Nixon, Philip K. Dick, Einstein, and the New American Moral Imperative

When I was in college it was sufficient to say you were either against or for the Viet Nam War–you were either a supporter or an opponent of Richard Nixon. Those were simpler times, for even though the Cold War was dangerous, young people in the United States had the luxury to imagine we understood global reality.  It is a good thing we no longer live in that world. I think its good we are confused. Globalization, satellite and digital networks now make it possible to collaborate with people around the world in productive ways. These networks also make it impossible to blink away the effects of imperialism as the war in Syria and the refugee crisis now at hand (and largely of the West’s making) both demonstrate.

But with the disappearance of cultural simplicity comes greater responsibility. Consider this quote from the great sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick:

“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

And here is a quote from Albert Einstein:
“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people — first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving…”

Nixon may or may not have been a good man. We will never know if he’d have been better off with Prozac. We do know he was paranoid and depressed. He derived solace from racism and hyperactive fantasies about the “East coast establishment” who he believed was out to get him. He didn’t think the people of South East Asia were our fully formed brothers and sisters.

What is real? Brothers and sisters. Families. People struggling for dignity and freedom.

They are real.

Donald Trump wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico. Scott Walker wants to build a wall between the US and Canada.

Let’s not see our neighbors. Let’s not visit with them. Let’s not give them humanitarian relief. Let’s not be part of the family of nations. Let’s allow ourselves to be bombarded with pseudo-realities; visions of fear; racialized paranoia.

I believe the United States has a moral imperative to admit refugees and asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Darfur, Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Algeria—please note, I’m just getting started…Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua…

Einstein again: “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving…”