Saturday, October 21, 2023

#294 / A "Nation," Defined


Ayman Odeh, an Arab Palestinian citizen of Israel and a member of Parliament, is pictured above. Writing in the October 20, 2023, edition of The New York Times, Odeh addressed this topic: "What It Takes To Choose Life Over Revenge."

Odeh's commentary, of course, is pertinent to our current situation. Revenge is motivating both Hamas and Israel in the current, and horrific, conflict between them, a conflict that could expand to include the entire world, and bring death and destruction down upon all of us. What Odeh has to say is worth reading. It is worth thinking about. Because there is a just cause for "revenge," so apparent on all sides, thinking about how we can avoid becoming a world that will destroy itself in the search for revenge is timely. If you can access what Odeh has to say, I encourage you to do so.

I am writing, though, on a slightly different topic, though I think a related one. 

The following statement in Odeh's opinion piece is what has stimulated me to publish this blog posting: 

A nation is defined as a group of people with a common language, a common past and common dreams.

In fact, this is not true of the United States of America. The United States of America is not a nation that is defined by its commonalities. Sometimes called a "nation of immigrants," the United States is not a group of people with a common language, common past, and common dreams. It is not what we have in common that makes us a nation.  Those who came here, both before - and particularly after the American Revolution - came from different pasts, and were people of different ethnicities, dfferent religions, different languages, and different cultures. In fact - really think about this - we are defined as a nation more by our differences than by what we have in common.

What binds us together, as a nation, what makes us a nation, is our dedication to a particular idea about government. That idea is often expressed by this phrase: E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.

The force that binds us together in this nation is our joint commitment to a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Self-government is what makes us a nation. We do not search for what we have in common. We search for ways that we - with all our differences - can live together. We search for how best to govern ourselves, and how to live together, and propser, both individually and collectively, despite the fact of our obvious differences, and despite the fact that we may well disagree on what is best, and what we should do. 

We are a nation dedicated to a government - to a "politics" if you will follow me that far - that allows us to debate and discuss what we should do, and then to mobilize our wealth, and resources, and energies to try to achieve it - reserving always, of course, our right to change our minds and choose to do something different. 

If our nation is dedicated to that kind of government (and it is), if that is what "constitutes" us as a nation (and that is what our Constitution proclaims),  then we should recognize and celebrate the fact that it is our commitment to self-government that makes us into a nation. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that we must "agree" to some single, "common" purpose. A proper understanding of our government, and of our nation, defined by our commitment to self-government, tells us that we can not only tolerate, but can take great joy in the fact of our differences. It is from within our differences that we work with each other to discover what we think it will be best for us to do. It is from within our differences that we seek to discover how we can live together. 

In a nation so organized, revenge has no easy place to gain a purchase. Let us be sure that we are not swept up into the temptations of revenge, and that we are not carried away by those who believe that differences must eliminated, and that "wrong" must be expunged and "right" made triumphant.

That idea is an idea we see in many places. 

We have a different message for the world.

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