Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Land of the Free

This last week has been a strange one. It has been a week of extremes.

 It started with a post on social media from a very good friend. We have known each other longer than either of us will admit to and when I saw her post it came as quite shock as it was nothing like the person I have known for so long. She posted a list of "banned" books in America and although that wasn't a surprise the comments made with the post were.  In part, she said, "so much for America being the land of the free." As a writer I find the whole idea of censorship offensive. But I realize, cringing my way through some books and movies, that there are lines that probably shouldn't be crossed.  However, honesty compels me to admit, I don't want to be the one to draw the line.  

So when I read "the list" I was surprised that the list had been created at all.  The Giving Tree had been banned in a single public library in Colorado.  One library! That equates to banning?  Apparently an overly zealous parent thought it was sexist.  There were two books on the list (Charlotte's Web and Where the Wild Things Are) that received state wide censorship but the banning was based on religious grounds.  There are some people who believe that talking animals are an insult to God.  As an aside, I am sure God can fend for Himself, but apparently the people in Kansas felt otherwise.

But the truth was as I sat and read this list, with the statement "so much for America being the land of the free" in my mind, I found myself becoming annoyed.  We all know that social media is, for the most part, a joy. We can stay in touch with people, half a world away, on a daily basis.  But it has its limitations and so I don't usually allow myself to dwell on the posts that I don't agree with. But this one offended me because it was written by someone who is not American, who has never lived here and yet her daughter is at university here and her son has married an American.  Not only was she insulting people she really didn't know, but people who were educating her daughter and her future grand children. 

What is it about America that gets under everyones skin?  

It is a question that I have truly tried to find an answer to this week. I came to the conclusion that the idea of genuine freedom is something most people don't understand.  It takes genuine freedom to get a book banned from a local library because a mother is concerned that her son may read The Giving Tree and develop an identity crises!  The idea is ludicrous. But that is just the point, she has the freedom to have, and act upon that idea.  Freedom isn't real freedom if it only protects intelligent, profound and enlightened ideas.  Freedom has to protect all ideas - including the idiotic ones!

And then there was Ferguson.

The chief of police for the troubled and divided city of Ferguson, finally apologized for the death of a young man with his hands up, head bowed, trying to surrender.  The response was further rioting.  Far too little far too late, was the feeling of a lot of people.  Most of us, with a scintilla of human emotion, can understand the resentment. But most of us over the age of 30 also know that further rioting will not bring about the reconciliation that is so desperately needed.  Nor will it bring about the calm and rational reasoning needed to bring justice to the Brown family.

Finally, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg.

No blame is attached to Herr Lichtenberg, he was born in 1742, but something he said was used to twist, divide and hurt the country I was born in.  I refuse to give the name of the small being who used this quote to write a speech supposedly given by the president of Zimbabwe, my home country.  The speech was so evil and vile that it was sent and resent, posted and shared until it reached my group of friends.  I was originally horrified but the claim that the president was going to "kill 50 million white people" sounded a little off to me.  I doubt that there are 50 million white people in the whole of Africa, never mind one small country, to kill.  When I researched this "news source" I found a disclaimer that gave this quote.

He wrote: "I ceased in the year 1764 to believe that one can convince one’s opponents with arguments printed in books. It is not to do that, therefore, that I have taken up my pen, but merely so as to annoy them, and to bestow strength and courage on those on our own side, and to make it known to the others that they have not convinced us.” – Georg Christoph Lichtenberg.

The writer then went on to say that the blog was written for his own amusement.  

It was sickening.  

Then I thought back to the mother who was worried about her child reading The Giving Tree.  Freedom of ideas is something that we have all wrestled with, no matter our background, our intellect, our education or social status.  And we have all wrestled with this for centuries.  

Freedom is something we all wish and strive for. Whatever our reasons, I truly hope we are evolving. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Good evening.  This is the first post on my blog, and this morning we found out that the United Kingdom will remain the United Kingdom - for now.  As my mother is half Irish and half French but was born in merry old London Town, I had more than a passing interest in the outcome of the Scottish vote.

The truth is, I was torn for a number or reasons that I didn't expect.  I too am the product of a mixed marriage.  My mother was born in England, my father was born in Zimbabwe.  Regardless of color, there were times that the differences in my parents' background was very apparent.  I could imagine how there were those who might have lived both in England and Scotland might feel torn, or at the very least unwilling to say where their loyalties were because they didn't want to appear to be disloyal to either side.

Then there was the history - between 1700 and 1850 more than 130 wars or rebellions that the United Kingdom fought together. During that time they fought Napoleon together and so prevented France turning Europe into the United States of Europe.  Queen Victoria came to power in 1837 and the United Kingdom seemed to rule the world together.  After that the Scots, the English and the Irish survived two world wars together.  It is hard to look back at that kind of history and believe that it should be torn apart.  But none of this history was mine, it was my mothers.

I was born in a country that had declared UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) from the United Kingdom six months after my birth.  When I was seven years old a civil war, that last seven years, began.  It was the war of a nation trying to determine who it was.  Right finally prevailed but at great cost and since then Zimbabwe, or more precisely, Zimbabweans have paid the price.  I could understand the struggle for independence.

So when the results were revealed after 11.00pm (EST) last night I sat listening to the BBC with a mix of emotions.

Then this morning on my FB page, a dear American friend (who is something of a rebel - even at 45) posted a message about the struggle continuing.  The fact that Scotland and England have been united for more than three hundred years and United States civil war ended in 1865, a mere 149 years ago, seemed to be lost on him. It didn't seem to occur to him that what was happening in Great Britain would be like Virginia telling the United States that they wish to be an independent country. The desire, at times, may be understandable but not always practical or good for the country when you consider the entirety of its history.

They say the desire for independence has been a generational one and I think that that may be true.  They reason, that if that is the case, then the days of Scotland and England remaining united are numbered. But I think all generations are divided between those that look forward to the future with hope and those that look back with pride and maybe a little sadness too.  Will each generation find a reason to say, "Yes, I understand the desire to be independent, but when I look back and see that all we have done together, aren't we better together."

We also must consider the fact that this is not the case of an oppressive regime.  Mary Queen of Scots, on the advice of her court, swore to a peaceful union in the 1560's.  The early 1700's saw Scotland and England being ruled by one monarch.  That is the date that is given as unification.  So the Scots and British have been living in harmony for quite some time now.

So I am little confused by #thestrugglecontinues and wish that we could find a way to discuss matters of politics in the same way parents might exchange advice on potting training. With the understanding that each situation is unique and different. We could talk without it sounding like a battle cry. This week the leader of the "yes" vote (Alex Salmond) made the mistake of calling them "Team Scotland".  What does that make the "no" vote. They are Scots too. That term is divisive and exclusionary and never helpful in reconciliation.

Finally, what is democracy if after an election the entire nation cannot live with the results?  We have seen it happen here in the United States.  If you don't like the results - sue them!  The bedrock of democracy should be that the whole protects the individual rights of the whole.  But the individual respects the majority will of the whole.

I am not sure that I will ever be sure how I feel about the outcome.  Maybe history will simply see this as a generation's desire to make its mark, to show they wished to forge their own path and many of them believed they had the strength to do it. Surely that is worth celebrating no matter the outcome.