I am currently reading Howard Zinn's book "A People's History of the United States", as well as James W. Loewen's book "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong". Reading these two books has reinforced my understanding that every person, without regard for tradition, ethnicity, or class, wants opportunity: an opportunity to thrive as an individual, an opportunity to serve as a member of a welcoming community, and an opportunity to fulfill his or her potential as a human being.
These two books have also showed me once again that American history is a tale of how some people were able to seize opportunities for themselves, how some were denied opportunities, and how some people resisted oppression and prejudice to create new opportunities which had never been imagined before. American history is the legacy of overlapping identities - a process called syncretism, described in Loewen's book as "blending elements of two different cultures to create something new" (Lies, 102).
Syncretism, in its power to combine different cultures and traditions into a greater and more vibrant whole, represents the finest qualities of America. Autonomy. Individualism. The power to decide for yourself. Democracy is the same process of deciding among new choices and options which syncretism uses to create new cultures -- so is capitalism. American encounters with new ideas, and our resulting new creations, give birth to ever sharper and more inclusive societies and economies. Pluralism is the lifeblood of America.
America's mass society is controversial, and there are many public voices who wish to soften or silence it. Traditionalists, the precursor to today's social conservatives, argued that people in a more diverse and less tightly rooted society are more isolated and alienated. These arguments are the start of the movement which complains that traditional values are declining, and unfairly labels those Americans - perceived as foreign and unpatriotic - as lesser citizens, and less worthy of participating equally in America's democratic and economic life.
The ever changing values of America are a strength of our society, and this change is not only compatible with America's political and economic values - this change is essential to preserving those values. A pluralistic and diverse society provides choices for individuals to accept or embrace, and this act of choice is a radical offering. It is a vast departure from previous political and economic arrangements of human history. In nations without these new encounters, confrontations, and choices - without syncretism and pluralism - capitalism becomes feudalism, and democracy becomes dictatorship. Every element of civic life becomes stagnant, and the rule of the public transforms into the rule of the elites. The ancient hierarchy which our Founding Fathers despised and risked their lives to oppose will be viciously restored once syncretism and pluralism are attacked and diminished.
The fight for democracy is the fight of the individual and the community against the hierarchy of the elites and those who would replace the rule of the many with the rule of the few. The greatest danger to a democracy is not that elites will directly deny the rights of the public - the greatest danger is that elites will indirectly deny the rights of the public in such a gradual fashion that no one will notice what has happened until it is too late to reverse the trend.
Elites indirectly rob the public of their ability to participate in democracy when corporations and the highest members of government erode the rule of law by ignoring what the laws say and acting outside the bounds of the law.
Elites rob the public of their rights when individuals cannot choose new alternatives. When there is inadequate funding for education at all levels, when there is rampant unemployment, when people are afraid to start their own businesses because they can't get health insurance, the energy and vitality of our country atrophies. When people have no other options, they will accept their position in society without question. This passive acceptance is poisonous to American greatness.
The consistent rule of law, the ability for all individuals to have equal opportunity to participate in the economy and in their government, and an acceptance of pluralism are all necessary to sustain a thriving democracy. When these three principles are no longer defended, and become degraded, democracy begins to decay.
However, there is nothing else that I can say which will show you what these principles look like in action, other than to give you the best example I have:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Me Lover's Pizza With Crazy Broad|
A man of Lithuanian and Latvian descent loves Italian pizza from New York City! What could be a better example of syncretism and pluralism leading to American greatness? What could be more authentically American than this?!