Julius Neelley is Opinionated

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As America approaches a population milestone of 300 million in our 230th year, perhaps some soul-searching is in order. Could we possess a national persona that helps determine the prevailing zeitgeist, that trend of thought characteristic of a time and place? Did our formative years as a nation set in place circumstances that would forever influence our moral fiber? Have we finally arrived at a plateau where politics and culture coalesce to form an authentic civilization?
    Perhaps what began as a pragmatic experiment in republicanism has reached a stalemate of sorts—an amalgamation of diversity carefully wrapped in red, white and blue bunting. But let’s step back for a moment. As we ventured west two centuries ago, just imagine all those “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” bumper stickers on the Conestoga wagons that rolled across the plains and rocky mountains. America literally forged a nation while simultaneously appropriating the North American continent. What other country was formed during the discovery of such a vast territory, stretching from ocean to ocean? To be fair, it should be noted that out-of-control consumption can be found in most cultures—none perhaps as striking as the Roman Emperor Tajan’s “celebration” commemorating a victory over the Dracians. The festivities lasted for 123 days, and saw the slaughter of 11,000 wild animals imported from Africa. Should we draw parallels to America’s systematic devouring of a continent and attempt to eliminate its indigenous inhabitants? Might made right in the name of progress?
    As a determining factor in defining our national psyche, it is a strong argument: Consumerism runs in our veins. But we soon faced another challenge when we turned our guns on ourselves in a bloody wave of warfare forever unmatched in its body count. More Americans died in the Civil War than any other in our history. Many consider this our defining moment: self-inflicted warfare in the name of preserving our less-than-perfect union.

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hen it gets really interesting as the Industrial Age gains momentum, with that American invention, the assembly line, forever changing the way we manufacture all our stuff. When the world began labeling its wars with numbers, we were ready to join in and save the day. Brave Americans fought the good fight; our perseverance and ingenuity prevailed. But when we put those pesky little atoms to work, our technology proved all-too-efficiently how weapons of mass destruction could eliminate the occupants of an entire city. We perfected warfare at its most intense level—and remain, to this day, the only country to have deployed a single weapon that massively destructive. How quickly we forget. And how quick we are to elect kings, those arrogant men who launch pre-emptive wars with fictitious circumstances in small countries where ideologies or pipelines converge.
    Who really believes manifest destiny applied worldwide is a thing of the past, when our addiction to oil goes unchecked? According to the The Reporter, published by Population Connection, on average one person in the United States consumes as much energy as 2.1 Germans, 12.1 Columbians, 28.9 Indians, 127 Haitians and 395 Ethiopians. Here in our own backyard pure determination to clog Charlottesville’s North/South artery—Route 29—with as many shopping centers as possible will probably lead to shopper’s gridlock. The grand total of retail space in Albemarle County’s development pipeline could exceed 5 million square feet, according to County figures. How much is enough to satiate our consuming thirst? Will our tombstone read “Malled to death by developers?”
    Perhaps all of our geo-political jitters will be drowned out by a more dire dilemma, with nature itself sounding the alarm. Little did we imagine that our tons of consuming and polluting would drain the limited resources of our planet and wreak too great an impact on our biosphere. So, as we face those sleepless nights of reflection, that dripping sound we hear is not the kitchen faucet. It’s Greenland. With temperatures and standards of living rising to new heights, the ultimate check and balance seems to be falling into place as permafrost and glaciers melt into the sea.
    Globalism and environmentalism. Consumerism and nationalism. Patriotism and militarism. Dare we mention idealism? I suggest we pick our “isms” carefully, for every philosophical stance may come with a price…or a hidden slogan. “Give me liberty or give me death.” “Might makes right.” “Every man’s McMansion is his castle.” “We paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” “Super-size my SUV.”
But I must admit a personal preference for the wisdom of Pogo, who said, “We have met the enemy. And he is us.”

Julius Neelley started out as a photographer, documentary film editor and Woodstock participant and is currently concentrating on writing for the screen and stage.

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