Lange: Tea Party Manatees

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Commentator Willem Lange deplores the fanatic fervor that divides us
over what used to be considered "philosophical differences."

It’s an interesting anomaly that, while a majority of Americans think
Congress worthy of contempt, they admire their own congressperson. If
that seems illogical, it’s because it is. We have more difficulty
attributing honorable motives to people we don’t know than to those we
do. Distrust of government is innate, especially when we don’t agree
with its policies. To many in America today, it’s almost a religion.

recent op-ed piece in the St. Petersburg Times describes a conflict
involving the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a population of
manatees, and the Florida Tea Party, which is protesting a plan to
create a refuge for the gentle sea cows. In that 550-acre refuge, boat
speeds would be restricted.

These slow-moving aquatic mammals
frequently suffer serious damage from spinning boat propellors; you can
see their scars as they swim past. It would seem humane and sensible to
set aside a small portion of our vast tropical swamps where they might
be safe from such injuries. Except for one thing: The federal
government is proposing it.

"We cannot elevate Nature above
people!" claims Edna Mattos, a leader of the Citrus County Patriots.
"That’s against the Bible and human rights." She’s urging Tea Partiers
to complain about this intrusion on citizens’ God-given right to drive
boats as fast as they like wherever they feel like it.

Like a
disagreeable roommate who never can do anything not disagreeable, the
Feds can do nothing right in Tea Partiers’ eyes – though I haven’t heard
much grousing about highway maintenance, terrorist suppression,
disaster assistance, Social Security, or the Defense of Marriage Act.
Human beings apparently need someone or something else to hate, despise,
or feel superior to. Prehistoric tribalism seems to be hard-wired in
our natures.

Evangelical Christians are often held together by
the promise of the day when the righteous will be swept into Paradise
(though leaving behind the rest of humanity); Red Sox Nation relies on
the Yankees to fire up the faithful; and Tea Partiers cherish their
mutual hatred of the federal government. Funny – I thought we fought
that war 150 years ago. Throwing the baby out with the bath water may
be satisfying, but it’s essentially the last resort of those who are
overwhelmed by the complexity of problems of stressed systems, both
natural and political.

Our imaginations are failing us. We need
to visit Gettysburg and imagine the arguments that led to that awful
climax. We need to imagine how childish our divisions seem to other
nations watching us. We need to imagine that people who dislike us may
have a point. We need to remember what we do to people – like, for
example, Christ or even John Lennon – who challenge our sacred biases
and dare us to imagine something infinitely better. As most of us have
been told at one time or another, we need to grow up.

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

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