America: A Time, Not a Place
JANUARY 01, 1977 by JOAN MARIE LEONARD
Miss Leonard is a free-lance writer.
It is popular among many today to reach back for their ethnic past. Americans are talking more about being Polish, Armenian, Italian, Afro or Chicano than American. The Indians seem to want to reclaim the land for the Cherokee, Apache and other tribes. And so many Americans are claiming to be part Indian, we’re surrounded.
As soon as the Arabs catch on to this ancient-heritage idea, they may claim America on the basis that everyone in the world is an Arab, since the earliest peoples migrated from North Africa, diffused into a multitude of nations and pulled together again, completing the circle, when the idea of America attracted people from all over the globe.
The point is, we don’t just occupy a piece of land or just a round speck in the cosmos. We occupy land, but in an area of time and experience. This period of time we occupy cannot continue to be preoccupied with considerations of several thousand years ago without losing everything it has acquired.
As it is, the world is moving backward in time and experience. One symbol of the reversal of progress is the backward movement of the Israeli turmoil. The Jewish people never held a piece of land very long. As a result they became internationals—the most advanced people in the world—almost as disseminated throughout the world as the entire race—the human race. Their desire for a specific plot of national land, and the UN’s willingness to shove people out of their homes to provide it, has resumed hostilities of several thousand years ago.
The case of
Life on the Reservation
Our own Indian situation is another painful look into the past. But in all the vocal furor, it is never suggested that the Indian become apart of our life today. What is shouted for most is more of the same treatment that has kept many Indians imprisoned in the poverty of another century, which is to say, welfarism.
Are we to go on forever with reservations preserving people like animals in a zoo while tourists take their pictures as they weave and tend their sheep? If the American idea were extended to the Indians with the abandonment of the welfare-reservation system, they would be self-responsible people enjoying the comforts of today’s living and pursuing their arts as a profitable business or hobby, not to obtain a meager sustenance. And they would be enjoying the strength, pride and independence that is far more the essence of their heritage than feathers and paint.
Still, there is no more cause for a national guilt complex over the Indian situation than over any other of our many well-intended but destructive welfare schemes. The intention is always to help. The result is always increasing misery.
Having provided the Indians with land along with mineral rights not enjoyed by other landowners, the American taxpayer also pays for housing, education, services and subsidies of all kinds while paying again for products and services produced. It would be difficult to find another example in history of a conquered people who have been given so much—to their own detriment. Increased welfare has only led to increased demands, as opportunistic union organizers and radical leaders find profit in keeping Indians the separate and dependent members of a past time period, just as some black leaders urge blacks not to mix with whites for fear of losing their political clout.
It’s not just the Indians who are increasingly separatist. There is a growing provincialism among our cities as all communities vie with each other over Federal matching funds, grants and subsidies. When the race is to get there fast and get the most, the money is often spent foolishly on half-formulated projects. In less prosperous times, such rivalry and chicanery could lead to open violence. Is it reasonable to assume that a community willing to accept wealth extracted forcibly from others for its parks and playgrounds would not go to even greater lengths when its very economic survival is threatened by inevitably dwindling doses of dollars from the public treasury?
Factions and Frictions
Our indivisible nation is dividing and subdividing itself into increasingly contentious factions based on geography, occupation, employment status, age group, sex, physical condition, religion, color, race, ethnic background—you name it. The friction and fractionalization intensifies as every gain is taken at someone else’s expense.
Welfare is warfare. It is a system of successive retaliation. It proceeds like any fight with an exchange of punches back and forth, all justified because "the other guy started it." Calling it welfare instead of warfare doesn’t change the vicious fact, soften the blows, or reduce the danger of expanded hostility.
A nation that privileges no one is indivisible; a nation that grants privileges on the basis of group distinction is obviously divided against itself.
Not so long ago, it was just the opposite. Those escaping from the oppressed countries of Europe were anxious to Americanize their names and be Americans—united in the great, historically new experience of freedom which was interpreted as opportunity—"the land of opportunity."
There was pride in being American, not because it was a great, beautiful place, but because it was a beautiful idea—an idea everyone could embrace because it allowed everything possible to all people in a creative atmosphere of ordered peace. It was the idea that each individual has an importance that transcends the imposed will of anyone else, whether singly or in a
It was not a national idea. It was the end of the "national" idea. An idea too big for boundaries—an idea both universal and eternal.
The mountains and rivers, lakes and prairies were beautiful, and would be no matter what their conformation, because they were part of this new human discovery—a discovery that opened the way to all forms of creation. It was an idea that would make any place beautiful. And the idea matured and made even the desert wastelands alive and blowing with flowering color and fruitful productivity. More fertile lands around the world, without the sustenance of such understanding, remained as barren as ignorance. They remained in the past—a past to which we are rapidly returning.
The Public Domain
In spite of technological advances, we are intellectually closer to 1492 than to the twenty-first century. In
"For our own good" a large percentage of our land area is set aside in a park system—national, state, county and city—that is as anachronistic and un-American as the reservation system.
National and state parks were set aside so "everyone" could enjoy the land’s beauty in an unspoiled state. In truth, relatively few get to enjoy them, and the beauty is more soiled than unspoiled.
The parks aren’t pristine and undeveloped. They’re poorly and publicly developed for almost the exclusive use of campers and backpackers, whereas the majority of people traveling through them aren’t prepared for hiking and camping.
At a scenic spot like Glacier Point in
Where there are people, there have to be services. There are hotels, restaurants, service stations, stores, and the like in the
Some environmentalists would have us believe this place is all we have to leave our children and it must be unused if it is to be unspoiled. But if we leave millions of acres of unused, somewhat burned land to posterity, we will also be leaving billions of instances of unused intelligence: an absence of experience, a void of development, a reversal of progress, an abandonment of opportunity, a lack of faith, a fear of life and a philosophy of misery—a denial of everything that America is.
In former times, people depended on land for their sustenance. Knowledge and intelligence has magnified every grain of sustenance to such proportions that we no longer depend on the land. We depend on intelligence—individual grains of intelligence in everyone—each of us gaining in experience and production in an interdependent society.
There are those who say ideas of individual freedom and development through private ownership and responsibility "would take us back to the days of our forefathers. They may have had some value at the beginning when we were developing, but are now outmoded.
That’s true. Ideas of liberty are only of use to a people or country that is developing. The mistake is in believing that
The Keys to Progress
The ideas of our nation’s founders put us centuries ahead in health, comfort and prosperity, while people in other parts of the world continued to struggle for life in the same ways they had thousands of years ago. Where there has been progress it is because
America has burst through all national boundaries and made nationalities old-fashioned.
America was the last stage in which this little planet discovered its physical body. Its beginning marked the end of a preliminary, rudimentary stage of evolution and a never-ending beginning of continued discovery for everyone. Far from having experienced everything,
If we abandon the American idea of production and discovery and revert to the socialists’ medieval idea of governmental distribution and control, we will be abandoning civilization in its infancy. Freedom will be delayed, but not denied.
Freedom is irrepressible—exploratory. Always beginning—never ending. Always new. Always now.