Criticizing America

Recently there has been a political storm brewing over Reverend Wright. This man was Senator Obama’s former pastor and his sermons are to put it bluntly rather controversial. Here is a video of one them receiving the most coverage from the media outlets, at the end of which he says “God damn America”. This has understandably caused a great many people to have some major problems with Obama being associated with this person. My focus here isn’t on Obama and wether Obama should or should not have disowned him or what he should have done. Though I think we have something to learn from Obama’s speech, specifically to quote Avenune Q, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”. Rather I want to focus on the controversy surrounding the Reverend himself over him criticizing America.

This is a rather controversial topic in America and one that I am admittedly hesitant to write about. For several reasons, first off politics is a highly emotional and personal topic, this causes people to feel very intensely about their particular point of view and ignore other points of view. This is easily seen by both the parties here in America which will routinely criticize one party for doing something that they themselves did just a few years earlier. Also you can see it in the screaming heads we have on cable tv that are more interested in yelling at one another rather than working through an issue. The second reason is that my opinion on this matter is itself rather controversial but obviously I feel a valid opinion.

So should Americans criticize not just a particular opinion, political party or should they also criticize America as a whole? Personally I feel yes for several reasons. America as a whole is both a society, a culture, and a the government as a whole. There are times when the society, the culture and the government as a whole all agree on something that people may feel is wrong. Who then is left to criticize other than America as a whole? A lot of well meaning Americans consider it unpatriotic to criticize the country. There reasoning behind it is that no matter what it still is your country and to criticize America then why are you here in the first place? Which in all honesty isn’t a bad reason, but I think it becomes faulty logic. One doesn’t have to agree with everything that occurs in a country. Part of our citizenship isn’t a requirement that you pledge to never criticize America. Citizenship says that you pledge to follow the rules our society has put into place and to quote Wikipedia:

Responsibilities of citizens

Citizens have the duty to serve in a jury, if selected. Citizens are also required to pay taxes on their total income from all sources worldwide, including income earned abroad while residing abroad (regardless of the duration of the residence) – but only beyond the first $85,700 in this case because of the foreign earned income exclusion.[1] U.S. taxes payable may be further reduced by credits for foreign income taxes. The United States Government also insists that U.S. citizens travel into and out of the United States on a U.S. passport, regardless of any other nationality they may possess.

Male U.S. citizens (including those living permanently abroad and/or with dual U.S./other citizenship) are required to register with the Selective Service System at age 18 for possible conscription into the armed forces. Although no one has been drafted in the U.S. since 1973, draft registration continues for possible reinstatement on some future date.

Citizenship does not mean that you give up an ability to criticize another citizen of America, a political party, or even America as a whole. One of the many freedoms this country gives us is the freedom to criticize America as a whole, the society, the culture, the whole government. There are times when this is appropriate. That isn’t to say that this is something that I feel one should do, day in, day out. But there are times when even I have felt that our society as a whole is participating in something that goes against our foundation, our Consution or even just plain logic. Criticism of something isn’t my way of saying we should throw out whatever I am criticizing or that it shouldn’t exist. It’s my way of saying that such and such is a wrong action. The reason people criticize something is to correct a wrong or perceived wrong action. If America as a whole is undertaking what I perceive to be a wrong action, that isn’t it my place to criticize the action and criticize the country for going along with the decision.

I personally don’t agree Rev. Wright, for several reasons, I don’t think it is the society as a whole that needs to be criticized also I feel that what he is doing isn’t criticism so much as it is trying to stir up emotions around his topic of race relations in America. I feel that debates should be less emotional and more logical that simply saying “God damn” x. That’s not a debate, however to quote Voltaire “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.” I will always defend someones right to freedom of speech, even when they disagree with me or even when what they say is controversial.

Justin Yost is a full-time Software Engineer and a part time educator. A graduate of Texas Tech University with a bachelor's degree in computer science, Justin relishes programming and learning more about anything and everything. When not working, Justin occasionally gives talks at the local PHP Meetup. In his free time, Justin enjoys backpacking and reading science fiction books.

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