“I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”
― Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
Yesterday marked the 281st birthday of America’s Revolutionary War era political philosopher, Thomas Paine.
Paine was born in 1737 in England (in the modern Gregorian calendar his birthdate moved to February 9th) and he emigrated to the colonies in 1774 – not coincidently, just in time for the coming revolution.
He was the author of the well-known, and well-regarded, revolutionary war essay collection Common Sense, as well as The Rights of Man. He also penned the Age of Reason, although his expressed opposition to organized religion diminished his popularity somewhat, at the time.
“That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of nations, is as shocking as it is true; but when those who are concerned in the government of a country, make it their study to sow discord and cultivate predjudices between nations, it becomes the more unpardonable.”
― Thomas Paine, Rights of Man
Image from http://www.biography.com/people/thomas-paine-9431951
I’ve shared this quote from our 7th President, Andrew Jackson in previous Januaries, but given what’s been going on recently in our nation’s capital, and Donald Trump’s apparent admiration for Jackson – another populist with somewhat conflicted views on State Rights vs Federal Mandates – it seemed worthwhile, and meaningful, to share it again now – one year after the inaugural weekend.
“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.”
Image bowrrowed from history.com
The past couple of weeks, and this week in particular, has seen an incredible display of hypocrisy, willful ignorance, and a blatant lack of a moral compass from so many in Washington – and more alarmingly, from their supporters. From those that see any behavior acceptable as long as the one doing the misbehaving, or saying the disturbing things, is if the same political party or religious denomination. Anything is better than ‘the other’.
Ultimately it is only by our actions, by the things we say and do, that we demonstrate to ourselves, and others, who we really are. Find our purpose. Avoid hypocrisy.
When our values are at odds with our actions, that is when we suffer the greatest turmoil. In order to be at peace with ourselves, we have to live our values. As John Ruskin put it over 150 years ago, “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.” True words indeed.
Hoping for a better week.
And yes, December has brought cold and snow to much of the country, including here in the Northeast – photo taken last night as the snow was winding down.
“As heirs to a legacy more than two centuries old, it is understandable why present-day Americans would take their own democracy for granted. A president freely chosen from a wide-open field of two men every four years; a Congress with a 99% incumbency rate; a Supreme Court comprised of nine politically appointed judges whose only oversight is the icy scythe of Death — all these reveal a system fully capable of maintaining itself. But our perfect democracy, which neither needs nor particularly wants voters, is a rarity. It is important to remember there still exist other forms of government in the world today, and that dozens of foreign countries still long for a democracy such as ours to be imposed on them.”
— Jon Stewart, “America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction”
Yes, I know off-cycle elections aren’t very exciting for most of us, but keeping abreast of local politics, and participating, is actually the only way to understand what’s gone wrong at the state and national levels.
So, if you are eligible to vote, and have an election happening in your area – please get out there and VOTE!
With no time today for commentary on several things that need commentary, I instead found myself thinking of this quote from Elie Weisel:
“We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.”
Something we should try to keep in mind more often.