The first, and most critical step in becoming involved in the government of our nation is to learn – to learn about it, and a good deal about the world that it attempts to govern – both past and present. While this may seem obvious, it is often the most difficult hurdle in the quest to have a positive political impact. According to Confucius, “The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance”, and I would add “and, once you have confessed it, to do something about it”.1
Many Americans today speak, quite often and quite loudly, on a variety of political topics, the majority of which we have very little real understanding. We call for laws, the eventual impacts of which we do not see. We clamor for reforms and social programs, the true implications of which escape our vision. And we spout proposed foreign policy with little knowledge or regard for the histories and relationships of countries in the crosshairs.
I hasten to admit that I have been guilty of many of these blind “ignorances” in my past. In fact, you could often tell how little I knew, by how loudly I yelled at the evening news. In retrospect I see that it was really a ridiculous way to think: I watched a little CNN or Fox News, listened to a little talk radio, perhaps read someone’s blog, and presto – I felt like an instant political expert. Nowadays, the more I learn, the more clearly I see how truly little I knew and the more I feel embarrassed at ridiculous things that I said and did. I have been shocked to discover later that I was even ignorant about my ignorance
It is completely impossible to be both free and ignorant at the same time, just as it is impossible to be both independent and dependent at the same time. In order to achieve and maintain freedom, we must really understand our world and we must become independent. We often use the words “freedom” and “independence” interchangeably, and with good reason. The Declaration of Independence might well be called the Declaration of Freedom. We were in essence declaring that we were free of British rule and that we needed nothing from Great Britain to exist.
Independence, (the lack of dependence on someone or something else) leads to freedom to make our own choices. The more dependent we become the less freedom we have. For example: if you elect to become dependent on debt for consumer purchases then you lose some of your financial freedom. A portion of your income must be turned over to your creditors. The more you are in debit the less of your income you can command – or the less you have financial freedom (a.k.a financial independence). In this same way, to be politically dependent (ignorant) – knowingly or unknowingly – you must give up command of your freedoms to others who see clearly. This puts us squarely back into the previous post where we lose “government by the people” and abdicate it to a ruling class, declared or undeclared.
I’m not big on conspiracy theory, but for argument sake, imagine that you wanted to take over a republic. How would you go about it? Personally, my goals would be: keep them ignorant, keep them dependent on me (government), and given them just enough information for them to believe that they are still free. That is precisely how Octavian became the first Ceaser of the Roman Emperor even when many Roman citizens did not realize that they were not longer living in a republic. He named himself Augustus and initially called himself “Principate” from the latin for “first” or “chief”.
Wanting to be truly free and preserve our republic – in fact, to restore it to the model intended by the constitution, and recognizing, in some degree, our ignorance – what should we begin learning? Here are my strongest recommendations:
God and Absolute Morality
According to John Adams, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”2 It’s staggering how prophetic that statement was to become. At that time that vast majority of American citizens were bible reading Christians; largely moral and religious. Most people went to church and prayer was generally offered before government, school, and community meetings.
Today it is much different: The unofficial state religion of atheism is enforced under the banner of “separation of Church and State”. Although the majority of Americans, 83%, claim to believe in God3, only 40% of all Americans under age 50 still believe that one of the most serious moral transgressions in the Judeo-Christian bible, homosexuality – which was punishable by death in the old testament – is wrong.4 Half of Americans want to legalize a state sanction type of that union.5 Most recently contraception and medicinal abortion have become state mandated as ‘free’ services that must be made available to all women as basic health care.
This atheistic crescendo in the last century is eroding society’s understanding of absolute morality. Where we once understood the absolutes of right and wrong we now view everything as being relative. Students in a college class that I recently taught, told me that they felt that murder might not be immoral, relative to your background and religion.
In 1979, in a plea to stave off serious destruction that he felt would be caused by atheistic and communistic trends that he saw in our nation, former US Secretary of Agriculture Ezra T. Benson stated:
“We must return to worship the God of this land, who is Jesus Christ. He has promised that the righteous will be preserved by His power. But we must keep the commandments of God. We must pay our tithes and offerings, keep the Sabbath day a holy day, stay morally clean, be honest in all our dealings, and have our family and personal prayers.”6
This should be our first and most critical area of learning. Whatever our religion, we should learn more about God and His law of morality. We should strive to become a decent, God fearing people once again. And we should seek to root immorality out from among us.
The Foundations of Government & the US Constitution
I firmly believe that the founding fathers were inspired by God throughout the formation of our nation, and especially with regard to the wording and composition of the Constitution. The more I learn about it the more I am in awe of it. To begin to understand the power of the Constitution we must understand how governments of the world in the centuries of the past have functioned. We must learn about the conditions under which the rulers and their subjects lived. We must understand what was important to them, what problems the faced, and how they went about trying to solve those problems. How much did they involve government? Why? Why not? Were they successful? Why? In each case we will want to draw a mental line back to our Constitution and see how each problem, each war, each public question is solved and won and addressed in our law verses theirs.
The real value in history is the way that it teaches you to think. It’s based on patterns of civilizations. Countless civilizations have arrived on the scene, dealt with the problems of government, and then been conquered or collapsed for a variety of reasons. The governmental problems faced by these civilizations are rarely truly unique. In fact, many of them commonly repeat and most of them are present, in one form or another, in the US today.
It is essential to learn about the lives and character of the men who were behind the founding of our nation and the authoring of the Constitution. Each of them is of astounding character and larger than life. It is not by coincidence that such a quality set of men were gathered together in such a small geographic at exactly the right time.
Any of these men could have easily attained high and comfortable position in the British government. Or, after having succeeded in becoming independent from England, any one of them could have worked to establish himself as a King over America. They could have combined and appointed themselves the perpetual aristocratic ruling body of America. They could have ensured that their sons would have inherited that same class. That they did not, and chose instead to pledge their lives and honor to defending the freedoms of the citizens of this new nation, is absolutely unheard of in the history of the world.
As one example among many: George Washington served as the commanding general of the continental army for the entire duration of the revolutionary war. His wisdom, example, and decisive leadership are often cited as the determining factor in the most critical victories of the war. After the British surrender, the US congress did not have the authority under the Articles of Confederation to collect taxes, and, therefore, could not afford to pay most of the soldiers who had helped with the war – Washington included. Many of these men had lost homes, families, and limbs and had endured tremendous physical suffering – many had left behind windows and children.
Seeing that congress lacked the power to provide reparations, the army was prepared to revolt against congress and setup a new American monarchy with George Washington as King George I of America. Colonel Lewis Nicola wrote to Washington with the offer. At that moment in history, George Washington held the fate of our would-be republic in his hands. It would have been easy for him to rationalize that he would have been a much kinder and more benevolent dictator than King George III of England. Tensions were high and the congress was weak under the Articles. He could have given into fears that if he did not accept the crown the country may still fail to agree on a national charter, fall into anarchy, and eventually back under British control – or worse.
The true majesty of Washington is that in the face of these temptations and his own fears he was true to his long established character. He did not even consider it. Immediately he sent a response to Colonel Nicola that was signed by his aids, acting as witnesses.
I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address which to me seems big with the greatest mischiefs that could befall my country …You could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable.
…If you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, …banish these thoughts from your mind, and never communicate… a sentiment of the like nature.7
That is the exactly kind of character that will be required of us, in the not so distant future, to preserve and protect our Constitution again and to preserve our freedoms and our republic.
Learn Propositional Logic/How to Connect the Dots
In the “old fashioned” days of education students were trained in logic and elocution. Now it seems that only computer engineers and lawyers are trained in the science of logic. Many well-meaning Americans today espouse causes and positions that will ultimately destroy our freedoms simply because they have not been taught to apply propositional logic to see the outcomes of those platforms.
Learn about ‘implication’ as a logic expression. It is applied in logic to communicate that if an event (A) occurs then another event (B) will occur. This can be expressed as follows: A -> B. The arrow is read "implies" so this statement would be read "A implies B". A skillful logician can string together long sequences of implications to determine the likely final outcome of an action. For example if A -> B and B -> C and C -> D and A takes place then D will also take place. This is the very origin of the phase “connect the dots”.
Get the Real and Complete Story
Finally, a great deal of my ignorance about my own political ignorance came because I thought I had all of the relevant facts, but did not. In fact, what I had were the facts that my television news station, or radio talk show host, or blog author wanted me to have: the facts that showed me the world the way they wanted me to see it. In this state we can easily be fooled into thinking we know more than we do and acting in a way that is in the interest of those who provided the information.
Later, when I become a little better educated and could get undiluted facts about issues for myself, I foolishly believed that I knew enough because I really did understand my feelings on the issue. But I did not understand and empathize for well-meaning individuals on the other side of the issue. Consequently, I still did not have the whole story.
Here is a list of excellent avenues where you can learn about the current facts about an issue (of course, you will still need your own knowledge and logic to see implications and draw conclusions).
- The US House of Representatives (http://clerk.house.gov/legislative/legvotes.aspx)
- The site can be a little confusing to navigate, but with some reading and patience you can extract the information about current bills and proposals.
- There is no cost to get the information from this site.
- The US Senate (http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/g_three_sections_with_teasers/legislative_home.htm)
- Like the House site, this will require some patience.
- There is no cost to get the information from this site.
- National Write Your Congressmen (http://nwyc.com)
- This site requires a paid subscription fee, at last check it was around $250/year (about $20/month).
- I subscribe to this service and find that it does an excellent job of summarizing current issues and legislation in a very objective way. They take care to be sure to post both sides of the argument for any issue they list.
- A subscription to this site also gets you access to an online tool that helps you quickly construct and send a letter to your current leaders on any issue or legislation that you choose.
- You cannot sign up directly on their site, but if you are interested in a subscription let me know and I can get you in touch with a rep who can sign you up.
A Personal Declaration of Independence
As we broaden and deepen our understanding of these topics that are completely critical to our nation, we are, in effect, declaring our own independence. We are saying that we want control back of our government and that we are refusing to be the ignorant pawn of the news media or another other source.
It’s certainly more work for us, and it requires a great deal of our time, but, in the end, that just one of the prices of true freedom.
- The King James Bible/Your personal religious text that promotes faith in God and moral living.
- The Declaration of Independence (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html)
- The Constitution of the United State of America (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html)
- The Bill of Rights (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html)
- Common Sense, Thomas Paine
- The Making of America, W. Cleon Skousen
- The Five Thousand Year Leap, W. Cleon Skousen
- The Commonwealth, Cicero
- The Republic, Plato
- The Farewell Address of George Washington (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-CDOC-106sdoc21/pdf/GPO-CDOC-106sdoc21.pdf)
- Beginning Logic, E. J. Lemmon
- On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (in honor of Tyler's last comment)
- Ten Great Religions An Essay in Comparative Theology, James Freeman Clarke
- Revolutionary Services and Civil Life of General William Hull, pp 265-6
- American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (2010), Robert D. Putnam and David E Campbell, ch 1 at note 5
- King James Bible, Leviticus 12:13, Romans 1:27