Are We our Brother’s Keeper?
One of history’s oldest questions is currently unsettling the heart of our common life.
While never asked directly, this question hovers over political debates, consumes editorial pages, and infects every political posture. Candidates, media-anointed pundits, commentators and lobbyists choreograph every speech and pronouncement with a flailing, ranting pirouette around this persistent, unspoken question that insistently demands an answer.
Yet there seems a general agreement the question itself, if raised openly, would reveal an open wound too close to the heart of the republic. No public figure dares speak directly to our essential responsibility to one another. While being “Better Together” is a step toward that conversation, it portrays collaboration as a better strategy for personal gain. In a time when apparently no topic is off-limits, this feels too intimate, too dangerous a path to go down.
Perhaps because we already know the answer.
Every day we bear the consequences of plans and slogans, policies re calibrated over decades, camouflaged by misdirection. We already know we have been sacrificed as collateral damage in service of a global Ponzi scheme that has left most of us bereft of resources, of time, of security. We have even found in a sense of resignation, an acceptance that in our democracy, the majority of us no longer have a place at the national table.
Are We Our Brother’s, Our Sister’s, Keeper?
Anyone brave or foolish enough to imply that we bear any such responsibility is to open ourselves to an assault on our patriotism. To insinuate that we share some part in the well being of our neighbor as ourselves, it to insidiously attack certain “things already settled.” We have become numb, over time, to issues of moral concern being addressed - not by directly facing them, but by bleeding the life out of them - then feigning surprise when we suddenly realize what we presumed was sacrosanct has simply been removed. Gone. Disappeared.
Thus, the inevitable death of Social Security is “already settled.” The elimination of Welfare, or any real help for the poor, is “already settled.” The privatization of our military, our prisons, our infrastructure, is “already settled.” Questions about how this happened provoke frustration and annoyance. Don’t you get it? they seem to explain, as a parent to a developmentally challenged child. We have already taken care of this.
What was once an extremely radical interpretation of the role of government has become a benchmark, an attitude any reasonable person would bring to our life together as a nation. Of course government is a bad thing. Of course helping other people is harmful - helping others only hurts them. It makes them dependent, paralyzes their ambition, renders them unable to work. Public assistance creates parasitic citizens incapable of, and disinterested in, making a positive contribution to society.
These “failed policies of the past” have ostensibly been proved to be horrific mistakes, never to be repeated. We now “know” that contributing anything, in any way, toward those in need, or worse, to socialist idea of “the common good,” is so obviously foolhardy, so universally acknowledged as a collection of fatally flawed notions of the past, they are rarely allowed to reach the floor of any governmental chamber.
It was not always so.
In January of 1941, Franklin Roosevelt gave a State of the Union address during a fearful time of terrible war in Europe. Terror and dread were mounting throughout the US. And in eleven months, the US would be pulled into the second World War, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
One would reasonably expect this to be a time when the President would limit individual rights, restrict freedom of movement, decrease immigration, and generally increase homeland security. But instead he proposed what would today be unthinkable: Additional freedoms for the American people.
These “four Freedoms” are rarely discussed in American politics. But their very existence - and the timing of their unveiling - is a fierce testament to an America that once imagined we were, in fact, our sister’s and our brother’s keeper.
And Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms were not to be bestowed only upon those lucky enough to have been born in the United States. He proposed these freedoms be available to every citizen of the world:
”In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
1. Freedom of speech and expression-everywhere in the world.
2. Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way-everywhere in the world.
3. Freedom from want-which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.
4. Freedom from fear-which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor-anywhere in the world.”
Roosevelt’s strategic response to military aggression was - to better care for all our neighbors. At home and around the world. To be, essentially, our brother’s keeper.
Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms are now enshrined in a beautiful memorial, along the Potomac River, in Washington DC.
But whether they live in our hearts, our hands, our minds, is a question with which we must wrestle, each and every day.
Much is made of America’s freedom by both parties. But with Freedom comes responsibility, as Roosevelt clearly understood. Perhaps our greatest responsibility is to our neighbor as to ourselves.
To be our brother’s keeper.