The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual.… Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?
— Henry David Thoreau
You can blame my college history professor for this post. During a lecture years ago he let slip an aside that I’m not sure anyone else in the class caught. He said, “In America, in 50 years — assuming of course that there IS an America in 50 years — we will . . . ” and the rest of it doesn’t matter. I stopped listening at that point, shocked into a mental paralysis by the previously unconsidered possibility that landthatilove might someday cease to exist. Over the years, I have come to see the statement as not just a possibility, but a probability.
I have a core belief in evolution. Not just the Darwinian variety, though I give it all the proper credit due a proven scientific theory. I believe in a more blanket kind of evolution, as in — Everything Evolves. Species and systems. Plants and people. Conch shells and countries. Gorillas and governments. If it exists on this planet (or on any other planet, for that matter) than it is subject to evolution. Quite simply, the first of the 10 Commandments in the Church of Deb is “Change or Die.”
I have tried to explore this idea with my students, with not much success, I’m afraid. They seem absolutely convinced that Democracy, Capitolism, Nationalism, Patriotism, and every other ideology associated with being a good Amurican have existed since before the dinosaurs and will outlive even the planet we seem hellbent on destroying. When I try to suggest that perhaps extreme forms of patriotism run the risk of becoming “borderism,” a specific brand of prejudice based solely on geographic boundaries, they slit their eyes and look at me suspiciously. It would not shock me at all if one of them shot back with, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”
When I went so far as to ask them for a short paper answering the question Thoreau poses in the above quote, I received some of the poorest essays of my teaching career. They simply couldn’t wrap their minds around a post-Democratic world. And that saddened me. We will not evolve until a generation is capable of envisioning the next level.
To be honest, I don’t have the answer either, but I do have a few ideas. I believe a future stage of group evolution will have to include a de-emphasizing of national differences, a form of free-market capitolism that puts money into its proper place (pretty low) on the priority list, and an understanding that win-lose simply doesn’t exist. True evolution will involve an understanding that all boats rise or fall together and that military defense is immensely less important than developing a sort of world consciousness, a kind of extrasensory understanding of what most efficaciously serves everyone.
Our experiment with this democratic republic has been a glorious and admirable endeavor. I value living in a nation that has been the leader in so many ways in evolving our governmental consciousness worldwide. But as much as I appreciate our brilliant founders, not attempting to improve on their work would be akin to driving Model T Fords for the last 100 years.
Perhaps the next time I ask a class Thoreau’s question, I should have them meditate on the words of another great American before beginning to write:
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
— John Lennon