With flags flying everywhere it sometimes is
difficult to see. Is there not a chance, then, that there are things we
have missed because of this constant waving? With so many flags all we see
are stars, as if we're some unfortunate cartoon character who has been hit
over the head. It seems time, like those cartoon characters, to shake our
heads vigorously from side-to-side and clear our thoughts and vision so that
we might see what is going on.
Amid this confusing constellation can it be that we
have missed even the most obvious and egregious things that have happen in
the wake of 11 September 2001? Have we missed the repeal of civil
liberties-many dangerously close to, if not in fact, transgressing the
Constitution; have we missed the war profiteering of those corporations
whose campaign contributions raise suspicions about their waiting bounties
from the coming tax cuts; have we missed the naive thinking that suggests in
a world more complex than any of us can imagine either you stand with the
Bush Administration or with Usama bin Laden; could it be that we missed the
American Council of Trustees and Alumni's report that persons who have not
missed such things and who work on university campuses are accused of being
the weak link in the national character?
Not surprisingly, my name was not on the list of
those professors accused. I wonder if it is has anything to do with the
fact I teach those books so revered by Ms. Cheney and Mr. Bennett (and not
simply that I am nobody). I teach the so-called great books, the classics.
But just as there are many choices between Mr. Bush and Mr. bin Laden, there
are many more lessons to be learned from these books than one might be lead
to believe by conservatives.
Last week I walked into the seminar room and looked
out to eager students, ready with their copies of Confucius open for that
day's investigation. "How did Homer's Odyssey end?" I began. "Homer?"
their faces seemed to say, "Doesn't he know that was 12 weeks ago?" Then a
courageous hand rose, seeming both reserved and assured. "Odysseus and
others were killing everybody in revenge, but the gods stepped in and said
they had seen enough killing and said there would be peace." A defensible,
if not definitive, answer I thought. These gods, as we know, little
resemble the monotheistic G-d who today is said to be taking sides, first
one and then another depending on who is speaking in his name. From our
studies together we wondered if someone as complex as a god could settle for
the limitation of only two or three choices.
We finally got to Confucius. He would come to teach
us that one of the nine considerations exemplary persons (junzi) must make
is to pause and think about regret when they are angered. Not an idle
exercise, we thought, while war rages in the world.
Two weeks ago we read the erotic poems of Sappho who
is seldom on the conservatives' lists, though she in many ways belongs to
the series of circumstances that make other authors requisite classics on
their account. It seems Sappho has problems with Homer; even if he ends with
peace, it may well have taken him too long to arrive there in her
estimation. In any event she writes: "Some say cavalry and others
claim/Infantry or a fleet of long oars/Is the supreme sight on the black
earth./I say it is/The one you love. And easily proved."
We shall see if such things are easily proved, but
waving flags and swirling stars will not get this difficult task
accomplished. And for all our uncertainty it seems clear that some things
do need to be in place if we were to succeed. Foremost among them, perhaps,
are these: citizens free to question and read who remain protected by the
Constitution; a government divorced from the greedy will of multinational
corporations and connected instead to the will of the people seeking a
common good; and a set of options for a genuine future that are developed
through imagination, dialogue, and wisdom rather than vengeance, militarism,
and willful ignorance.
The fault, in this hour, might well be in our stars.
Ramsey Eric Ramsey is Faculty Director of the Barrett Honors College at
Arizona State University West in Phoenix. He is the author of The Long Path
to Nearness (Humanity Books).