To say that the U.S. is a ceaselessly evolving, multicultural nation - and always has been - is not a put-down of WASPs.E Pluribus Unum is a Latin phrase meaning “Out of many, one.” This
phrase was the de facto motto of the United States until 1956 when the
Congress adopted “In God we Trust” as the official motto. But E Pluribus
Unum is still emblazoned on the seal of both Houses of Congress, the seal
of the Supreme Court, the seal of the Vice President, the seal of the
President, and the great seal symbolizing the country. This phrase originally
stood for the coming together of the Thirteen Colonies into one nation but it
has come to mean “out of many peoples, races, religions and ancestries has
emerged a single people and nation.” (1) That we are one nation is not
questioned by hardly anyone - no matter how disproportionately unjust is the
treatment of some sectors. I know of no one who is seriously contemplating any U. S. national dissolution; I do not consider
the tens of thousands of secession petition signers from Texas and other states (after the reelection
of Obama) serious. But, truth to tell, we are not one nation; we are “blue
states and red states,” liberal coastal areas and conservative middle areas; we
are races, genders, generations, and have many more serious differences.
So the only way forward
is to do the work of finding and fashioning a knowable, workable, just unity. Very few of us can hold an accurate conception in
our psyches of what E Pluribus Unum really means for the United States.
Written descriptions of our unity are more often misleading blather than
indications of reality. We are hugely and in many ways divided. We are not “out
of many, one.” We are out of many, many. We are essentially functioning
together through weakening forces, wispy illusion, and deteriorating habits. We
are manipulated to function together because of forces outside ourselves.
Clearly, who makes up “the
many” has changed much over the hundreds of years of the existence of this
nation and the proportions of the multiplying demographic categories are
rapidly trending in a direction that is contrary to the false visions that are
in the minds of the media, the historians, and those who dominate the
presentation of U.S.
culture. For not too much longer will they be able to legitimately picture us
as a WASP (White, Anglo Saxon, Protestant) nation in
primary coloration and culture. This nation is becoming something that I do not
believe ever existed before on the earth.
Because I am, therefore we are; because we are, therefore I am.
I think our collective
challenge to envision unity stems from a too shallow understanding of to what
the phenomena E Pluribus Unum is attempting to speak. Latin is a
philosophical language. Much of what we know as philosophy is still expressed
in Latin terminology. Many still revere ancient Latin philosophers. However,
language - for all that it can do - is still an imperfect carrier of thoughts.
The understandings of individual word meanings must precede the receipt of
combinations of words that attempt to express something new. But word
understanding is made more difficult by the loss of context, translations
between languages and cultures, and the passage of time. Meanings and
understandings change and new learning sometimes affirms, sometimes corrects,
and often makes the meanings of words more complex. Lastly we must recognize
the Eurocentric nature of our philosophical understandings that leave us bereft
of the insights and genius of other cultures - those cultures brought to this
place by peoples from non-European origins and the indigenous cultures of this
I think it is this process
of complexification that must be attended to with the
phrase E Pluribus Unum if it is to have a true meaning in symbolizing
what the U.S.
must become. Let us start by admitting that many of the political phrases and
much of the meaning that is handed down to us from the 1700s were thoroughly
influenced by the thinking of the so-called European and American Enlightenment
or Age of Reason. Our so-called Founding Fathers were children of the
Enlightenment. Without recognition of the influences evident at the time their
words were first spoken, we can get captured by the deductive, mechanistic
analysis and false perspectives that the Founders passed down to us. These
Enlightenment misunderstandings lead us astray in so many arenas and make it
harder for us to see what is right in front of our eyes.
Language - for all that it can do - is still an imperfect carrier of thoughts.There are two
Enlightenment concepts I will touch on here: the possibility of pure
objectivity and a total reliance on deductive reasoning. “Out of many, one”
comes out of an atomistic, additive, linear understanding of the nature of
reality that has been found to be false - even the deductive scientific method has concluded that the
atomistic view is wrong. That atomistic view held that there existed a pure,
separate objective position from which The Other could be
contemplated. We now know - from that apex of science (Physics) especially -
that the observer’s subjectivity affects what is knowable. Therefore we must
begin by accepting that the view of the many is already
inseparable from the subjective understandings of the observer. Our Founding
Fathers stepped on this land with a belief that they were objective and
separate from the people that were already here; so that is what they saw.
The Native Peoples held a
belief that carries different names in different Native languages that I will
call All of My Relations; Native Americans believed and believe
in a subjective connection to all living things and to nature. If you start
with the belief that we are One, you are better able to know and
see how we are One. Native folks, at first welcomed and helped the arriving Europeans.
From a belief in All of My Relations, we can get to a deep ecological understanding that would
allow us to really know the One that arises out of the Many. For the European
philosophy of identity it could be said “because I am, therefore we are.” For
the worldwide indigenous philosophy of identity (including African indigenous
thinking) it could be said “because we are, therefore I am.”
Everywhere in the natural
world we can see E Pluribus Unum. Almost everything is made up of many.
I am not necessarily referring to parts that do not function unless they are
part of the whole. I am referring to the fact that most living things in nature
- at some level of complexity - are made up of many ones that can
function to a significant extent independently, at times. At a different level
of complexity and framing the many ones are together as one
thing; there are one species, one herd, one forest, one tribe, and one
ecosystem. What our Enlightenment derived, deductive-science-influenced thinking
makes it hard for us to do is to perceive that the One is often greater
than the sum of its individual, many elements. What the One is goes
beyond just the adding of elements. A forest is something more than just a
bunch of trees standing together; it becomes an ecosystem for many other plants
and creatures; it becomes a source of oxygen for a whole region and it sustains
a planet. Science is now struggling to understand the natural phenomenon of
“phase shifts” where something totally new arises that cannot be explained by a
deductive summation of elements. Our Nation must be more than just a deductive,
quantitative summation of the many elements.
Written descriptions of our unity are more often misleading blather than indications of reality.
The U.S. is no longer a WASP nation not
because it will soon no longer have a quantitative majority of its population
who define themselves as White Anglo Saxon Protestants. It is no longer a WASP
nation because it never was a WASP nation and we can more easily see that now.
This is not a put-down of all of WASP culture, particularly for those who
adhere to it. But it will be a curtailment of that false superiority claim that
some attempt to use to appropriate the “gifts” of other cultures and peoples,
use to suppress the expressions of other cultures and peoples, and use to
misinterpret the facts of history. To say that the U.S. is a ceaselessly evolving,
multicultural nation - and always has been - is not a put-down of WASPs.
There is no other nation
in the world - that I know of - that has the diversity of peoples in it that
has. In that way, we are exceptional. We are not exceptional because of the
dominance of capitalistic European-originated values; that is just the opposite
of exceptionalism. Other nations have features that
herald their exceptionalism; it is “no skin off us”
to recognize their exceptionalism. Our unity - E
Pluribus Unum - will depend on the spreading in this country of the
view that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It will entail a
significant shift from individualism to multicultural-community and a shift
from false claims of objectivity to recognition of the creation of reality
- in Physics the collapsing of the wave - through the exercise of subjectivity.
It is the crucial importance of authenticity which must be prized.
It will take the process of engagement and nation building, starting with the
belief held in our hearts by most of us that we are One.
[Note: Nafsi ya Jamii
is the Swahili phrase that translates in English to “The Soul Community”]
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Wilson Riles, is a former Oakland, CA City Council Member. Click here to contact Mr. Riles.