Monday, January 18, 2010

What Is My Obligation?

M and I met a group of friends last night at BearBQ at Rusty Spurs, J and D and A and a big group of girls. The name might suggest a room full of fat hairy men eating burgers, but the crowd was more diverse. It was packed and fun and not too cold, so with a little help from a few of those tall gas heaters everyone could be out on the patio.

We talked about the Senate election in Massachusetts and how we're all just weary of trying so hard to hold onto the heady optimism we felt when Obama was elected. My friend D said that if the health care bill doesn't pass, he's ready to emigrate. He's sick of the whole thing. How many times have we all told ourselves and our friends just that? Ever since Reagan was elected, we've been saying to each other, "If [blank] happens, I'm leaving." D has spent the last few summers in Mexico and loves it there.

Very tentatively, because I don't know much about Mexican politics and government beyond what I read in American media, I asked if it would be any better there. I wondered if, even with all our frustrations with American government, it isn't at least more stable and less corrupt here than in Mexico. At least here, things that would be remarkable in many countries happen without fail, like for instance the peaceful passing of government from one party to another after an election.

I'm not one of those who believe that despite its flaws the U.S. is better than anywhere else, but I have for the most part always believed in the potential of American democracy for bringing out the best possible kind of society. I've always believed that as we keep working on it and stay vigilant, it gets better and better. ("The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.")

But my faith has been rocked hard by this story confirming the details of the absolutely horrifying things our government is doing. I'm reading G√ľnther Grass's memoir, Peeling the Onion, in which he tries to come to terms with his membership in the SS as a teenager in Nazi Germany. At a time when lots of average folks knew what the Nazis were doing, lots of average folks didn't do much to stop it, and we smugly condemn them. "Good Germans". But what am I doing?

I know that any pontificating I do comes from a place of relative safety and privilege. Though you wouldn't know it from my income these day, I have some tenuous claim to being a member of the privileged class, at least as long as I hide my sexuality. (But in this age of no privacy I'm fooling myself if I believe I can hide that.) For now, unless the Tea Baggers take over, I may be safe. I will probably never be one of the tortured. But what is my obligation, knowing these crimes are being committed by my government?

It's hard to imagine why our elected representatives are not expressing the level of outrage these revelations call for. The reins of government are peacefully passed back and forth, but is that only because they're being passed back and forth among essentially the same people? Are we fooling ourselves, and how much? Knowing what we know about Bush and Cheney's war crimes, and our system's apparent inability to acknowledge and condemn the crimes, I wonder how it can be possible any more to assume the best of our government.

1 comment:

ep said...

Hmmm...an interesting post for MLK Day. Students of history know that these atrocities have been committed by humans to other humans, for whatever reasons, as long as there have been humans. Running away is not an answer, or even a statement, I don't think. The U.S. government has tons of problems. I can tell you as a federal employee that getting anything done can be a struggle. But there is a huge change, just in the attitude towards trying to get things done in the last few months. I can feel it here in DC. Trying to fix things, working towards that, as MLK Jr. did, is just as important - whether the results are achieved in their lifetime or not.