For the Week of December 27, 2004
For the last month liberals have been looking for scapegoats and excuses to explain what has happened to this poor country.
It was the fundamentalists. It was Karl Rove. It was the young people. It was the media.
All these explanations are wrong.
The fault does not lie in our stars. It lies in ourselves.
I'm not saying we didn't work hard enough, or give enough money to the cause. The answer lies deeper.
Each of us, regardless of party or faith, faces the same struggle every day. Whether the demons are chemical, or psychological, or physical, the demons are always there.
Every day we have the choice, between serving our demons or serving something higher. And in my generation, most of us, most of the time, have made the wrong choice.
Not all of us, of course. And not all the time. There are many great and good members of the Baby Boom generation, born from roughly 1946-1963. But on the whole we've served ourselves. We have been takers rather than givers.
We took from our parents. We took from the Earth. Now we take from our children. We feel hurt, and we all claim to have our reasons, but on the whole we're takers, not givers.
All of us surrender to the demons from time to time. I have seen it on this list. Whenever we look outside ourselves for solutions, whenever we blame others for our problems, whenever we lose our temper over our situation, that's the demon having its way with us.
Preachers first, of course. I'm far from perfect. Very far. I rage. I'm selfish. I hurt. I take. I talk a good game, and I fight the demons every day, but they're always there. And sometimes they win.
The demons take many forms, and one of the most pernicious of these forms is the desire to follow. The enemies are without, the solutions must be too. So we follow a preacher, or a politician, who will feed our need, who will wash away our sins, and who will give us an enemy that, if we can just destroy them "once and for all," will result in our salvation.
It's no secret. Hear it in our the words of our greatest leaders:
"The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
"Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."
Where is the enemy in these words? Always in the same place. The enemy is inside. That's where the struggle lies. That's where the better angels are, that's where the fear lies, that's where the struggle is. It's from winning that struggle that victory comes.
As it is for us as individuals, so it is for us as a nation. All the Gods of the Right see the enemy as the "other" but we all know better, even if we don't always acknowledge it.
So that question occurs, how do we come back? How do we turn a narrow minority into an overwhelming majority?
The answer is the same, because it's the internal struggle that we always teach our children. It's what they always know in their bones. It's why young people have such high ideals. It's why we were that way when we were young.
Battles can be lost, and when we lose a battle, being human, we may often come to believe we have lost the war. So we seek recovery from that defeat, we retreat, look for help. And we may come to find, when the help comes, just how high a price may be asked.
Give me your soul, says the preacher. There's your enemy, over there.
Give me your vote, says the politician. There's your enemy, over there.
Let me lift your burden. Let me carry it. The problem isn't in you, it's in the Other. Get rid of the other and your problems will be over.
Isn't that what Bush sold? Isn't that what Rove sold? The Muslims, the Liberals, the Secularists, the Other. Us, not U.S. but us. If they can just get rid of us, what we say, what we believe in, what we stand for, then all their problems will be solved.
It's what George Lucas meant in his movies when he talked about The Dark Side. It's what every good preacher tells us, it's the basic truth we know in our hearts. Fight the other and you lose. Fight to make yourself better and you are guaranteed victory.
So how do we bring it out?
The answer, too, is obvious. It's in all the self-help books, whether the idea is to get you to exercise, to stop drinking, or to build your own business.
You start small. Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.
Take a short walk. Don't drink, today. Please the customer in front of you.
What does this mean in the present context?
It means we need to concentrate on small, local battles, winnable battles where young people might be energized by struggle and victory. Build a park, clean up a toxic dump, save a stream. Every high school, every college, every community has such battles, battles that can be fought and won. And when you win one small battle, immediately go onto a larger one. Then a larger one. Always have a larger goal in your pocket for when the cheering stops.
In fighting each battle you build an institution to fight the good fight. In fighting a larger battle you unite these institutions. And so on.
If we lost (or if we just didn't win by enough, as I believe) it was because the netroots lacked an institutional base that really did go all the way down to the roots. There weren't enough local groups we could call on, with sufficient cohesion, to battle the combination of religious, corporate, and wealth power the other side could bring to bear against us, The Other.
This is how we teach young people to be, idealistic. This is how we were, once, idealistic. And, if we start now, today, we can be that way again.
Be a better parent, a better grandparent, a better guardian of the Earth. Make yourself a better person, fight the demons inside, every day.
And go on from there.
I urge everyone who reads A-Clue.Com over to Mooreslore to enjoy my ongoing online novel, The Chinese Century. I hope it's as much fun to read as it has been to write.
In partnership with ZDNet, I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source .
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout , a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
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