"No cause is left
but the most ancient of all, the one, in fact, that from the
beginning of our history has determined the very existence of
politics: the cause of freedom versus tyranny."
So no, we can’t just
That was the theme of
my presentation this week to the Explorer’s Lifelong Learning
Institute in Salem. When Franklin Hawke called me in the fall about
my subject, I was watching the budget battle in Washington, D.C.
If you recall, U.S.
Sen. Ted Cruz was refusing to vote for a budget that funded
Obamacare, and the Democrats refused to allow a budget without it,
and some Republicans were angry with Cruz, and in the middle of the
debate, voices from all sides were raised deploring the fact that
everyone isn’t getting along.
So I said to Frank, in
exasperation, “‘No, we can’t just get along’ might be a good
subject,” and thus, it became.
Where to start. A small
statue of the goddess Athena resides near my computer. When I lived
in Greece, I studied the mythology as well as the history of the
country, was intrigued to learn that Athena is the goddess of wisdom
AND of war, which seemed at first a contradiction.
The gods and goddesses
battled over important things, like giving mankind fire, but also
silly things like who would be awarded a golden apple for being
judged most beautiful. It’s hard to justify the Trojan War, romantic
though its alleged cause may seem. Unlike her more bloodthirsty
half-brother Ares, Athena’s involvement is strategic: Her hero
Ulysses meets with Troy’s Hector in negotiation, trying to “get
along” and prevent the Trojan War. The “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”
reflect the futility of their effort. In the movie “Troy,” Achilles
is asked by a distraught woman after a terrible battle, “When will
this end?” He calmly replies, “It will never end.”
Barbara speaking to the Salem Explorers
Photo by Chip ford
Maybe we need to go
back farther, to the Garden of Eden, no one around but God and two
people. Eve wanted to do something, Adam didn’t argue, they shared
an apple and, whoops, they were no longer getting along with God.
Then, they had two kids — just four people on earth — and one of
them murdered the other. Humans tell stories to deal with this
reality: We don’t get along.
Once while walking on
the Left Bank in Paris, I came upon a shop selling paintings by an
artist named Rosario. I fell in love with the brilliant colors and
the theme: various animals posing together in peace. Glad I couldn’t
afford one; I’d feel silly now, having hauled a large painting home,
with a theme that doesn’t make sense. Watch the National Geographic
channel; animals, including our closest relatives, mostly don’t get
There have been
theories about some primates living in peace, but Jane Goodall has
disproved much of this fantasy with her chimpanzees. However, the
relative success of the great apes generally avoiding warlike
behavior among themselves could explain why they haven’t evolved
further. What if the dynamic challenges of not getting along lead to
evolutionary progress, creating long-term good to balance the
sometimes bloody consequences of disagreement? It’s not always the
physically fittest that survive: Sometimes the smarter brains
George Bernard Shaw
said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the
unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.
Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Which brings us to the
debate over the federal budget, about which Shaw, a socialist, and I
might reasonably disagree. Though perhaps not. It’s one point of
view to want to spread the wealth around, and another to pretend
there is wealth to spread, while borrowing trillions from future
generations who don’t have a voice and may never get around to
actually creating that wealth. How will mankind survive if hard work
and superior intelligence aren’t rewarded?
So, those of us who
value the cause of freedom versus tyranny continue the battle that
our founding fathers began: We argue, we stand firm, we fight if
necessary. Tea party senators and congressmen keep their word to
those who elected them. They resist new programs like Obamacare,
which increase the national debt, they refuse to raise the national
debt limit, they don’t “reach across the aisle” to spread our
grandchildren’s wealth around.
Compromise and “getting
along” are strategies for advancing one’s own convictions, not
values in themselves. Perhaps, what we should be encouraging in
Congress and among ourselves is disagreement that is stated with
courtesy, not mindless name-calling or invitations to a duel, but
insistence that arguments be rational, that outcomes are right.
Spiritual leaders like
Pope Francis ask us “to recognize that we are brothers.” This isn’t
helpful: Cain and Abel were brothers. What we need to recognize is
that we are autonomous beings who should not be used for the benefit
of others without our consent.
I’ve been told recently
by young libertarians that I am an OWL — an Old Wise Libertarian. I
love it — noting that the owl is the symbol of Athena, the goddess
of wisdom and of war. Let’s just try to keep the war civil and have
our ongoing debate without swords.