Monday, October 25, 2004
Politics of the Day - What is America?
Tim and Dave are having a debate which I think is more than a little interesting (if heated), because I think its gotten to the heart of what the huge differences dividing our country are really about: what is America?
Tim thinks America is a snake - step on it, and get bitten. I think America is, at the risk of sounding cheesy, best represented by the animal history has chosen - an eagle.
That sounds terribly trite, but I think there's a deep truth there. America is, fundamentally, an ideal: the ideal of hope. Hope for the future, hope for a better life, hope for change and renewal. This is what the American dream means. This is why I think America is the greatest country in the world, and it's why I choose to be American.
The issue, is, of course, what Tim and Dave's debate has highlighted - many feel America is (should be) a snake. That is, that the ideal is worth less than self-protection. Or, in the worst case, that the ideal should be abandoned for self-protection.
I think that if America is a snake, there is no America. America will have ceased to be. Something else will have taken it's place - something ugly, brutish, and fundamentally opposed to the timeless values on which it was built.
This is the problem. If the world sees America as snake (and not eagle), we will not represent hope, but the opposite of hope - fear. I think we will have a very difficult time in the world as snake.
That's because there's a mongoose for every snake - something or someone who's simply not afraid. Because they have the ability to face the snake on terms fair or unfair.
But there's no antidote to hope. Hope and faith are what make us human - and what make humanity strive, achieve, and believe in itself. So that's what this debate boils down to: do you believe in fear, or do you believe in hope?
I think history tells us that what makes America great is that it was the first state in a very long time to shun fear, and offer hope. Perhaps if you've never lived outside America, where hope is scarce, it's tough to understand the devastatingly transformational power of the words that are America:
"...We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. �Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world."
It's all very well to proclaim belief in great principles. Certanly, the US has provided hope to many people over the years and has made many positive contributions to the world.
However, it is also a society that is completely drunk on its own kool-aid. All the aggressive self-marketing and promotion can't hide the fact that for most of its history, in fact, the US has indeed been the rattle snake whose fundamental principle has been advancement of its own interests by exercising military power, morality be damned. Not that I grudge it, in fact, I recognize that nations only have interests and no morals. But the greatest result of the Iraq war has been the worldwide recognition of this stark truth.
Yup, the Emperor has no clothes, and the world is not afraid to say it. It had none when it promised liberty and freedom to european WASPs while unleashing the genocide of natives. Had none when Jefferson spoke of freedom and owned slaves, while the Supreme Court considred the black man three fifth of a white man. Had none when it did not *join* the War until attacked by Japan, the free world be damned. Had none when it dropped the *second* a-bomb when it *knew* that Japan was ready to surrender. Nor in Chile, Cambodia, Vietnam or indeed when Rummy was selling Chem weapons to Saddam in the eighties. Nor does it today as its greatest "friends" continue to be world's most repressive, puritanical despotic monarchy that funds and spreads terrorism from Saudi Arabia. Pray tell, why would anyone in their right mind ever drink this kool-aid of freedom, hope and democracy that America's trying to sell so hard around the world, when hardly ever in its entire history has its actions matched the high-falutin' rhetoric except as a pleasant by-product of the European and Japanese Marshall plans whose primary aim was to exert economic power anyway?
i find the hope thing a little too soft to be an aspect of people's reality. Granted the American Dream is a true motivator, but it's too complicated to define and thus difficult to assess. What seems to be the truth, is the pursuit of the American dream leads to the willingness of Americans to accept the kind of crap the Bush administration is currently spewing.
Think about it like this. America does not have a monopoly on freedom. If i want to start a company, become a porn star, run a for-profit church, whatever, i can do it other places that the United States (Europe, Canada, Australia). If I want to make a SHIT LOAD of money doing this, then I'd probably pick the US. But really does having 20 SUV's instead of 5 justify all the warmongering? Is the American dream anything more than the pseudoreality that might be portrayed in a ridiculously patriotic movie like Delta Force or Rambo or something?