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Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 12:19 am

Letters to the Editor

Walt Whitman



In January, the world’s media reported that the president had made horrible comments about the nations of Africa and elsewhere, including Haiti.

As I absorbed all this, my thoughts turned to two 19th century Unitarians – firstly Abraham Lincoln and then to Walt Whitman. Lincoln was a friend of the immigrants of his era – for example, he sponsored a German language newspaper in St. Louis. His enthusiasm was infectious to his generation – and perhaps no one caught the spirit as thoroughly as Walt Whitman.

Whitman was the quintessential voice of the American ideal – during a time when America was emerging as the leading Western democracy. Many of his poems are infused with optimism as well as gratitude; his poetry incarnated equality between men and women, between native-born and foreign-born. Truly, he affirmed the “inherent sense of worth and dignity for all people,” regardless of gender, race, religion or ethnicity. I vaguely recalled one such poem and quickly located it on the internet.

Here is the poem, which in my estimation still sings across the centuries and still captures the spiritual essence of America.

“You, whoever you are!...
All you continentals of Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, indifferent of place!
All you on the numberless islands of the archipelagoes of the sea!
All you of centuries hence when you listen to me!
All you each and everywhere whom I specify not, but include just the same!
Health to you! good will to you all, from me and America sent!
Each of us is inevitable,
Each of us is limitless – each of us with his or her right upon the earth,
Each of us allow’d the eternal purports of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.”

Rev. Martin Woulfe
Abraham Lincoln UU Congregation


Everybody can see that the USA has gone through a cataclysmic change in the last couple of years, but somehow people seem to be uncertain about what actually has changed.

The radical change of our nation is actually rooted in philosophy, particularly phenomenology. Phenomenology studies the way we connect the experience of the world with our mind. There are principally only two schools: those who find that the experience of the world shapes all our thinking, called empirists, and those who think that our mind – or reasoning – determines our experience of the world.

The toolbox of empirism is pragmatism, you take what you find, and if it does not work, you work on it till it does. The toolbox of idealism is ideology; you determine in your mind a cosmology, and then you work on making everything fit into your world view.

The U.S. for the last 150 years was clearly dominated by empirism, hence pragmatism was the way things got accomplished. The change happened in 1994, when the Contract with America introduced a clearly defined ideology into American politics.As things are, our country is at this point divided – as seen from within the ideological camps – between Nazis and communists, both references to ideological groups which used to be enemies to the USA. What we really have is a conflict between egalitarianism and individualism, both of which are core concepts of American democracy, and, as we by now should have realized, at a certain point mutually exclusive.

To dismiss the other group as stupid – as a so-called psychologist did in an article in Illinois Times last year – just shows how serious a problem is the lack of understanding the nature of our current political situation.
The last time the USA was dealing with ideologies was in the 19th century, when the question was the nature of freedom, i.e., the freedom of self-government versus the freedom of the individual, and we all know how that conflict was resolved.

Johannes Poet


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