The importance of diverse education and nuanced thinking to our roles and responsibilities as American citizens, by Nigel Walsh
I wished someone a happy 4th of July and their response was about children in concentration camps. Setting aside the perils of reckless comparisons to the Holocaust, the lack of appreciation for the ability to pursue one’s destiny unimpeded by a tyrannical government, to live free to speak, think, and protect oneself – such a rarity in history – is astounding. Mistakes have been, and always will be made in any culture.
The holiday means more than the politics of the present day. How did we get here? Why do we hate ourselves, each other, and this glorious society we’ve been gifted, and maintain? Our mainstream American culture is inundated with cheap, meaningless, and unoriginal storytelling, journalism, and commentary. I need my fellow citizens to be wise and informed to steer our nation into a dynamic future.
We once cherished and held up for our masses the experience of the depth and intensity of the classics: The Epic of Gilgamesh, Noah’s Flood, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Julius Caesar’s battlefield writings, Mark Twain, our own Constitution and Declaration of Independence. We still teach Shakespeare, but does anyone care? Is it a crucial underpinning of society, widely understood for its layers of character development and life lessons? Does it aid in our understanding of the dark sides of human nature and the terrible power within us to create and advance civilization, statehood, and stability, while standing in the face of our own ignorance, sin, and ineptitude? The highly educated may know the works, but the people at large lack the understanding lying within classic literature inherently required to be a functional member of the responsibility-driven, liberty-oriented, pluralistic society we inhabit here in the United States of America.
You’ve got to pay the piper eventually. No system can appreciate a sustained attack and tearing at its seams without consequence. The Soviet KGB and its neo-feudalist contemporaries have been actively undermining the US for a century, and it’s worked. They’re getting their goal. Political violence, polarization and division in America are at their most intense in my lifetime. My parents and neighbors used to commonly discuss politics and matters of society with a scholarly detachment.
When I was talking about the 4th of July, I have to keep in mind that sure, the other person may currently hold an incorrect opinion, but we are both driving at the same outcome: an honest, sober understanding of our situation in the context of shared values, and what to do about it. Now, we are emotional, reckless with our logic and understanding, quick to anger and demean our fellow citizen, and perfectly happy to drive each other deeper and deeper into our extremist Internet echo chambers full of confirmation bias.
We now, more rarely than ever, share the same values. Religious vs. agnostic, communist vs. capitalist, libertarian vs. authoritarian, American-loving vs. American-ashamed. These divisions are not new, but they are certainly deeper and wider than any time in recent memory. Our founding fathers lived in a deeply religious, richly philosophical context, and were some of the best-educated, and most competent and experienced humans who had ever lived.
A casual reading of our founding documents reveals masterful, disciplined minds, unafraid to hammer out answers to the hardest questions of human dignity. Surely their times had cheap media designed for common consumption, but the level of discourse available to the common person was incredibly widespread and valued. People admired this level of thinking and sought to enrich themselves by consuming it. Ask the average person to quote scripture, find France on a map, or tell us the text and meaning of a single amendment in the Bill of Rights nowadays. We’re failing in our responsibilities as American citizens, atop the destiny of the world.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve sat down to write an essay, or anything like it. What compelled me to the desk again to put words down in this fashion after spending the last 7 years songwriting is a deep necessity to address the failures of our understanding – to provide context and examination in a world full of slander, pomp, low-resolution information, and egregious, disingenuous discourse.
Being unleashed on this platform, God willing, my humble historical, geographical, and philosophical knowledge and understanding may be synthesized into a revivification of traditional American values that make this country not perfect, but merely the best. You owe it to yourself to consider the lessons of those before you and to understand the context of your life as a citizen of the greatest experiment in human freedom ever embarked upon. It’s time to shine and to pursue an America, to quote Dan Carlin, “that lives up to the marketing material.”
Nigel Walsh performs with the Last Band on Earth, you can look for his music and performance dates on his website, nigelwalsh.com, as well as updates on upcoming releases. You can follow Nigel on Twitter & Instagram @nigelwalshmusic