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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

“Our future prosperity and strength demands that the forces of reason win out”

I Love My Country

Image result for respect for knowledgeI love my country.

I love it with a clear eye to its failures as well as its triumphs, the hypocrisies it embodies as well as its loftiest ideals.

My love for the United States was forged through a child’s eye, shaped by the lessons of my parents and teachers. It was baptized in memorized incantations – like the Pledge of Allegiance and Star Spangled Banner, as well as the hagiographic biographies of men like Washington and Lincoln that one reads in grade school.

Over the years, as my experiences grew and my readings deepened in complexity, I sought out a much more nuanced definition of patriotism.

It was one that demanded opposition to, and the exposure of, the wrongs inherent to so much of our society.

It was a sense of American exceptionalism to be worshiped at the altar of a free and independent press.

It was a shining light illuminated by the accomplishments of men and women of reason who had the courage to challenge the conventional wisdoms they saw as outdated, naive, or cynical.

As I grew, I began to see a deep undertow that was also part of our country. It was one fueled by my fellow citizens who were suspicious of growth, skeptical of knowledge, and closed minded to new ideas.



Elitism can be a pernicious force in a democracy, but championing and celebrating those who have risen to prominence on the basis of their hard work, mental acuity, wisdom and knowledge is what has made our country great.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to John Adams “there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.” Our national scaffolding was built by such men – and women.”

Of course the path of our national identity has wavered from Jefferson’s ideal on several occasions. In a column in 1980, the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

I have seen many societal outbursts of ignorance, and I would argue that we are in an age where that feeling is ascendent.

But I have also seen the countervailing forces that have shaped America into the greatest land of science and ingenuity the world has ever known. It is a battle for the soul and destiny of our national narrative. Our future prosperity and strength demands that the forces of reason win out.

But as much as I love my country, I also love humanity. I seek not a zero sum world where America’s victories lie in others nations’ defeats. And here is where I would caution the incoming administration of Donald Trump:

You have appealed to the some of the basest fears and lowest instincts of our electorate.

You have appointed men and women as your advisors and to your cabinet who seem outright hostile to science and reason.

You mock those who have pursued lifetimes of thought and study and elevate know-nothing over know-something.

This has given you a short-term burst of political power but do not think that American greatness is preordained. It needs cultivating and care.

This is a big and wondrous world. There are other places for the best minds to go. This will be America’s great loss if Mr. Trump dims the light of knowledge.

I will mourn the passing deeply but I will hope that other nations aren’t so shortsighted. Progress, reason, science, justice… these are human ideals that must flourish for the sake of all of us, in whatever land they can take root.

I deeply hope that we can still continue to call the United States the greatest nation on Earth because that will mean that we have made the right choices.

In 1969, as Congress was debating a costly particle accelerator to study seemingly abstract physics, the director of the Fermilab, Robert Wilson, was asked in a hearing whether the research might be applicable for military purposes. His famous reply stands not only as a potent symbol of his age, but a North Star by which we must continue to steer our ship of state.

” …this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.”