Well, it's been a hell of a week. Scotland very nearly decided to go it alone. I just learned today that a possible outcome of that might have been a decision by particular bits of Scotland to take a leaf from that book and apply to rejoin the U.K. under a flag of their own. No telling where that would have stopped. Next thing you know, the fever would spread to Wales, Northern Ireland (we need to revisit that?) - or even Cornwall, Northumberland, the South Downs. FREEDOM!
While all of this was playing out, another cautionary tale is being told in the Middle East, which can likely claim to be the original source of all cautionary tales known to Western Civilization. A group that likes to call itself the Islamic State is seeking to re-establish a caliphate of sorts, something they imagine would reestablish the glory days of Islam, much the way that Mussolini imagined his Fascists would reestablish the glory that was Rome - or, dare I say it and not get hit with a haggis - the way some Scots might imagine the glory that was Auld Lang Syne.
ISIS, of course, is at the far end of the spectrum, the rabid dog if you will, of an increasingly fragmenting world, but I think I can make a case for its roots in a similar bed of history, frustration, and humiliation. Independence Days are celebrated wherever a suitable date - a turning point - can be found. July 4, 1776. July 14, 1789. September 16, 1825. January 16, 1979. FREEDOM! has echoed from William Wallace to Mahatma Ghandi to Ho Chi Minh. Freedom and independence are two of the most cherished concepts of humanity, and so they should be. But I would argue that they can be dangerous when they are taken to be, not just two of but THE most valuable concepts by which we live our lives. When they ride roughshod over the concepts of responsibility and community, when societal values take second place to the supreme value of the individual, matters gang aft a-gley.
Two pieces especially caught my eye this week. One, , by Ian Morris, seeks to make the case that War made the state, and the state made peace. The other was a column by Roger Cohen in The New York Times called The Great Unraveling. Both of these are persuasive, to me at least, that while we should still take to heart, and be watchful for all our Big Brothers, we shouldn't take it as gospel. Civilization did not arise in small towns. Philadelphia, Mississippi was not in the forefront of civil rights. Small is not necessarily better. Sometimes small is just ... small.