Friday, October 15, 2010
A Tale of Two Countries
Writing, for me, is always an occasion to search for hidden connections, synchronicities, and stark contrasts. The last few weeks were rich in the latter: the stunning contrast between Chile and the U.S., for instance, in their respective responses to crisis in their countries. On the one hand, human nature at its best; on the other, at its worst.
When thirty-three miners were trapped underground for sixty-nine days, the government of Chile turned crisis into opportunity, and made itself into a glorious beacon of courage, faith, and decency. Throughout the long ordeal, social bonding between the government, its people, and the miners became so inspirational that the fate of the miners set the whole world on fire. Everyone was watching, with baited breath, while the trapped men worked, sang, and prayed together in the underground darkness, while they awaited rescue for over two months.
Luis Urzua became the selfless leader who kept the men organized and motivated--insisting at the end on being the last man to leave in the specially constructed miracle capsule that ferried each miner through two thousand feet of rock, back to their waiting families. Sebastian Pinera, the President of Chile, had vowed to do everything possible to rescue the miners, no holds barred, and as each miner emerged from from the capsule, he received big bear hugs from the President.
"We aren't the same that we were before the collapse on Aug. 5th," the President said. "Today, Chile is a country much more unified, stronger, and much more respected and loved in the entire world." And he vowed that people wouldn’t be allowed to work in such unsafe and inhumane conditions again.
Not so for my country. Still reeling from the financial collapse in 2008, the U.S. is currently engaged in political flame wars propelled by brutal divisiveness, blood-curdling opportunism, and anonymous corporate donors who do not have the good of the country at heart. We look like a country contaminated by plague. The devotional frame of mind which set Chile alight is nowhere to be seen. In its place, unending tirades against everything; hatred and rage on a scale that Leonard Pitts aptly described as "end-times bacchanal."
For practices to flourish, according to philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, it is necessary that they embody the virtues. American democracy has lost the virtues. The obscene amounts of money being pumped into the political system by corporations, to be used as attack funds in their attempt to take over the government, has draped our once stellar country under a black shroud.
So what can be done about this stupefying reality? Perhaps we need to consider who is stinking up the refrigerator. We could take a lesson from the likes of Chile, instead of from the dog-eat-dog mentality of Judas-types like Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell. If they succeed, every piece of Democratic legislation that's been passed so far will be challenged as unconstitutional. Before long, we'll go back to the deregulation of everything, and our country can really walk the plank to oblivion.