixties." Yet, society will change in spite of our desire to legislate it into the past. The best we can do is learn from the past and build a society that puts as few people at a disadvantage as possible. That likely means protecting the rights of everyone to be free from the "Tyranny of the Majority" or those who happen to be in power at a given moment in time.
If you think that power always stays in the same hands, that walls can protect our country, or that we can legislate how people live, remember that in ancient Greece, Sparta fell after it built its first wall.
David Brooks closes his article with this very poignant observation.
And the lesson, of course, is about the need to step outside your own
immediate experience into the past, to learn about the problems that
never change, and bring back some of that inheritance. The leaders who
founded the country were steeped in the classics, Kennedy found them in
crisis, and todayâ€™s students are lucky if they stumble on them by
And so here we are reliving the past in foreign policy because those in power thought they were immune from the lessons of history and that they owned the world.