Terms of Use

Finally, I am reading Leaves of Grass. I am not skimming it to find some pretty lines to recite for company. No, I am reading the full work because the twilight of the American experiment seems like a good time to pause and reflect upon the meaning and nobility of that experiment. One could just as easily read Condorcet, or the Federalist Papers, but Leaves of Grass better suits my present mood. If the philosophers of the Enlightenment were the brains of our crumbling project, Whitman was and is its heart. In the sadness of the present historical moment, I find myself more in need of solace than intellectual reinvigoration.

Yesterday, I came upon the poem, For You O Democracy:

Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,

I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,

I will make divine magnetic lands,

With the love of comrades,

With the life-long love of comrades.

I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,

I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,

By the love of comrades,

By the manly love of comrades.

For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!

For you, for you I am trilling these songs.

I read and re-read the poem. I thought: If only these words, and nothing more, were the terms of use of Facebook, and all social media. Imagine that you could not post opinions without asking yourself whether your writing promotes the indissolubility of your community, or its dissolution. Imagine that you required of yourself that your writings help make the human race the most splendid the sun ever shone upon. Imagine that before you hit “Post,” you had to explain—if only to yourself—how you intended to make divine with the love of comrades these magnetic lands. Imagine that these terms of use were enforced only by conscience, and that this was enough. Perhaps then we would stop cutting down the trees along the riverbanks in order to provide a clear line of sight for our weapons of mass dysfunction. Perhaps then we would throw our arms around each other’s necks, instead of each other’s throats. Perhaps, like Whitman, we could know ourselves as manly comrades and as ma femme, simultaneously and without contradiction.

It’s a pretty thought.

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