We’re a strange bunch, humankind. Forgetful. Deliberately dismissive, surprisingly compassionate, shockingly cruel. Passionate. Stubborn. Optimistic in the direst of circumstances. Persistently triumphant over near-fatal, global calamities. Weak complainers, fierce warriors, brilliant inventors, sickly and lazy couch potatoes prone to blindly brag and bluster about our children, our nations, our faith. We are the rulers of the universe. We are forgetful.
Christian doctrine speaks often on the fall of man — Adam and Eve’s disobedience while still inhabiting Eden ensured future generations of humankind would be forever doomed to falter. Original Sin, it’s called. How overwhelming (to say the least) to read through scripture and try to grasp that you are simultaneously encouraged to seek greatness from within, that speck of sovereignty birthed with muscle and bone and soul … but you probably won’t fully realize that greatness because you’re just a lousy sinner. Keep trying anyway.
Islam possesses no doctrine of Original Sin. Instead, the concept of ghaflah is presented — forgetfulness. People will forget their divine origin, over and over. And over. This forgetfulness leads to sin, and must be corrected over and over. Even so, the Koran teaches that the human self is created by God, and therefore is inherently good, and always entitled to respect. Wow.
We are forgetful, and that forgetfulness leads us to make disastrous mistakes. The mistake most prevalent on my mind today is the recurring demand to look away from the past. This is not a demand voiced solely from American podiums, it’s something that has recurred throughout all the “great” nations. Generations have obliged. And while they’re looking away, histories get edited, important words and phrases that once described our true path get redefined as evidence of a shameful, disdainful past. Pivotal points of human progress become convoluted. Not only are we apt to forget, but it is acceptable to ignore, or disparage, any hints of remembrance.
I am about to shamelessly oversimplify a bit of world history for the sake of making a quick point. Bear with me.
In the aftermath of the first world war, the allied powers decided it would be best for all the world’s future to take in hand the defeated, “primitive” leftovers of the Ottoman Empire. With the newly formed League of Nations and Great Britain in the lead, “learned” men began to rearrange Middle Eastern borders. The importance and complexity of Middle Eastern cultures were soundly dismissed and ancient clans were ordered to be nice while their lands were plundered for oil, and once arch- enemies became neighbors and governors. The caliphate — the active integration of religious and state leadership believed to be prophetically ordained and integral to Muslim society — was dissolved. And thus, members of the Allied Nations shoved a region’s powerful history out of western common knowledge.
Colonialists in modern clothing didn’t bother to look back at their history books during all these resource plundering plots disguised as moralistic endeavors to see how blatant disregard for culture tends to result in radical behavior. American leadership jumped right in with its big morality boots after the second world war to do more of the same. Am I supporter of the caliphate? No. I am an American who cherishes democracy. But that’s not the point.
Speaking of America: While U.S. leadership embraced the idea of becoming global moral police, it prospered within its own borders. Manufacturing, technological innovation, communications, and political progressiveness abounded. Consumerism thrived. The backbone of all this making of modern wonders was the white middle class — the workers, the voters, the spenders. Social programs for children, minorities, the elderly were created and funded at the behest of the white middle class. Civil Rights rallies were manned and laws were changed. Roads were built, schools and clinics were built, farmers protected, wildlife protected, natural resources regulated, etc.
Then, sometime in the 80’s, it became trendy to say the white middle class was nothing more than bland, racist, greedy yahoos. Wannabe rich folks that would never make the mark. Failures. The white middle class epitomized what was wrong with this country. Sustaining the greatest nation on the planet, AMERICA, was impossible thanks to that fattening group of middle-roaders. Skilled laborers, voters, and spenders suddenly became the thing not to be.
The topics above may seem ridiculously disparate. And some folks may laugh out loud at the prospect of the American white middle class being considered a culture, but the truth is the topics are relevant, if not comparable at first glance. And, the truth is, both cultures have taken devastating blows thanks to elite groups deliberately undermining their value. The difference is this: the American white middle class hasn’t attempted a public, collective rebound. Yet.
Two articles of interest for today in the New York Times:
The Manners War, by David Brooks
The New Culture Clash, by R. R. Reno