Tuesday, October 1, 2013


sunshine and shadows

"Shutdown" - a word that is echoing throughout the world today as the government of the United States of America puts on the brakes and comes to a screeching halt.

I've been listening to the news, watching the social media, and reading the papers. There are plenty of laments as to how the shutdown will affect daily life and damage an already-frail economy in the long term. There have been lots of finger pointing and acrimonious name calling. A shadow of anxiety now looms over the country with prospects of the shutdown being extended and the crisis becoming even worse over the next weeks to come.

As I sit in the shadow of the shutdown, my lament goes far deeper than worrying about parks closing or having anxiety over what will happen to my retirement account. I have a deep gnawing fear that the shutdown is symptomatic of a sickness that has the potential to threaten and destroy the very civilization that we have come to take for granted in this nation.

Over several years I have often referred to  Law Professor Stephen Carter's very insightful definition of "civilization."  A civilized nation is defined by:

The sum of sacrifices made by citizens  for the common good

When I observe what has been going on over the government shutdown and when I read about what is looming for the weeks ahead, I rarely hear even a word about "sacrifice" and the notion of the "common good" seems to have become a foreign concept.

As I see it,  much of what has been happening over the healthcare debates leading to the shutdown has little to do with healthcare. It is based upon a purely selfish desire on the part of lawmakers to get re-elected by their constituents. Even moderate lawmakers refuse to stand up (make a sacrifice)  for the common good because it would make then unpopular and put their political future in jeopardy. 

And so everyone becomes intransigent, feet firmly rooted in their own camps - the government shuts down and the common good is thwarted.

Professor Carter has suggested that when a society is comprised of citizens who are unwilling to make sacrifices for the common good, the nation is, by definition, no longer "civilized."  An uncivilized society is reduced to being a collective of "barbarians" - individuals whose agenda is to fill their own personal needs, circling the wagons of like-minded others into barbarian camps who make war on the other camps.

So this is my lament in the shadow of the shutdown. 

Are we at danger of becoming an uncivilized nation?  Have we already become a nation of barbarians?

The lesson repeated over and over again in history is that barbarians never survive. 

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