We are living in a curious place in history. Ultimately, I believe that we, as a nation, will move toward the humane policies of countries like Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. I believe we will catch up to the other nations of the world in terms of humanitarian ideals, economic and social policies, and healthcare. That’s the beauty of life; we’re always learning and growing and changing, both individually and as a society. I do think human beings are inherently social creatures who thrive on community and kindness, and I do have faith in the inherent desire of our species to survive (for which we need our communities).
But at this moment in time, U.S. citizens live in a nation that is caught in a transformative struggle. Consider not simply our economic situation, but several social themes that are sweeping the nation:
- The atheist movement. Atheism, agnosticism, and generic non-involvement in religion are rising yearly as more and more people become disaffected with the hypocrisies and problems in religious institutions and feel there must be a more effective, efficient, and honest secular alternative to what has been traditionally deemed religious territories (charities, community, etc.).
- The feminist movement, which had been wrestled into a kind of submission by the double prongs of demonizing feminist women as “femnazi’s,” while simultaneously perpetuating the myth that women had “won” and now enjoyed equal rights to men, has begun to reassert itself. This movement, a slumbering giant that had been considered a relic of our grandmother’s generation by many, has been reawoken by hard-right-wing attacks on women’s health care providers (like Planned Parenthood), women’s access to contraception, and proposed legislation that would allow the government to require women to submit to invasive and potentially traumatizing (especially for victims of rape) procedures prior to getting an abortion.
- The LGBT civil rights movement, which is premised on nothing more than the apparently radical belief that individuals have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that who they love should not strip away their basic rights and opportunities as American citizens.
- The Internet Rights movement. This is of particular interest to me, because the internet is an entirely unique in the annals of human history. We are blundering in the dark here. We compare internet legislation to past groundbreaking innovations, such as the printing press, recorded music, and motion pictures — but this is so much more. The internet is a revolution in how we communicate; a tool that is so revolutionary that I don’t think we, as a species, will fully understand it’s transformative impact until we have several decades of retrospect.
I would say centuries, but the internet has changed even the way we view history. Once upon a time, history was a story that each generation added upon; stories sung and chanted and shared and altered slightly to the storytellers personality. It was about sharing larger, experienced human truths. We began to record our shared stories in written manuscripts, which were carefully copied and passed down by philosophers and monks in monasteries. We also recorded and shared our histories in artwork and music. This recording of history marks the beginning of a slow transition from a shared and immediate verbal history to a more linear, factual progression.
With the advent of the printing press, the recording and distribution of linear history began to speed up. It still was still (objectively) slow, and not widely accessible, but the larger historical events were definitely being marked in a linear, progressive fashion. However, the small stories were often lost, either to time itself or due to commoners not having the education to record their experiences. History tripped on, and education began to become more democratic. Farm boys learned to read and write at their mother’s knee, and when they grew up and went to war, their experiences were recorded in letters and journals that ultimately gave us a snapshot of history in a more personalized, immediate way.
Even so, the access to these letters and journals was still limited to traditional means. When film (and later, TV) were introduced, our timelines sped up a little more, from a weeky or daily newspaper to first a daily news broadcast, then news broadcasts in the morning and evening, and then 24-hour news networks. As recently as 1990, if you wanted to hear the Presidential address, you needed to tune in or set your VCR to record. If you wanted to learn about the the origin of the myth of Robin Hood, or whether drummer boys actually fought in the Civil War, you had to go to the library and find what you wanted. You needed to hope they had the info in stock, or wait for it to arrive via snail mail.
Then, the internet was introduced and made accessible to the general public. Now, we have access to all of linear history, all the personalized “larger truth” history, and we are actually in the progress of making history. The internet has made a slim, controlled trickle of available information into a raging torrent of river that is carving through the course of human history to create an entirely new landscape in how we learn and interact. We now experience in one moment the linear factual progression of historical events while at the same time preserving our real-time experiences of the shared-story/ larger truth version. Don’t believe me? Think about this: We have a curious ability, us humans, to forget things that embarrass us and make us uncomfortable. We’ve all done it, both on individual and on social scales.
People often wonder how the Germans could have turned a blind eye to the concentration camps just outside of town; how the Americans could have blithely pretended nothing was wrong as we rounded up future American icons like George Takei and put them in internment camps. We like to tell ourselves we would stand up against such obvious wrongs, that we would be modern-day Miep Gies’ and protect the frightened Anne Franks of the world.
What if the internet had been around? What if YouTube videos had shown those starved, tortured Holocaust victims? What if Wikileaks had released documents detailing the Mengele experiments? What if news blogs had run pictures of the pits and mounds of skeletal corpses? Would the U.S. have waited a full two years to get involved? Would the German citizenry have been able to continue to turn a blind eye? Would America have made it’s own colossal (and largely ignored, when considered next to the concentration camps) stumble of rounding up American citizens for unconstitutional detainment? How would the everyday defenders and promoters of those activities — the neighbors, the classmates, the co-workers who were either silent or actively participated in rounding up the “undesirables” — how would they feel to have the arguments they made, the defenses they mouthed, preserved for all time in video or blog format on the internet, for future generations to look at and say, “That’s how they justified their bigotry? That?”
It’s so easy for us, with the 20/20 vision of linear history laid out before us, to say we wouldn’t be so short-sighted. But it’s also false, and the internet is, day by day, collecting our short-sightedness so that it can be compared to linear history. A few decades from now, when so-called “Obamacare” is the norm and our children and grandchildren will have grown up knowing their healthcare is guaranteed regardless of employment status; when homosexuals will have been marrying and raising families and serving in the military for decades; when the GOP will have either completely imploded or managed to somehow reinvent itself — we as a nation will have to look back on our collective, recorded insanity.
And many will have to admit, with extreme discomfort, that they were the “bad guys” in this historical tale. Even worse for them, they will not be nameless, faceless “bad guys.” There will be no wondering of what sort of person could stand idly by, or even actively encourage bigotry and cheer for a government that perpetuates it. Their faces are recorded for posterity in YouTube videos; their names are recorded next to FB statuses that proudly proclaim their bigotry.
I got to thinking about all this today because Washington State has quietly proposed a bill that will require all healthcare plans to cover abortion services. This is especially happy to hear in a political climate where we are bombarded with variety of ways the GOP and their radically conservative evangelical base are attempting to strip women of healthcare access and personal rights. The most stunning of these proposed legislations is, obviously, the attempts by Virginia and Minnesota to require the government to literally f*ck women.
Washington State has a history of recognizing moral grey areas, and legislating in a secular, fair manner to protect the rights of everyone, not just a minority. Ironically, I think this pointed fairness has arisen, in part, from Washington State’s role in the Japanese internment camps. I remember when, as a child, I learned that my beloved Puyallup Fairgrounds had not so long ago housed Japanese citizens who had been forcibly removed from their homes and had all their personal belongings confiscated (and, often, destroyed). I think in a sense, Washington State is striving to not only remember this huge blot on our history, but to make up for it by erring on the side of protecting civil rights (hence our slow transition into becoming the Netherlands of America — which I am not in any way complaining about!).
Anyway, the proposed law is pretty basic. Apparently, Obama’s national healthcare plan requires each state to come up with a basic list of healthcare coverage requirements by choosing from among the most-commonly used insurance plans in-state. Washington state has chosen the “Regent BlueShield Innova” plan, which covers abortion services, ergo, all healthcare coverage in Washington state would be required to provide abortion coverage as part of the basic package. Part of the reason this plan was chosen is because some policy-makers fear that, due to difficulties and vagueness in the Federal plan regarding abortion services, healthcare plans will simply opt not to provide abortion services at all if active steps are not taken to protect coverage of it.
This is one of those times when I feel really, really proud to be a Washington citizen. I know it’s not even close to being a law yet; it’s a proposed bill that hasn’t even been voted on, let alone passed. But the fact is, Washington wants to protect women’s healthcare rights and is actually proposing a bill to do so. In a news cycle that is currently dominated with headlines blaring the latest uber-conservative attempt to strip women of healthcare access, this local news from my state capitol feels like a refreshing oasis of cool sanity.