Sunday, August 8, 2010

Democracy in Motion

I have been rescued. Rejoice!

I have been home and left again. It took the teams a little while to draw the zombies away from the house I was staying in. They had to come in and clean out the stragglers. I spent last night in the arms of my wife after a very wonderful meal of rice and venison. One of the great things about living in Kentucky is that the population of white tail is so large that we used to have to hunt them as pests. Now that there isn't any out of season poaching, there is plenty of meat for patient folks with firearms. 

I had a lot of time to think while I was stuck alone. The onset of the zombie plague literally destroyed society in a matter of weeks, and for the first time I really had to ask myself: was that because the plague was so powerful, or because society was too weak? 

In the time that I was trapped in the house, before I went into the basement, I could see the top of the capitol building through a thin crack between boards over one of the windows. It's funny that I have lived here for twenty years, seen the place a thousand times, and yet in all that time I never really stopped to think about what that sprawling stone campus and all like it say about us as people. 

We were a society built on the idea of elected officials acting in our best interests, because we voted them into place. All of us know how that worked out. But I think even the most cynical of us was shocked at just how self serving almost everyone in the country proved to be when the fall hit us. Government collapsed, the armed forces collapsed, and it was pretty much every man for himself. Those bold facts lead me to believe that our previous government was, by and large, run by a group of people obsessed with their own public persona, rather than any sense of true public service. 

A great example of how this obsession and belief in their own perfection created a system of inflexible bureaucrats incapable of dealing with society in realistic terms, much less forces capable of destroying it: when I was young, I visited the capitol building with school. I was fascinated by the sheer size of it, the precision and detail with which the vast stones were fitted together. Never mind that it must have cost ludicrous sums of money to heat and cool, or that repairs to any of the granite and marble had to be done by men whose craft had become so rare as to cost more than many luxury cars for even simple work. What always stuck in my mind about that trip was when the tour guide walked the group over to an open door, and pointed to the middle hinge. She pointed out that the hinge was missing a screw, and had been for about a week. With a charismatic and simple smile, she informed us that by law, all pieces and parts of the building had to be exact copies of the originals. Every desk and chair, every nail and bolt, had to be individually ordered made from scratch to meet the specification of the old part, despite the fact that the old ones were created in a time where electricity had yet to make its way to this part of the country. 

Can you imagine the cost over the long term? What waste, and what hubris. 

So for the last hour or so, after a few days thinking hard about what we need to leave behind us as a people, and a longer night at home remembering all the good things our government did for us, I have been systematically dismantling things in the capitol building. Doors, desks, chairs. Anything we can use, anything that can be made a part of the great machine that is our small but growing community, we are taking. Maybe some day we will use this building for its intended purpose, as a seat of government. When and if that day comes, I truly hope that we can do the same good that our previous democracy was capable of, while keeping an open mind and a ready memory of the bad that we not repeat those mistakes.

I sincerely hope that someday, we will have the need for a large representational government again. I believe in the power of democracy, and I yearn for the safety and population that will both allow and require it. Truly, I miss what we had. But this is our chance to revise the errors we once adhered to with all the conviction of young priests to the dogmas.

Until that day comes, we will cannibalize what we need from here, and this place will be an empty tomb memorializing the idealists who built our nation, and standing as a warning to us of the egotists who corrupted that vision. 

I believe that the time will come when we can take the words of the founding fathers as they were meant: as basic guides for government and society. Jefferson himself believed that society would have to evolve and change, that only a self-correcting and progressive system of governance could survive long term. I will leave you with that quote:

 "Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment... laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind... as that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, institutions must advance also, to keep pace with the times.... We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain forever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

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