American Caribou, the Gun Control Debate

The debate over gun control is a topic that is extremely important to me.  I have strong opinions and about this subject, and if I am not careful, I can tend to overlook the fact that to so many, great suffering and emotional trauma is attached to such a debate.  After the recent failure of the gun control laws to pass in the U.S. Senate, many of the Newtown tragedy parents have vowed to continue to fight for more strict regulations.  This is a serious subject.

I believe that stories are a powerful medium. They make a point while distancing the point from the subject.  The concept is then grasped and hopefully applied by the individual instead of being forced upon the individual.  For this reason, I am presenting to you one of Wyatt’s Fables.

The Wolf and the CaribouCaribou Bull

One day a wolf was wandering the plain in search of prey.  He was hungry, but didn’t really need food because he had eaten only yesterday.  Suddenly he spotted a caribou calf on the edge of a small glade.  “This defenseless gangly creature will make for a fine chase and good sport.” he thought as he stealthily approached.  Just as he was about to spring and begin the chase, there loomed out of the woods the mother caribou and a large bull with her.  The bull was strong with towering antlers, and the mother had long, powerful front legs with sharp hooves.  The wolf immediately began to flee.  No chase was worth the risk of those antlers and hooves.

Moral:  Predators avoid danger while the defenseless are vulnerable.

 This fable specifically is not the story that people need to hear, especially those who have suffered at the hands of violent crime.  The difficulty comes from the perspectives involved.  To those who have suffered, they see the weapon as the problem.  What could that man have done if he didn’t have a gun?  The realistic answer is that he could not have done what he did.  The missing link in this perspective is that regulations only matter to law abiding citizens and the man who did the murdering is in no way law abiding.  I am not arguing the Newtown tragedy specifically,(for example was that specific gun legal etc.) I am just stating that those hindered by regulations are not criminals.

I live in central Virginia and remember clearly the day that the Virginia Tech shooting occurred.  One of my school teachers had a daughter attending there at the time.  I was thinking once again about that terrible tragedy with its anniversary so recently past.  I asked myself, “What would have happened if the professor or any of the students in the several classrooms he entered had been armed?  Certainly several students would still have been killed, but would he have been able to make the parents of all 33 mourn?

My fable is completely inspired by this video.  I believe this man to be saying something that the U.S. government needs to hear, even if individuals need to be treated more gently.  As the governing body of the nation, the significance of the decisions they are making must be forced upon them.  I am not denigrating the feelings or motives of those who hold a position opposite to my own.  I simply feel that something is missing form their understanding.  Perhaps someone will be able to bring clarity and decisiveness to the debate over such a serious issue.

-Wyatt Fairlead

The Boston Bombings, Why We Appreciate Virtue

I am sitting in Dulles International Airport waiting for my mother and sister to arrive home from Romania.  They have been gone for two weeks.  Since they left, a lot has happened.  There have been explosions, terror attacks, and more.  The world is a dangerous place.

My heart goes out to the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings.  It isn’t fair that so many should suffer for the wrongs of so few.  It is the dangerous world we live in.  And why is the world dangerous?  Why are there evil people, who would do such atrocious acts of violence?

Human nature has a natural propensity for evil.  That is what makes the positive virtues so valuable.  I was thinking the other day about courage.  I don’t know why I was contemplating it, but this thought occurred to me.  “Without fear, what is courage?”  It is the positive things that we appreciate, but why are they so precious?  Because there is an opposite.  There is evil.  And the choice makes the value.  If you have no choice, your decision has no value.  If you have a choice, your decision reflects on what you have decided, and it also reflects on you.

Think of this.  It is easier for the human to be cowardly.  Fear is the natural response.  The problem is that cowardice never saved anyone.  It takes courage to save.  To protect.  I think of the police in Boston, going from door to door.  Behind any one of those doors they walk up to could be waiting a dangerous man desperate to do anything to save himself.  It takes courage to go to that door.  Fear says stay away.  But the choice makes courage valuable.  We all know the high path, but invariably, our body wants the low one.  Our mind must fight the battle between these paths.

I do not know the reasons behind the attacks at Boston.  Perhaps no ones but the perpetrators do.  Perhaps they will be the only one who ever know.  But in the end, they fought a battle in their mind.  A battle between good and evil.  Their being was telling them to do the evil they committed.  Undoubtedly for a time, their mind resisted, for obvious reasons.  They chose evil.  The world suffers.  Without fear, what is courage?  Without suffering, what is joy?  Without strife and bondage, what is a savior?

~Wyatt Fairlead

Civil Disobedience

This essay should have a little bit of an introduction.  It was written to discuss whether the possibility of Thoreau’s philosophy as laid out in his work, Civil Disobedience, is actually reasonable.

Introduction

            For those of you who may not be aware, Henry David Thoreau was a political theorist and philosopher.  His work, Civil Disobedience was published in 1849, and was a direct response to the Mexican War.

Henry David Thoreau

On Civil Disobedience in Regards to the Mexican War

            The Mexican War was one of several controversial conflicts in the history of the United States.  At the time of the Mexican war, the controversy over slavery was dominating much of domestic politics.  Recent legislation, such as the Missouri Compromise, after the Louisiana Purchase, were all focused on the issue of the expansion of slavery.  Only a few years after the writing of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, a new wave of debate over slavery and slave territories would erupt with such infamous legislation as the Compromise of 1850, the Wilmot Proviso and the divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act.  This new wave of debates was caused by the winning of the War with Mexico and all the territory gained through the Gadsden Purchase.  It was a time of political upheaval and civil dissention.  Tempers ran hot on both sides of the issues of the day, and no less so on the issue of the Mexican War.

As mentioned earlier, the Mexican war was not a popular war.  Deep-rooted suspicions surrounded it, especially in the North.  Many of those opposed to slavery thought that the South was hoping to gain more representation in Congress for the slave states through the acquisition of the southwestern territories using the Missouri Compromise.  This idea naturally made the war less popular in the North.  There were also those who thought that personal political considerations, on the part of President Polk, were playing a significant role in the way the war was conducted. Still others saw the war as naked imperialism and considered such grasping at power and territory to be immoral.  Then there were those who supported the war.  They were the citizens who believed in what was called the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.  They considered this American expansion as the natural and right course of action.  California was already more populated by American settlers than Mexicans.  Texas was already an independent republic and was recognized by the American government as such, even if the Mexican government did not.  This free, independent republic wanted to gain entrance to the Union, as did California.  The land in between these two regions was almost entirely unpopulated and to those who held the view of Manifest Destiny, there was no reason why it should not belong to America.  It was clear to all, however, that the territories would not be given up by Mexico without a fight.

Turning to Civil Disobedience, what, in Thoreau’s words, was the purpose of the act of civil disobedience and what gain was to be had?  Furthermore, what did this perspective have to say about the period in which it was written?  We shall begin to answer these questions.  In his work, Thoreau clearly lays out the purpose for conducting civil disobedience:

“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? … Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence… if a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the state to commit violence and shed innocent blood.  This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible… When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished.  But even suppose blood should flow.  Is there not a sort of bloodshed when the conscience is wounded?” 

 

The purpose for civil disobedience is to reform government to fit your agenda.  It is revolution for the cause of what you perceive as right. Early on in his essay Thoreau makes this, one of the most telling and defining statements of the work, “It is not desirable to develop a respect for the law, so much as for the right.  The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right.”

For Thoreau, this worked perfectly.  He did not think that it was right to try to force Mexico to give up land.  He considered the possible expansion of slavery evil.  Therefore, according to his philosophy, he should deny the government his money, talents and resources.  He should disobey the laws and means of injustice in the government.  The trouble with this philosophy is that people’s ideas on what is right and wrong are not always the same.  For example, the Texan settlers rebelled against the Mexican government, and became an independent republic.  The majority wanted to join the United States.  It is safe to say, however, that not every single inhabitant in the region of Texas wanted to become a state in the Union.  So, who’s “right” is right?  One would naturally come to the conclusion that the larger group would be right.  This conclusion is drawn from our engrained democratic principles.  This is not what we see Thoreau argue however.  On the contrary, Thoreau makes this statement.  “I think it is enough if they have God on their side [referring to the abolition of slavery], without waiting for that other one.  Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.”  Here Thoreau plays on the religious sentiment of the day by invoking God into his argument, but then immediately dismisses Him in the next sentence as not being necessary.  The question remains.  Who’s right?  Thoreau’s philosophy breaks down completely as a practical way of operating.

Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience is nice in theory, but impossible in practice both today and back when it was written.  If we use Thoreau’s philosophy to decide whether or not the Mexican War was justifiable, we soon realize that the war in question could be considered as legitimate as any other war.  If we do not, there is actually room for debate on the subject.  The same fact applies for today.  Part of the nation is in favor of some political agenda.  The other part is not.  According to Thoreau, either side becomes right as soon as the decision is made.  It only depends on what you consider to be just or beneficial.

In conclusion, the ideas expounded in Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience are based on a fundamentally flawed premise.  While many of the concepts are very true and beneficial, such as government’s power being derived from the governed, and that the government must always endeavor to keep its laws on the moral high ground and in the best interest of all affected, there must be a standard to which all these judgments are based.  Thoreau only recommends the standard of personal opinion, and that is no standard at all.  The legitimacy of any action, both at the time when Civil Disobedience was written, and now, cannot be determined conclusively and objectively by the philosophy laid out in its pages.

Wyatt Fairlead

Election Day

I realize that this particular post will not necessarily mean a whole lot to some who read it, but America as a nation is about to come out and vote.  Unfortunately, not all of America is going to come out.  That is the topic I would like to address, or perhaps more appropriately, I would like to let President Coolidge address.  This post is specifically directed to all American citizens that may happen to read this, whether they are eligible to vote or not.

As an American, you are a privileged individual.  You have freedoms unprecedented in much of the global community.  You live in one of the most affluent societies in the world.  You have opportunities that the majority of the world only dream about.  With this in mind, consider this radio address given by President Coolidge On November 3, 1924.

 

“All the opportunity for self-government through the rule of the people depends upon one single factor.  That is the ballot box… The people of our country are sovereign.  If they do not vote, they abdicate that sovereignty, and they may be entirely sure that if they relinquish it other forces will seize it, and if they fail to govern themselves some other power will rise to govern them.  The choice is always before them, whether they will be slaves or whether they will be free.  The only way to be free is to exercise actively and energetically the privileges, and discharge faithfully the duties which make freedom.  It is not to be secured by passive resistance.  It is the result of energy and action…”

“Persons who have the right to vote are trustees for the benefit of their country and their countrymen.  They have no right to say they do not care.  They must care!  They have no right to say that whatever the result of the election they can get along.  They must remember that their country and their countrymen cannot get along, cannot remain sound, cannot preserve its institutions, cannot protect its citizens, cannot maintain its place in the world, unless those who have the right to vote do sustain and do guide the course of public affairs by the thoughtful exercise of that right on election day.”

 

Every freedom that we as American citizens lay down will be taken up by someone else, be they domestic or foreign.   We must not be children.  When several children are playing with toys and one child stops playing with one, does it stay there on the floor?  NO.  We must exercise our privileges.  We must remind ourselves of our rights and learn to protect them.  As an American citizen, one of the most basic, fundamental rights we have next to those enumerated in the Bill of Rights is the right to vote.  It is how “We The People” rule.  It is how we express our will.  It is not just a whimsical type of thing.  Voting is not something we should try to remember to do if it convenient.  We have a duty, to ourselves, to the nation which gave birth to us, or has adopted us, to our fellow citizens, and to our posterity.  That is the duty and privilege to vote.

Wyatt Fairlead

Certainty in What?

In the last week, the world situation has grown significantly darker.  The Middle East has been smoldering for a long time, and now the hot wind of mistrust and violence is blowing over the glowing coals.  One cannot help but wonder when the flames will begin to rise.  I am not trying to be pessimistic, but when I look out at the current events, the question springs unbidden into my subconscious mind, “What does all this mean for me?”  There are many things in the current global arena that are cause for concern, and also many events that are closer to home.  I have long been under the conviction that the future will prove this time period to be pivotal in the history of the world.

Life is uncertain right now.  While we are not necessarily in peril of our lives, the affects of the turmoil can and will be felt around the world.  On the other hand, the U.S. may default on its loans and Chinese will become a useful language over here.  (That would be one of the unexpected repercussions of global events that would greatly affect me.)  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think doomsday is around the corner.  I have simply been looking at the possibilities and thinking to myself that there are a lot of things in play at the moment.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Thanks for the heads up, but life was tough enough without you highlighting all the potential disasters that might threaten civilization.”  I know that what I have said above is not particularly encouraging, but I am getting to what I actually wanted to say. We, as humans, seem to always look for a stabilizing force in what we do; we are always trying to find equilibrium.  If it is hot around us, we seek the cool.  If it is cold, we seek warmth.  The same goes with our non-physical surroundings.  When times are uncertain, we naturally want to turn to something that is certain.

So what is certain in this life?  I can’t say what that is for others.  I know some that would say relationships, others family.  I know some that would say God.  Others, who are perhaps of a more practical mindset, that only death is certain.  (There I go again being really encouraging.) For me, the only certain thing in this world is the God of the Bible.  There is never anything that is more certain than God.

That may seem somewhat contradictory to the skeptic.  How can something that cannot be proven to exist be certain?  If a God exists, He would be outside the realm of the physical world and consequently, can hardly be considered a certainty to be depended upon.  The only real response to this argument is that experiential evidence tells me that my faith in God is not a leap into the darkness, as it would possibly seem to someone without that evidence.  I cannot prove that God exists.  But God can prove to me that he exists.  There is another way to look at the certainty of God.  Perhaps it is a good thing that God is not of this physical world.  The physical world is the thing is so uncertain.  If God were of this world, what would make Him more certain than everything else?  George Whitefield brought all this thought into line for me when I read this quote.

“We are immortal till our work is done.”

This quote is interesting to me because it describes in so few words God’s sovereignty over the world’s events.  Now I am not about to get into a theological discussion, but I just think it is neat to consider all the implications of that statement.  Nothing that happens to the Christian, be it good or bad, is outside God’s knowledge.  Nothing will happen to the Christian that will thwart Gods plan.  In that knowledge the Christian can feel a certainty that no one else can.

Earlier in this post I said that “for me” the only certain thing is God.  I believe that God is the only certain thing.  The only difference is whether you are grounding your certainty on him.  To those who are not yet able to ground that certainty on God, I would just say, that He is there.  When everything else is uncertain, He is still there.  The decision is yours:  On what are you placing your certainty?

Wyatt Fairlead

The Gathering Storm

 

Today I finished reading Winston Churchill’s book, The Gathering Storm.  I decided to read it mid-way through the month of May and enjoyed it thoroughly, though I did not get through it as quickly as I was hoping.  I believe that Chruchill was a man with incredible insight into human nature and a shrewd judge of character.  He was proved correct time and time again in his predictions, which he gave in spite of jeering and hostile opposition that considered him a warmonger.  His political life was a series of valleys and mountaintops, but he continued to rise to the forefront of British politics during times of peril.  The natural question is: Why would a man with such a volatile record always be called on when there was trouble?  I believe it is because he was a man who was unafraid.  He was determined to see the facts of a case, no matter the outcome.  He would rather face the problems that where coming in the future head on than hide from them and hope that paltry efforts and quick fixes would be adequate.  And most importantly, he was willing to say what no one wanted to hear, and do the things that no one wanted to do, for the good of all.

The Gathering Storm is Winston Churchill’s chronicle of the years between the World Wars and then his part in World War Two before he became Prime Minister.  During those years it was possible to have bloodlessly prevented the coming conflict with Hitler on numerous occasions.  This is something that a little proactivity on the part of Britain and France, with the prodding from a few prophets of the time, such as Churchill, could have prevented.  The problem was that Europe had just emerged from the worst, most bloody conflict that history had ever known, and the last thing that the western world wanted was an armed confrontation.  The world wanted peace.  What they got was war.  And why?  Churchill puts it best in the book.

“It is my purpose, as one who lived and acted in these days, to show how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous.”

It is my belief that this world needs another Winston Churchill.  This is a critical time in the world.  There is a lot hanging in the balance.  We need someone who is willing to say what no one wants to say and no one wants to hear.  We need someone who is willing to do the things that no one is willing to do.  But I think that there is something else that we need even more than another Winston Churchill.  We, as people, must learn the lessons taught to us by the past.  We must be willing to hear and act upon the things that we don’t want to hear or do.  If we are unwilling to do so, we may find ourselves in a position of no less peril than those who belong to the era named the greatest generation.  Perhaps not peril of war, (although it is entirely possible) but through a myriad of other problems that may be forced upon us.  Churchill ends the preface to The Gathering Storm this way.

 

“It is my earnest hope that pondering upon the past may give guidance in the days to come, enable a new generation to repair some of the errors of former years and thus govern, in accordance with the needs and glory of man, the awful unfolding scene of the future.”

                                                WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL

 Wyatt Fairlead

July the Third

Today is one of the most important days of American history.  But July the third is not only one of the most important days of American history in general; the actions that took place on this date in the past had the profoundest impact on the organization of what we now call the United States.  But before you all get the idea that this has anything to do with Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence, it does not.  The event I am referring to happened 87 years later.  I am referring to the last day in the battle of Gettysburg.  Today, 149 years ago, the Confederacy made its high water mark on Cemetery Ridge, in what became known as Picket’s Charge.  It was on this day that the Union almost broke.  The fate of the southern states depended on the outcome of this day.  Much of this is in hindsight; but even General Lee knew then that had he won the battle of Gettysburg, the path to Washington would be cleared and President Davis would be giving President Lincoln the South’s terms for peace.  The rest is History.  The Union line held against an assault of more than 15,000 Confederate soldiers across a plain 1 ½ miles wide and forced Lee’s retreat back to Virginia.  It was today that proved America could not overcome itself.  This is a story in Lee’s biography, which was written by A. L. Long, told by a union soldier.

            “I was at the battle of Gettysburg myself . . . I had been the most bitter anti-South man, and fought and cursed the Confederates desperately.  I could see nothing good in any of them.  The last day of the fighting I was badly wounded.  A ball shattered my left leg.  I lay on the ground not far from Cemetery Ridge, and as General Lee ordered his retreat he and his officers rode near me.

As they came, I recognized him and, though faint from exposure and loss of blood, I raised up my hands, looked Lee in the face, and shouted as loud as I could, “Hurrah for the Union!”

The General heard me, looked, stopped his horse, dismounted, and came toward me.  I confess that at first I thought he meant to kill me.  But as he came up, he looked down at me with such a sad expression on his face that all fear left me, and I wondered what he was about.  He extended his hand to me, and grasping mine firmly and looking right into my eyes, said, “My son, I hope you will soon be well.”

If I live to be a thousand years I shall never forget he expression on General Lee’s face.  There he was, defeated, retiring from a field that had cost him and his cause almost their last hope, yet he stopped to say words like those to a wounded soldier of the opposition who had taunted him as he passed by.  As soon as the General had left I cried myself to sleep there upon the bloody ground.”

            Today is one of the days that made the United States of America what it is, and we so often forget it.  They were regular men, Union or Confederates, Americans all, fighting for a cause, and changing the course of history with them.

Wyatt Fairlead