Levi’s has a new ad campaign that suggests American liberty is still a work in progress. One of its new videos has a voiceover reciting the Walt Whitman poem “O Pioneers” with youths dancing around a fire wearing Levi’s. [Watch video here: Levi\'s Commercial.] The recitation includes lines like
get your weapons ready; Have you your pistols? … We, the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend… Fresh and strong the world we seize
Against whom are our weapons supposed to be used? Whose world are we seizing? Any 3rd grader could tell you: Whitman is referring to the war against Native Americans by westward-bound settlers and the US army.
Does Levi’s want to celebrate that? Well, try to see it from Levi’s point of view: their company wouldn’t even exist if we hadn’t wiped out the Indians.
OK, trying to be a little more serious, Levi’s running this ad shows how we still don’t take seriously enough our Euro-American historical crimes. I know many people are tired of this topic. This is also a constant bone of contention between the Left and the Right, with the Right blaming the Left for apologizing too much and overlooking the great accomplishments of Western Civilization, like Individual Rights.
There is a middle ground: those of us of Euro-American heritage would be a lot more convincing on Individual Rights by acknowledging that we have had as much trouble applying them as anybody else. We were pioneers in applying them to our own ethnic group, but we kept handing out free passes to kill other people's rights.
So no more holier-than-thou preaching about individual rights. At least, we have made progress on eroding some Double Standards: Jew and Gentile, White and Black, Man and Woman. Probably the worst Double Standard left is between rich and poor societies – we believe in Democracy in the former but not in the latter. So let’s acknowledge how hard it has been, but keep striving for Liberty for All.