feast of St. Barbara was Dec. 4, which I celebrate even though
there's no food involved as there is with Christmas, Easter and St.
have something chocolate in honor of my grandmothers, for whom I am
named. They both died before I was born, so it was an agreeable
choice for my parents, especially since the name was popular during
youngest person I know of today named Barbara is one of the twin
daughters of President George Bush, who was also given her
I had no
interest in my granddaughter being a Barbara. Yet I do like the
lived in Greece, I was told that "varvara", accent on the second
syllable, means "stranger". Not only was I legitimately a foreigner
to my Greek friends, but as a libertarian I have often felt like "a
stranger in a strange land" (see libertarian author Robert
Heinlein's novel) in today's America as well. I wonder if I'd been
named, say, "Communitaria", I'd have a different political
child, I noted the similarity between the legend of St. Barbara and
Rapunzel: Both were imprisoned in a tower for disobedience. The
former became a martyr for her faith and the latter let down her
hair so the prince could climb the braids. What, besides the tower,
do the two women have in common? The motto, "Don't tell me what to
asked Republican media commentator Avi Nelson what made people like
us different from our opponents, and he said "genetics".
Interesting, and echoed by recent scientific theory.
true that my first conscious thought, albeit without words, was,
"Don't tell me what to do." I once figured this was due to my
astrological sign — the typical Aquarian's highest value is freedom.
But "genetics" works too.
with our names, genes, and astrological signs, cultural legends and
stories influence our political attitudes. My family's stories must
have influenced mine: The policeman grandfather who was fired after
he arrested the mayor for public drunkenness; the cousin whose tires
were slashed after he drove his truck through the union picket line
to his father's factory, which my uncle then moved to Virginia
leaving the unions nothing to picket; Croatian relatives who escaped
communism by emigrating to Canada.
read behavior lessons from Raggedy Ann and Andy, The Bobbsey Twins,
and Aesop's Fables. Do children still learn about George Washington
and the cherry tree ("I cannot tell a lie."); or Honest Abe walking
miles to return change to an overcharged customer in his store? Do
they memorize the sayings of Ben Franklin ("Honesty is the best
policy." "A penny saved is a penny earned")?
grandchildren don't seem interested in the Raggedy or Bobbsey twins,
which I acknowledge are somewhat old-fashioned; they learn behavior
lessons from Harry Potter novels and movies. But instead of fighting
the gingerbread-house witch or neighborhood bullies, Harry and his
friends fight genuine evil.
come to think of it, so did Nancy Drew. In "The Secret of Red Gate
Farm", I first encountered the Ku Klux Klan; it made quite an
impression on a second-grader.
Thanksgiving column about Pilgrims was followed by a letter to the
editor which noted correctly that I was wrong about Governor
Winthrop being a Pilgrim leader. I knew he was a Puritan, but was
distracted by the historical critique of the socialist Plymouth
experiment written by Gov. William Bradford. It was a necessary
critique with a valuable lesson about economic choices, so you have
to wonder why it was ignored for so many years as children were
taught a very different Thanksgiving Day fable. Did we need the
national fantasy more than we needed the truth?
generation also grew up with Walt Disney's Davy Crockett version of
the Alamo battle that helped create our image of ourselves as a
nation. Later, as an exchange student in Mexico, I learned the story
of the Alamo from a very different perspective, one that helped
Mexican children create their national image. Now our respective
governments work with these images in their attempts to determine
longstanding debate concerns nature ( genetics) vs. nurture (parents
reading to us; schools choosing our literature and history books;
our culture, with TV and the Internet having more influence on the
generations following mine).
makes us a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian, or some
combination of these? What distinguishes us from the politically
apathetic? No one seems to know what factors most influence our
political identities, and perhaps that's just as well: Governments
would exploit that information if they could.
tracked what makes me a stranger in a strange land, and you probably
can track your political attitudes too. Each voter has his own path
to the polls: Along with our experiences, we individuals take our
genes, our names, cultural impressions, maybe even the stars under
which we are born, into the political arena.
is how Barack Obama became president of the United States.