How to Make the Most of Being an American
A Practical Philosophy of Freedom, Solidarity and Responsibility
We Americans are often “up in arms,” extremely upset or indignant. We jump on bandwagons, take sides, use social media to find people as angry as we are, blame our problems on the agitation and may adopt a belligerent, aggressive jingoistic stance. This has been true ever since America started to be America.
But this article is not a history lesson about who is right and who is wrong in the struggle for the soul of democracy. It’s about patriots who do not use the outrage or righteousness they feel as a reason to abandon the responsibilities attendant upon the sovereign individual.
All of us are called upon for patriotic behavior to protect our liberty and the many principles and safeguards that have shaped American opportunity and progress over the centuries. As an American thinker, patriot and teacher of the classes and coursework of Autonomy and Life, I want to address three of these principles:
Freedom is the opportunity to live the lives we choose — to create a life of our own design. Historically, if we who enjoy even a modicum of success don’t enjoy our country, chances are it has more to do with our own lack of autonomy, creativity and nerve than it has to do with what we don’t like about America’s struggle toward democracy.
Solidarity is our commitment to try to moderate our self-interest and agitation so we can find a common ground on which to carry out emergent ideals described, for example, in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Of course, democratic and constitutional rights do not guarantee the essential goodness of people. Indeed, democracy is considered by some to be incompatible with what can reasonably be expected from human beings.
Still, few of us would prefer to be governed by a hierarchical monarchy where status and nobility are conferred by royal birth. Few, too, take a public stand against decency and fairness. In general, we want to climb the ladders of competence regarding our ability to think for ourselves, act morally in the name of security, stability, dignity and respect, and earn our biographical status.
Responsibility is our enactment of the franchise or statutory rights of the citizen in America. In the universe of America, our culture transcends our personality, passions and fears. This means our culture defines the space in which we are to respond as sovereign individuals to the call for the transformation of the naked primate. We are always embedded in the behavioral dynamics of America’s enculturating matrix and responsible for the ends we choose and the means we employ to make our way in the world.
When we accept the mandate for the generational stewardship of our civilization, we find that managing this order of self-containment, albeit within the matrix, is intrinsic to achieving the goals of the American project as well as our own objectives.
In short, the philosophy and practice of autonomy and life addresses the civilized demand that we use our self-containment to control what we think, feel, say and do or said another way, to manage our conscience — that is the give and take, push and pull, between self and our country.
Consciously and conscientiously, we are in a thoughtful conversation with ourselves as we endeavor to command our response to the demands of life, as well as to the reflexivity of our immediacy and at the same time to act on our responsibility for making what we want to make of the opportunity to create a life of our own design.
This is an updated version of my original piece “American Patriot.”
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