Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Angels and Devils of Our Nature

Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address
My last post asked if Texas will remain Texas in the future in spite of all the changes that will come to the state. I believe the question was meant to be, will the people living in Texas in the future share the values of the people living there now. My guess is that people in Texas today do not all share the same set of values, nor will they in the future, but that the dominant values in the future will differ from those of today. Indeed, one of the lessons from the study of history is that the past is a different country, and we should not judge people of the past by today's standards.

I quote President Lincoln for a couple of  reasons. One is that 150 years ago President Lincoln believed that "the better angels of our nature" would come to the fore, and that people who sought to secede from the Union would again "swell the chorus of the Union". There are people in Texas who still call for secession from the Union (and people elsewhere who would let them go).

The other reason is to suggest that there are devils of our nature as well as angels, and that both seem to weigh in on changes in values. The Civil War freed the slaves but Jim Crow came to replace chattel slavery, especially in the South. The work ethic led to prosperity, but the nation suffered once and suffers again from a acquisitive class that most of us feel appropriates far more than its fair share of the income and wealth of the nation.

Today we have red and blue states and culture wars. However our values evolve, I would bet that there will be some people longing for the good old days when -- according to their beliefs -- people had better values. I would also bet that there will be people hoping for a better future when people will at last achieve the nation that -- according to their beliefs -- was implicit in the hopes and dreams of the founding fathers.

Global Views on Morality
Source: Pew Research Center

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