Posted by: Tony Carson | 16 September, 2007

Is it a wasted life to be an American?

Seriously. Is it a wasted life to be an American?

The philosophical cry of Classical Greece was to ‘Know Thyself,” not a self of purer clay but a responsible self in the context of a greater society, at the time the known world. “Who am I in the scheme of things and how can I contribute?”

To “Know Thyself” was a kind of intellectual imperative of Athenian citizenship, a challenge to learn and express for the greater good of all.

The key was context, to “Know Thyself” within the expanding society and emerging philosophical enlightenment, not as a prisoner in a cell constrained by the cramped world of the inner mind.

To “Know Thyself” was an enormous challenge to understand your unique place and opportunities within the body of all knowledge, not just a contrived neighbourhood of thought. Not just within the prison of a country.

This brings me to my point. By and large, Americans think within the centrifugal force of Americanism. They shut out the greater world for the easy comfort of their apple-pie locality.

And it works. It works well for them … until they dare to step outside the confines of their tiny comfort zone to face the greater world. And then they are lost and lonely and frightened: every stranger an enemy, every foreign thought a threat.

Jingoistic patriotism is a comfortable cocoon but life doesn’t really begin until you leave the chrysalis to find the buffeting joys of diversity.

And that’s why I ask the question. Are Americans, so mothered by their Americana, cheating themselves by hiding from the enriching enlightenment of all?

When Socrates suggested that “An unexamined Life is a life not worth living,” he, too, was thinking context. Don’t examine your life within the plodding possibilities of your block; examine your life within the infinite possibilities of the planet … and beyond.

Enlightenment is the true freedom.


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