Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy Presidents' Day

George WashingtonImage via Wikipedia

Today is the day that I think of as George Washington's Birthday, even though it's not. That would be February 22nd. At some point Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's got conflated into Presidents' Day and met on the Monday closest to the middle or something, but it's not so easy to make these adjustments after a certain age. Plus, at my office, Lincoln's birthday is a floating holiday, resulting in a four day weekend for me!

According to C-SPAN's Survey of Presidential Leadership, Lincoln and Washington are still Number 1 and 2, respectively. That makes sense. They both got quite a bit done. In retrospect, of course, we have some criticisms. More with Washington than with Lincoln. While there is endless debate about just how much of a priority freeing the slaves was to Lincoln, nonetheless, he did it and did it unambiguously. In the end there wasn't any nonesense about providing slaves with "access to freedom" or a "path to freedom" or any of the blather we have to listen to these days.

Washington, on the other hand, owned slaves. And so did Jefferson. Let's face it, founding fathers from what became slave states tended to own other human beings. This is a distasteful fact that every school child has to digest and try to place into the context of history. It's one of our early lessons in living with cognitive dissonance, which turns out to be a damned handy skill.

Now, as if owning people and all the evils that entails weren't enough, I recently learved via Barking Up the Bodhi Tree (Best blog name ever? Could very well be.) that both Washington and Jefferson killed the dogs belonging to their slaves. They were concerned that slaves were using the dogs to steal their sheep. Don't try to think that one over too deeply. It hurts the 21st century brain.

Because, ever since last November, I've become a veritable Pollyanna, I think that what I'm going to take away from that piece of information is that despite what appears to be evidence to the contrary, society does progress. The open and common practices of men who were respected enough to forge an entire new nation and make it work would not only prevent them from founding a nation today; that stuff would get them arrested. If they were here now instead of there then they would probably agree that neither keeping slaves nor mass dog murder should be in the realm of acceptable - or legal - human behavior.

There was a time when raping, pillaging, burning villages and killing every man, woman and child in them was just a way to make a living. Now we frown upon that. We have international laws against those things, even. It's not that we don't violate the laws that try to govern our behavior. Some do and some probably always will. What shows progress is man's inhumanity to man and other species becomes more and more unacceptable as we go through time. Might as well be encouraged by that. It's what we've got.

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  1. Oh I don't know.. I think the rethuglicans still do the raping, pillaging that's just in their nature.. That seems to be what they have done to the budget for the last 8 years, not to mention the economy. Now they want to be fiscal conservatives, when we want to try to fix

    Good post.. It is interesting how our founding fathers were the ones who started us with slave labor and now we have the daughter of slaves living in the house slaves built.

  2. Nice post, Zen. And thanks for the plug!

    It really is amazing to think about what was "acceptable" behavior at one time. Makes you wonder about what is acceptable now that will be considered barbaric 200 years from now.

  3. I think that we'll probably think that any form of the death penalty was amazingly barbaric and most likely eating meat will seem like a weird thing to do. Those are just guesses, of course. I just hope we keep slogging along in the general direction of civilization.

    Oh, and thanks for following the blog!