Trying to get the American train back on track

During the recent civil unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, I noticed one hand-held sign that read, “There is no room in this country for hate.” Commendable, yes, but I’m afraid it’s a little too late now; that train left the station long ago. And I believe, as reasonable people, it would behoove us to be careful not to add to the problem by jumping on board.

While attempting to make sense of what is currently happening in our country and strategizing how we can get that train back on a more positive track, I think it is important to first recognize that we all have our own prejudices, each of us harboring some degree of racist and xenophobic attitudes. Simply to throw stones, so to speak, does little to change the minds of those we disagree with and, ironically, has the potential for the opposite effect of what’s intended. When a group is under attack, on either side of an issue, there’s a tendency to attract borderline sympathizers, and the snowball heading downhill just picks up mass and speed.

These less-than-virtuous traits within us are not necessarily our own fault. As Nelson Mandela said and as Barack Obama reminds us, “No one is born hating. … Hatred and intolerance have to be learned.” And I’m not just referring to the extremists. We’ve all been influenced by our culture, families, religious leaders and government where the powers-that-be influence us in an attempt to believe, both good and bad, what they want us to believe. I was taught that George Washington could not tell a lie. A great man, yes. Responsible for the security of our fledgling nation, yes. But I was not taught that he owned slaves. And I was certainly not made aware of the overwhelming psychological trauma realized within a whole group of Americans, lasting centuries now, through the spirit-killing effects of slavery, Jim Crow and institutionalized racism. We may change a few laws, but these effects linger through generations.

And what about our knee-jerk reactions of threats toward violence? Why be surprised? Isn’t that how our country teaches us to settle our differences? Our government too often deals with its adversaries through war, the threat of war or by employing sanctions that ultimately deny innocent people adequate food, shelter, medicine and education? Our current president campaigned on the promise to “bomb the hell out of ISIS” and threatens North Korea with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen.” Our last president favored drone strikes, some killing scores of innocent people, and all controlled by a guy sitting comfortably behind a desk in front of a computer screen on a base near Syracuse who then clocks out and goes home to his loving family. The president before that conducted a pre-emptive strike on Iraq even before investigations were complete on whether weapons of mass destruction were present, a move that opened the floodgates for the chaos we now see in the Middle East.

When are we going to learn that violence simply begets violence? When will we wake up to the realization that by killing one terrorist, you create 10 more? Is this so hard to understand? No matter your ideology, wouldn’t you also want revenge on the perpetrators who killed your mother, father, sister, brother, spouse or child? We are safe only for as long as we have superior weapons. And a calculated, surprise nuclear attack could reverse that balance in an instant.

Successfully dealing with the insanity of our country’s and our world’s problems can only be accomplished through a clear understanding of the issues and the consequences of our actions, void of emotion and self-interest. We are human beings. We didn’t become king of the forest through brute force. We got to this point by using our superior brain power. And it is that very brain power that can save us. Others in the world may be hell-bent on violence as a tool of international relations, but we are the United States of America. We are the first government founded and formed upon the principles of individual freedom and liberty, where theoretically, at least, all men are created equal. The Great Experiment. And as a result, we’ve earned the recognition as the leader of the free world. Accepting that challenge requires responsibility to level-headedness.

So how can we get this train back on track? For starters, we offer a meager step toward resolution with a series of free lectures, which has been scheduled to help put things into perspective. Called the Enlightenment Lectures, the series will explore what it means to be human and give insight as to how we can more effectively address our problems. The lectures will be presented on Tuesday evenings beginning Sept. 19, continuing into November at the Saranac Lake Free Library and conducted by professors from SUNY Plattsburgh, North Country Community College and Paul Smith’s College, a local author/educator and a local health professional.

The topics begin with “What Makes us Human,” explaining what it is that separates us from other animals on earth, and emphasizing the point that we are but one race, the human race. The series continues with an explanation of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” concluding that if we work to provide an environment where our physical, intellectual and emotional needs were met, there would be no need for revolution.

The third lecture is titled “Basic Principles of Logic and Reasoning,” showing how misunderstandings occur when common logical fallacies are used freely in everyday argumentation. “Mythology and our Need to Understand” addresses the history of myths and why we have so many world views. “The Wonders of the Universe” shows how vast our universe is, yet also shows how interconnected we are with the cosmos.

The existential crisis that is “Global Warming and Climate Change” will be presented, sizing up its current state and giving practical suggestions on how to minimize its effects. The series concludes with the “Basics of Human Health and Wellness,” explaining the dangerous imbalance between health care and disease management.

The train may have left the station, but we still have time to switch tracks and steer ourselves toward fulfillment of the ideals our country’s forefathers laid down. Plan to attend.

Joe Dockery lives in Saranac Lake.

The Enlightenment Lectures

Tuesday evenings, 7 to 9 p.m., Cantwell Room, Saranac Lake Free Library, 109 Main St., Saranac Lake

1. Sept. 19, “What Makes Us Human,” Gillian Crane-Kramer, professor of anthropology and archeology, SUNY Plattsburgh

2. Sept. 26, “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” Camelia Sheridan, associate professor of social science, chair of social sciences department, North Country Community College

3. Oct. 3, “Basic Principles of Logic and Reasoning,” Shir Filler, professor of English, chair of the Humanities Department, NCCC

4. Oct. 10, “Wonders of Our Universe,” David Gardner, scientist, educator, author of “Whispers From the Stone Age”

5. Oct. 24, “Mythology and our Need to Understand,” Bruce Rowe, instructor in Department of Humanities, NCCC

6. Nov. 7, Global Warming and Climate Change,” Curt Stager, professor of natural sciences, author, researcher, Paul Smith’s College

7. Nov. 21, “Basics of Human Health and Wellness,” Joe Dockery, D.C. — local chiropractor, certified chiropractic wellness practitioner