Tuesday, July 26, 2011

America, and a somewhat sympathetic, but not uncritical, reflection based on Mazzini's ideas, 19th century nationalism, and Tropicalia

America is a strange place. It's a melting pot, yet retains unique features, it's cosmopolitan, but also regional. The phrase "American Values" has been so prostituted over the past nine, ten years since 9/11 that it's tempting to throw the whole idea away, to put it in the trash along with Sarah Palin's collected works. Seriously, the amount of flag waving, flags and eagles put together and shit out through plastic extruders in gaudy sculptures the past nine years has been nothing short of amazing.

Conservatives beat their chests about A-meri-cun values, while being half illiterate and the kind of people you'd expect to fuck their sisters. Folks who before 9/11 were flying the Confederate flag and complaining about Damn Easterners now became erect and submissive before the figure of New York City, declaring their love. Yet, beyond ideologues wanting to co-opt the notion of America in order to push their point of view, from that of fundamentalist Christianity to the crass and ignorant capitalism believed in by McDonald's managers, some actual underlying values and beliefs still remain.

I think that the spirit, if you'll allow the word, of what any place really is does not derive from a founding document, or from a pulpit, but is ultimately sociological. What a country is , is how the people who live there actually are, how they actually live, what they actually do. Granted, with regards to the U.S. this entails a lot of laziness, overeating, and masturbating to porn, as well as the functional illiteracy of large parts of the population but despite this, life in the U.S. transcends it's short falls . There are still positive features of life, a set of general feelings and ways of approaching things , that are more common in America, that are insightful and that characterize whatever sort of spirit or "Essence", a more or less despised word, that America actually has. The Tropicalistas of Brazil were instructive in classifying the "essence" of Brazil as being not what the populist propagandists declared it to be but what the people were actually were like and did, which in the case of the song "Tropicalia" included liking Coca-Cola, a very international product.

Mazzini wrote in The Duties of Man, a document that's both moderately liberal, moderately nationalist, and fully cosmopolitan, that God writes a new line of history with each generation of people in a country, meaning that what nations or countries are is not static, not stagnant, dynamic, with every generation adding and redefining what came before, passing it on to the next generation that does the same. The same process could be said to happen on a grand scale in the U.S. through the influx of immigrants, a feature of American life that's been here since the beginning of the country. People come from all over the world to live in the U.S., to contribute their ideas and culture to the mix, and are in turn shaped in turn by the culture of the U.S. that they found when they arrived. This specifically multi-cultural vision of the United States is particularly powerful, and unfortunately new, as in the Eisenhower '50s the pressure on all citizens and immigrants was to conform to the Anglo standard at all costs, denying ones own background.

America is dynamic, regional without too much insularity (depending on the region), with a fair amount of cosmopolitan culture built up in big cities, California, and the East Coast. To build a real America, an America as it actually is that we can be proud of, it would be necessary to tease some of what life is actually like out, in all of its diversity, its insights and warts, its compassion and indifference, and present it to folks. It means not condemning all but also not turning the project into an uncritical and stupid cheering fest that bears little relationship to what actually exists, what we would like to exist, because that would be unfaithful to the underlying reality as well.

Unfortunately, one of the things that America lacks is an awareness of how it appears compares to other countries and to other flavors of culture. We act as if we're a universal culture, like we're the only people who have ever existed, and so lack the actual distance needed to perceive one self. It's my hope that we'll get some of that self-reflection and exit the stage of continual adolescence, before our general mismanagement of our affairs causes us to realize it in a more unpleasant fashion.

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