History usually corrects itself and usually toward the more generous and compassionate position. The moral assertion that moves us to the generous and compassionate is the ground-breaker, the fast runner, the world shaker and it may take the smallest form to impress the Big Idea on our culture.
For instance, I was raised by a racist, himself raised by racists who did not know racism could be wrong. In fact, the word racism did not exist as an epithet, certainly not as a collective term for the symptoms of the racist disease, until we had grown weary of spelling out the incapacities of race hatred, prejudice and bigotry. The word succinctly sounded the sibilant shape of ethnic hatred, so removing its seductive symbols.
I know I am forever tainted with his racism, that of the Racist Who Raised Me, just as I am purged by the change in his heart after he converted to Christianity in his fifth decade. I could write an entire book on the Racist Who Raised Me and how his change changed me and all of mine. I could not not be a Christian, since I saw that faith purify the racist of his ingrown hateful spots. I have some hope my own may be removed because his were purged who infected me.
Once Americans gathered all the symptoms of the racist disease under the rubric "racism," the moral assertion became more convenient to state. We could just say, "Racism demeans us all. One man's chains hold back every man." The cultural trend followed the moral assertion just as the moral assertion followed the minor linguistic development of the word racism.
HIstory corrects itself toward the more generous, compassionate position. Today, no great courage is needed to publicly stand against racism. Men may try to exempt themselves and their own from racism's quite broad parameters but no serious person seriously advocates racism for the sake of personal promotion.
Modern racists must go to great lengths to hide their racism or to give it another name or to provide it some lawful cover. Religion protects racism in some cultures or patriotism of an odd sort covers racism but the point is the same. That is, no one seriously defends racism in American culture and expects to get a sympathetic hearing. This is a development of the last fifty years and it is quite remarkable. History corrects itself to the more generous, compassionate center.
Men want to be good. We want no more WMD, no more IEDs, no more Hitlers or Pol Pots or Stalins, no more genocides against native populations. We want to save the babies, the whales, the trees, the streams, the planet. We want to be good.
What is necessary for man finally to be good, as good as he wishes to be, in truth? He who would be good will find he needs moral courage. If he is to be a good person he must be a good thinker and a good thinker will only come from a fetus conceived to be courageous. Once gestated, the new being may voice ground breaking, history altering moral assertions in word or deed, on paper or screen.
You might be the next great moral spokesman for your generation. You might be the woman who says she is too tired to move to the back of the bus. Or, you might be the guard at Treblinka or in the frozen Gulag who announces he will not carry out an order he considers illegal or immoral. You might be the helicopter pilot at Mi Lai who demands the soldiers stop killing the unarmed.
You might be the girl at the Enron board meeting who says, "Those assets actually do not exist except on paper. We should not be counting them as assets at all." In so doing, you might save the financial lives of hundreds of persons. You will need moral courage but you want to have it because you want to be good and because you know history is moving that way.
We just need a push. We do need someone to say, "Uh, no, I will not sign this inaccurate pay sheet, even thought it is a small amount, because the small deceit is father to the great lie."
We just need a push. This post is already too long, so tomorrow I will put up some thoughts about the moral assertion and moral courage, to show how we can know we are taking a moral stand and taking it courageously.