This is an email I sent to a friend who had a bit of post-election paranoia, and sent something out about the North being progressive, the whole anit/pro-slavery thing, and how the red states stood for one thing, and the blues for another. And then something about the social contract that was set up, or the one that is, when we set up a community, and how we should all get our visas in order and set up possibilites to live in a new country. As if. (It was actually an interesting email from an intelligent man, and I'm giving it somewhat short shrift, but I don't think we should all pack up and leave or give in to the paranoia). So--this is in response to that, but I think about perhaps (enough qualifiers there?) where we are as a country, or how I'm trying to make sense of it. I also was listening to the news the other day, and heard a bit about how the EU was trying to limit immigration. It occurs to me that they are becoming a conglomerate nation, like a corporation with subsidiaries, and I wonder if that corporate view is going to change completely the way states are structured in a global economy, so we are no longer states but subsidiaries of larger entities. The world as Apple v. Microsoft. Anyhow--I've been keeping that in mind along with thoughts below about the direction we're going in. If my history is off as well, please let me know.
I think the thing with the North and the South is a bit more complicated, of course. Rhode Island was the center of slave trading for most of the 18th century into the nineteenth with the trade in molasses and rum, which is downplayed the North seems to have always been about profit as well as Puritanism. I think it's also the difference between urban and rural--the South was not centered in the industrialization the way the North was, and I think this long-standing urban/rural divide that we saw in the last election is something that has never really left us. And let's face it, it's much colder up North, and so climate itself is a great motivator in creating community. You could literally die from the cold and the elements in the North in a way that's much more challenging to do in South Carolina.
That said, I think America is very fond of its lore, and I think this is part ofwhat we see as well right now and forever. Another facet of people leaving their homes to create a new "Social Contract" is dissatisfaction, and I think we are bred dissatisfied in this country--we are strivers. What happens, then is you have a country where people are constantly looking for something better and living in dreams--why do you think Hollywood is so popular? Where do you think advertising is from? We are all about making people dissatisfied, mostly to make money. Americans are the best at dreaming, whether those be fantasies of happiness (movies) or paranoia (Fox News).
There is an interesting book called The Age of Homespun by Laurel Thatcher Ullrich that talks about the myth of the American Family. (The book itself traces different pieces of material culture --clothes, furniture--and the individual history). I saw her speak, and one of the things she spoke of was this myth. When the Colonists boycotted British goods and had to start making their own cloth, one of the themes that emerges is the theme of the family-- pictures, needlepoint, etc., bear witness to this. In reality, though, the goods and the means of production as were too scarce for any one family to be able to hold all of the machinery or the parts they needed. People actually had to work together as a community to create cloth and goods that were necessary for survival. Interestingly, though, there came from this time the myth of the self-sufficient-ness of the American Family. I don't think we've ever been the best at looking at reality or admitting we need each other.
Which brings me to my theory--the family is dissolving perhaps, but more importantly I think community is dissolving. People are constantly buying the world view given to us from TV and advertising, proclaiming that the American Family is Paramount. Increasingly,though, the American Family is estranged within its own unit, unable to find commonground, talking on cell phones and at their computers. Meanwhile, people are unable to communicate with each other, becoming more computer-saavy, but lesssocially saavy--how many times have you seen people eating or walking together not talking to each other but on a cell phone? And unable to connect, people are getting lonelier and more paranoid (it seems if you listen to the news, but that could be another sales tactic). So to solve this, they think, it's easy to buy into lore that there are enemies all around, and that everyone is threateningthe family unit. And I don't mean to say this is just a conservative view, either. I think we've seen it in the way that people reacted to Bush and the election. Don't get me wrong, I think a lot of the fears are grounded, but I also think we are in a fascinating time of people grabbing onto whatever they feel is going to make them feel more secure, and that's why I think religion is becoming so prevalent in this country and others and more violent as well (but that's another email entirely!) So the easiest thing is to grab onto enemies, the twisted lore of the self-sufficientness of the American Family, and the biggest one we've seen in the past few months: football.
The red team and the blue team. And I think this is where we literally become divisive. Us and Them, Blue and Red. Hysteria on both sides. As much as the news would like you to believe that we are a country of two minds, one red and one blue, I think the electorate is much more complicated. Exit polls indicate that 60% of people favor some kind of civil union for gays. That's huge. There are signs that people are much more moderate than we are being lead to believe. I do think that Bush is a danger with that. I think you can see the seeds of the dissent that are beginning in the Repoublican party. But I think we all need to revise our us and them thinking-- me against the world, my family against the world, red against blue. America is, if anything, a glorious experiment in tolerance (though perhaps not acceptance as we'd like it to be - side by side, but not together). There has never been anything like it in the world. The terrifying thing about Bush seems to be his one vision of what America looks like or should look like, and his lack of tolerance for dissentor discussion. And for the past few decades, this has become the hallmark of theRepublican party; he is the unfortunate nadir. For all his talk of democracy,he has proven to be amazingly un-Democratic--you can see that with his cabinet leaving. And I think true democracy is challenging to people. NO one wants to take the time to listen to someone else's conflicting ideas and make room for them. I suppose I'm just saying that the Blue team is as guilty as the Red team in this (though not nearly as bad, as there isn't such a particular party line), and until we find a way to all get together and live with purple (to take the color metaphor too far out), we will have this push me pull you boomerang happening, and we will continue to lurch forward or sideways. I think we all need to manage our expectations and change our thinking, because America, as a dream, as lore, is a place for all people. I think that is one dream if we strive to keep alive, we can find room for everyone. As dangerous as our lore and dreams are, that one dream of America keeps people doing things that are more expansive than they would think were possible, more permissive than they thought possible,and ultimately on the road to making things better for everyone. I guess that's a faith I can have, and keep hoping to have. I don't have hopes that Bush will heal this rift in our country. But I do have hope that people will see the rift, and see that is has to be closed. Perhaps his actions will at least do that.