It’s easy to get discouraged when you look at the cultural decay, the political and corporate corruption, the usurers, the warmongers and the empire-lovers. The trick to optimism is to always remember that today’s problems are not much different from those of the past.
The golden age is just the plain old past censored in memory by nostalgia and/or ignorance. Poverty, political and corporate corruption, prostitution, gambling, pornography, homosexuality, murder, robbery, usury, unjust wars and whatever other "sin" you can think of have always existed. The human race is incorrigible. But at the same time, there have always been good people trying to make things better.
I listened to a speech by Ward Churchill, the professor at the University of Colorado whom a lot of people want to fire because of an essay he wrote about the terrorist attacks. I could see immediately what his problem is. He is angry about every bad thing that has ever happened in the world. That’s a form of irrational thinking, and he is not the only person afflicted with this fallacious way of thinking.
Yes, the massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee was a bad thing, but it was a bad thing done by a few soldiers, not the entire American people. And more importantly, everybody involved is long dead. Yes, slavery was a bad thing, but even at the time it was not universal and not every American approved of it, and, again, all involved are long dead. Yes, the Holocaust was horrible, but it was the product of a few people, not the entire world, and it, too, is in the past.
People who spend their present stewing about the past will be angry and generally useless citizens. The past is unchangeable. There can be a marginal utility in studying it, if you approach it as a record of mistakes to be avoided, but if you try to live in it or let it control your present thinking and emotions, you will ruin the only life you have, which exists only in the present moment.
Churchill believes in karma, which is an Asian version of original sin — the idea that the sins of the fathers will eventually be visited on the heads of the sons. I don’t believe that. I believe every child is born with a clean slate, and that the world is given yet another chance with every new generation. The only problems we need to be concerned with are those that exist at the present time. Victims of the past and the people who made them victims all share the same graveyards. We should not concern ourselves with them.
Some people, of course, use the past as an excuse for their sorry present behavior. Oh, my great-great-granddaddy was abused, so you have to cut me some slack. Bull. If you go back far enough, everybody’s great-great-whatevers were either abused or abusers. What happened in the past has no effect on what we choose to do with our own lives. People who try to lay their own failures on their ancestors are pathetic.
Others try to use the past as a form of blackmail. Because of what happened to "my people," they claim, you owe me. Again, bull. Those who have done you no harm do not owe you a bent penny. All scores are settled with the death of each generation, and no liabilities should be carried forward to be levied on the innocent.
Zen Buddhists have it right: The past exists only in memory; the future, only in the imagination. Like the character in that wonderful film Groundhog Day, we wake up every morning in the present. Whatever we wish to do or to be, we must do and be it now.
Human beings have free will. Within the parameters of our present circumstances, we can choose to make our own lives and our own community better or worse. Nobody and no thing can force us to be either good or bad. The choice is ours alone. That’s why hope never dies.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.