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Newmann: The sage of reason

Tom Newmann
Valley Voices

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” — Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”


Thomas Paine, a product of the Age of Enlightenment and ever the purveyor of common sense, used the above quote in his 1776 “Crisis” pamphlet to exhort his fellow revolutionaries to hang on and hold out against the superior British forces aligned against them.

“Yet we have this consolation with us,” he wrote, “that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph.” Nice sentiments … if everything actually works out in favor of triumph.



Fast forward to our current era … and Paine would certainly be in his element writing about times that try our souls. But King George and his evil empire would not hold center stage. There’s a whole new set of nefarious operators in town.

One major player in our current trying of souls is … heat. It seems to be getting hotter. And hotter. And, in the process, many parts of the West are getting charred. Folks who have had to evacuate these areas or those who are fighting the fires are probably not splitting hairs right now about whether the main cause is global warming or climate change (though either one of these two options is certainly more scientifically plausible than space lasers). The main question is: How do we fix this situation? Is it fixable? Or are we just too divided — or too disinterested — to do much about it?



Another variant high on the list of nasty soul-trying contenders is, of course, COVID-19. The virus has ravaged the nation — and the world. Quite a few folks, during the first throes of the virus, would have given anything for a cure … or at least a stop gap. Many never had the opportunity to find out that a vaccine would ultimately arrive.

Now we have the means to keep the virus at bay. Yet many folks are either undecided — or firmly against — getting the shot. The vaccine is certainly an individual choice and, regardless of the choice made, one has to hope that due diligence (and not emotion) rules that choice. For many, the decision on what to do is soul-trying stuff in its own right. Meanwhile, the delta variant marches on.

Elections (or, rather, the refrain of voter fraud) also seem to be right up there on the hit parade of events that try the souls. The myth of “rigged” votes was perpetrated prior to the previous election … and has now morphed into its own unique “reality.” Many states have seized on the claim of voter fraud (with no real validity to back up the claim) and some (un)fairly restrictive measures on voting have been (or are in the process of being) put in place.

Paine wrote in 1795: “The rich have no more right to exclude the poor from the right of voting, or of electing and being elected, than the poor have to exclude the rich. Who is he that would exclude another? That other has the right to exclude him.”

Paine’s observation is echoed by a 1964 Supreme Court proclamation saying, “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live.”

The process of voting, especially in the absence of any major proven fraud, should be made progressively easier, and yet …

Well, we’ll leave the last words to Paine:

“To argue with a man who had renounced the use and authority of reason … is like administering medicines to the dead.”


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