July 08, 2014

Time For a Reset?

A couple of days ago, The Washington Post detailed fresh Snowden Revelations that show, despite year-long denials from intelligence agencies and Congressional puppets, that, in fact, the NSA has been collecting and storing quite personal information and communications of quite innocent American citizens.

We, the American public, are expected – told - to accept such violations in exchange for protection.  

Whatever good intent aside, and in the context of worry for further and worse abuse, the insightful words of one of our founding fathers ring stridently: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” (Ben Franklin).

How did we get here?

Ours is a young country.  Less than 250 years old, a pre-teen on the global stage.

Yet, we have accomplished great and wondrous things.

We are an exceptional nation.  But, we are losing our way.  

A bit of historical perspective:

Our early “manifest” expansionism aside, we entered the 20th century isolationist at heart, still stinging from a brutal civil war, still a largely rural and agrarian nation.

Even so, wary of “European entanglements,” we stormed the Continent - to preserve it - during the First World War.

And we recoiled thereafter, an uncertain world power.

Yet, short decades later, we returned to the global stage, once again to preserve a better world, still somewhat naïve, but committed, dedicated, inspired by the ideals that birthed our nation.

Fifty years of Cold War followed.

One of two global superpowers, we sparred and parried with our adversary for five decades, growing a culture of fear within our own borders, “us-vs.-them” a constant drumbeat in our day-to-day lives.

And then, after fifty years, the walls came down.  We emerged, alone, we believed, and deserving, we believed, to serve as a compass for the world.

There followed a decade of respite, relative peace, freedom from cultured fear, and irrational commercial exuberance tied to a revolutionary life-changing, people-connecting wonder.

The Internet changed the way we live and work, and offered liberation to peoples across the globe.

Then the bubble burst.  And then the towers fell.

A culture of fear was reborn.  And our confidence in our exceptionalism and invulnerability were profoundly shaken.

This is the moment in time when we began to lose our way.  The “them” facing “us” context was no longer as black and white as it once seemed to be.  Threats – real or perceived – were everywhere.

Over the last decade, we have succumbed to our culture of fear, we have sacrificed our liberties in a largely vain pursuit of security.  Indeed, we are highly unlikely any more secure from falling towers today than we were on 9-11.

Yet worse, insecure, we have barricaded ourselves behind a wall of self-perceived exceptionalism that flies in the face of what should be the welcome embrace of existing and emerging peers on the global stage.

We are no less exceptional than our past has proven and merited.  But that does not mean that others cannot also be exceptional.  We need to regain perspective.

We have indeed accomplished great and wondrous things. 

We can continue to do so.

For the better part of the last century we have been a tide lifting many boats.

We can continue to be such.

But we need a reset.

We have become a nation often obsessed with absurdities, as often willfully-ignorant, sometimes possessed with delusions of grandeur, progressively divided by “partisan” or other artificial barriers, increasingly lied to by our government, as we also lie to ourselves…

We have, indeed - at least to some extent - lost our way. 

But, it is not too late to re-discover the path we pioneered.  

We – as an informed and civil nation - really need to have a very frank and serious conversation about how we arrived at today, and where we want to go tomorrow.