Sunday, October 2, 2011
Ken Burns' Prohibition Doc and Culturist Corruption
This Ken Burn's documentary ad has appeared all over NYC. The tag line "How did a nation founded on rights ever go so wrong?" has deep problems. Here are some questions / debates it invites.
"A nation founded on rights?" When does Mr. Burns date the founding of our nation? Many people confuse the founding of our government with the founding of the nation. Okay, technically we were colonies beforehand. But, our national character started well before.
I like to date the founding of our nation with either 1607 or 1620. The Puritans, who landed in 1620, did not set up a system based on rights. They came here to found a nation purer than any before. If you were a drunk, the community would lessen your status. And, they could even take you children away or publicly punish you.
Jamestown started in 1607. They had a bit of individualism going. But they quickly discovered, as the Puritans already knew, that individuals are dependent on the community. If people did not stand guard or work, they would be killed by starvation and hostile indians. Our nation, was not 'founded on rights.
Well what if you take the 1776 date? Still, 'rights' did not trump all. Many colonies had official religions. And, the Founding Fathers did not set up a system of anarchy wherein no one had any limits and everyone had a protected right to be anti-social. We, again, impact each other. A democracy or republic is not a system of government if it means the community can never define itself or regulate accordingly.
Prohibition had good attributes. Perhaps a bit of a spike of crime and corruption, now apparently to be sensationalized by Burns, happened. But drunkenness went down. Hospital visits due to alcohol, such as poisoning and drunk driving, went down. Wife battering went down. Men spending all their family's proceeds went down. I am certain deaths from drunk driving went down.
Ken Burn's ad shows that he is a terrible historian. The ad already announces that he will only engage Prohibition as a nightmare. Real historians debate. But with 'rights' based thought, all impositions become evil. Responsibility is restraint. Everyone has a right and the people can make no rules.
If Burns studied history, he'd note that a law such as Prohibition could only happen in a Puritan-based culture. That would lead him to see that our nation was not simply founded in 1776. He might read their writing wherein they say that license without responsibility doesn't lead to liberty; it leads to national suicide. But like most modern historians he probably considers the Puritans "so wrong" too for having violated rights.
We need to reclaim our sense of public good when creating values. We need to recognize the truths the Puritans told us and not just justify our anti-social mores with 'rights talk.' We cannot simply subsidize irresponsible behavior due to rights. We need to proudly reinsert our cultural heritage into our legal system. One must inform the other.