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american democracy
from a post in yesterday's ideofact, this quote from george steiner's novella proofs and three parables,
[.....] To me it sounds like the society that says to every man and woman: “Be what you want to be. Be yourself. The world was not made only for geniuses and neurotics, for the obsessed and the inspired. It was made for you and you and you. If you choose to try and be an artist or a thinker or a pure scholar, that’s fine. We will neither inhibit you nor put you on a pedestal. If you prefer to be a couch-potato, an auto-mechanic, a break-dancer, a mile-runner, a broker, if you prefer to be a truck-driver or even a drifter, that’s fine too. Perhaps even better. Because it so happens that ideological passion and ascetic illumination, that dogma and sacrifice, have not brought only light and aid to this approximate world of ours. They have sown interminable hatred and self-destruction.” And when America says, “Just be yourself,” it is not saying, “Do not better yourself.” It is saying: “Go after that Nobel Prize if that’s what fires your soul. Or that heated swimming pool.” Not because America believes that heated swimming-pools are the Parthenon or even a necessity. But because they do seem to bring pleasure, and not very much harm. “Move up the ladder, if you can,” says America, “because the desire to live decently, to give your family a comfortable home, to send your children to schools better than those you attended yourself, to earn the regard of your neighbors, is not some capitalist vice, but a universal desire. Do you know, Professore, America is just about the first nation and society in human history to encourage common, fallible, frightened humanity to feel at home in its skin.
an eloquent description of american society, probably representative of what most americans feel is and should be the right description of american democracy and what it has to offer the world. the question for me, as someone who was raised in a different and far more conservative environment, is this: is the idealistic picture painted by steiner consistent with my everyday experience?
with the increasing din of jingoistic nationalism, an obvious attempt at the manipulation of public thinking, curbing of rights in the name of national security, the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor, an economy that has steadily spiralled southwards, and the sinful lack of reasoned statesmanship amongst the country's leaders i see things changing to a picture not quite as rosy. is it wrong to say that now american democracy seems poised at a point where it will need to choose between continuing to practice the ideals that have sustained and enhanced it for so long and the proposal to intervene and impose its version of 'the good life' on the rest of the world?
for any sustainable society there must be a fine set of checks and balances. for reasons i've just mentioned and others i might discuss in greater detail in a later post, i'm inclined to disagree with the assertion that in the case of american democracy that perfect balance has been achieved and will thus remain for eternity.

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