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What would the Pioneers say?

Published: Monday, July 26 2010 1:30 p.m. MDT

If the Pioneers who first trekked into the Salt Lake Valley could've foreseen present-day Utah, what would they have said about the way we live today?

As one might surmise from my Middle Eastern name Utah Pioneers are nowhere to be found in my genealogy, so it took a few years of living in Utah for me to get used to the idea of Pioneer Day. ("What's the deal with more fireworks and parades less than three weeks after Independence Day?")

This weekend, though, marks my seventh or eighth Pioneer Day in the Beehive State, and I now readily embrace the holiday because Utah's excellent quality of life is so easily attributable to the Herculean efforts of the blue-collar Pioneers who made this desert blossom by the sweat of their brow. Further, I feel personally connected to Pioneer accomplishments given that my wife is a "full-blooded" descendant of early Utah settlers who I see on a daily basis personifying the faith and determination of her Pioneer ancestors.

Despite my newfound enthusiasm, strains of melancholic ambivalence still permeate my feelings regarding Pioneer Day. A cavernous divide separates contemporary Utah's opulence from the Spartan lifestyle most Pioneers endured, and as such it feels more than a little hypocritical to set aside one day a year for remembering the sacrifices and achievements of our forbearers only to immediately recur to our ways of consumption and excess on July 25.

To that end, if the Pioneers who first trekked into the Salt Lake Valley could've foreseen present-day Utah, what would they have said about the way we live today?

Some specific topics I'd pay money to hear a Pioneer's opinion about:

  • Immigration: While they weren't illegal immigrants, so many of the Pioneers were themselves immigrants. Methinks irony is inherent in descendants of immigrant Pioneers approaching Utah's current immigration debate with such little sympathy or compassion.
  • Capitalism: Although Pioneers embodied thrift and enterprise, one could make a good argument that Utah's initial economic model constituted a theocratic socialism. Would Pioneers even recognize a Utah where the divide separating rich from poor increases daily and purely self-interested behavior is not only pursued but also even lauded in the holy name of capitalism?
  • Secularism: The days of Brigham Young when the president of the LDS Church did double duty as governor of the Utah territory are long gone and never coming back. Personally, I feel comfortable with the current separation between church and state but uneasy about where the interminable push toward a completely secularist society will take us in future years.
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    I acknowledge this exercise of projecting the values and sacrifices of early settlers onto present-day society would probably yield similarly themed results (e.g. "early settlers never could've ever imagined this much wealth or comfort") in almost every U.S. state. The distinguishing difference, though, between Utah and the other 49 states that emboldens me to pose the Utah-centric question "What would the Pioneers think?" is that seemingly no state celebrates its founding settlers as visibly or passionately as Utah does.

     

    The great Greek scientist Archimedes is credited with saying, "Give me a big enough lever and I can move the world." At the Big Lever Blog, Jamshid Ghazi Askar evokes the spirit of Archimedes blogging about hot-button political, legal and religious issues.

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