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Lange: Tea Party Manatees

09/16/11 7:55AM By Willem Lange
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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange deplores the fanatic fervor that divides us over what used to be considered "philosophical differences."

(LANGE) 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.

A 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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