|Sunday, November 13, 2005
00:33 - My country, real or imagined
One of Glenn's readers says:
The patriotism thing is getting a little ridiculous. My impression is that what the left really wants is to make it out of bounds to describe anything as either patriotic or unpatriotic. Thereby making the word, and the concept, obsolete.
Well, sort of. I think the ones who raise a stink over the word "patriotism" really do think of themselves as "patriotic". They just don't mean anything like the same thing by it as most of the rest of us do.
It's not that they hate America. When they say they're doing what they do out of a love for America, as hollow as that sounds on its surface, they really mean it—it's just that the America they claim to love doesn't exist, and never has.
They love the idea of America. They love a nebulous, hypothetical concept, a vision of some America that might come to exist in some far-off future, where all the lofty ideals set forth by the Founding Fathers (who despite being flawed, muddle-headed, hypocritical slave-bangers somehow managed to come up with a few ideas worth building a country to achieve) have been realized to their fullest potential. They want to be able to say "Home of the Free" without any sense of guilt or irony: they want America to converge upon their vision of absolute freedom, where everyone is equal in opportunity and wealth and nobody "offends" anybody else with their pesky little beliefs, where nobody creates divisions in society by selfishly succeeding more than the next guy does, and where "culture" is reinvented every day with the systematic destruction of all the useless restrictions on speech and behavior that any previous generation might have misguidedly invented. It'll be a world where nobody has to work, nobody has to pollute, nobody has to eat animals to survive, nobody has to form corporations or make profits selling goods or services, and nobody has to cut down trees to build a house. And of course there'll be no more wars, because nobody who's truly free would ever choose to fight one. There'll be free access to all kinds of mind-altering substances, we'll all be polysexual and polyamorous and polygamous and have nonstop sex in the streets, and we'll all just laugh and laugh all day long because we're all just so insanely happy. There'll be no need to pursue happiness anymore—we'll have crossed the finish line of Perfect Countrydom, and the aliens will descend to award us all blue ribbons and convert us into beings of pure energy.
That's what a lot of people have deep in mind when they use words like "progress". The Golden Age of America isn't just something we expect to see in the future, as envisioned by David Brin and Bill Whittle: it's the one and only thing worth being patriotic about, and anything short of that vision is just a caricature, a cartoon of the real Platonic ideal that exists somewhere through the looking glass.
The trouble is that it isn't what America is now or ever has been, and so to the people who think this way (or who secretly believe something like it, way down deep, though they might never admit it), being "patriotic" about the America of the here and now means being satisfied with this fatally flawed mock-up of a country that's always been more about 3/5 compromises and KKKs and My Lais and Rodney Kings and Enrons than about any kind of true "freedom". Being "patriotic" means selling out the dream of Super Future America, then, and that—more than anything else—is what's unforgivable.
People who bristle at the word patriotism today, while at the same time ostentatiously and defensively embracing it, don't want to think of themselves as the kinds of people who will accept less than perfection out of a country, and thus they're more prepared to tear the whole thing down and start from scratch than to try to redeem something so tainted with original sin as our America. That's why nobody's protesting too loudly at the presence of Bolsheviks and anarchists in the midst of all the peace rallies: when they say nothing is more patriotic than dissent, they're outwardly thinking in terms of the First Amendment, but inwardly a little voice is suggesting that the only true patriotism is nihilism.
When confronted face to face, I don't think any such person would cop to genuinely rooting for America to be overthrown by Islamists or Communists just to prove a point, just to see us in all our hubris brought low before the forces of the Downtrodden Masses. But when I describe the idealized America as existing in some kind of parallel universe, rather than in the inevitable future, it's because I suspect that the nihilist-patriots believe we're behind schedule in achieving it—that we ought to have made it there by now. They're starting to think we're heading in the wrong direction. We're not on the right track after all, or we'd have made it to Vertiform City already. Every step we take, we just get further off course. So we can't be satisfied with mere "progress"; we have to break on through to the other side, smash it all down and start again, so we can be sure to get it right this time.
Think like that long enough, and paleoconservatives—which comes to mean anyone who believes the America we've got, with all its flaws, is our last best hope for humanity—start looking downright Satanic. They're the only things holding humanity back from achieving Enlightenment and Real Ultimate Freedom, from claiming our birthright in Super Future America.
Am I being too glib here? I don't know; it does feel right, since like so many others on my side of the aisle I spent a goodly number of years thinking along these lines, thinking it'd be dandy for three or four billion humans to just... sort of... you know, die somehow, because it'd be better for the Earth and all. A little bit of smoggy air obscuring the hills across the Ukiah Valley and I was ready to sign on to the auto-homeo-genocide compact. I have to imagine I'm not the only one to have gone through such a phase.
That was life in my boondocks, growing up. I like to think I've moved on a bit from those adolescent fantasies of nihilism; experience in the real world, seeing how rewarding life can be if you work at it, and seeing how much worse it is almost everywhere else on Earth and how much worse yet it's been at just about every other moment in history, and the cold-hearted pragmatic scientist in me knows that there's no better Earth we're ever going to inherit, and no better country we're ever going to have the chance to found.
But some people just don't feel that way. Here's Adult Swim's latest Boondocks bumper madness, courtesy of evariste:
We met Aaron's parents this weekend.
We can see where he gets his pleasant demeanor.
What we don't understand is where the anger comes from.
Booooga! Booooooooga! Watch out, guys—I'm America, and I'm comin' to getcha!
It's my feeling that if [adult swim] and Aaron McGruder are so terrified of what America is today, it's only because we're doing so much right that we won't have to destroy it all in order to redeem it.
We'll never be perfect; we'll never exorcise some demons of our past. But we'll be able to outlive the memory of them, and prove ourselves better than our forebears in the long run, without having to repudiate a word of their most fundamental ideals. We won't be Super Future America—we'll be 99.999% of the way there, approaching it asymptotically forever, never reaching it, but being able to live with ourselves with satisfaction nonetheless.
We won't be able to forget, but we will be able to forgive ourselves. And for some people, that's the greatest, most nightmarish treason of all.