Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, — "But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance, Essays: First Series (1841).
Self Reliance. The entire essay is a worth read, or re-read in my case. I found my way to the essay today because of a speech by Jeff Danielson from Newsroom, the television series. He gave it during a forum at a university. I’d have to go watch the whole show to give a complete description. It was an answer to the question of ‘why is the United States the greatest country on earth?’
He was preceded by two other participants who used the standard, “Freedom” and “melting pot” phrases. His answer? “It is NOT the greatest country on earth.” He went on to say why. Where we rank. Facts, all negative, statements that are truths. All reasons why we are not the best.
Why does it take a television show to speak on our behalf? Why does it take an actor who has rehearsed his lines and a staged performance in order to tell the truth about the United States? While I do not doubt his sincerity, I suddenly doubt the value of his performance beyond art. He did say the truth. I agree with his performance completely. He did not tell us whether he, as a person, believes in what he said. It looks a lot like, oh, Robin Williams playing the part of a gay man in “Birdcage”. It was believable, it was funny and it did not tell us whether Robin actually was gay (I’ve no doubt that he was not).
Today’s politicians are conformists. They play party line, vote party line and voice popular opinions in order to get re-elected. We travel further down the road toward sameness each day. Nowadays, instead of seeing lightning fast changes in technology, about all we see are lightning fast enactments of party-line laws designed to allow us to give in just a little bit more and to give up just a little more freedom.
I think the world of Emerson. He wrote what he thought and lived his life by the guideline that was his own moral compass. He did not seek party approval or permission from others to write and do as he did. I follow that same principal. It is a good thing to seek advice. It is also great to get experience, to make mistakes and then resolve them. It is often good to follow the rules to a certain extent, especially if there is proof that they produce a positive result.
It is never good to do so blindly. The uninformed ‘leaders’ that create our rules today are expecting us to do exactly that. My life may slow down even more as I take some time out to discover exactly why I should obey a new law.
Here is an epiphany. A truly conservative person expects to take responsibility for his actions. A truly liberal person wants to take the responsibility for someone else's actions.