Conversation is like gliding. In both activities, you look for thermals — or hot air! — upon which to get a lift. When you succeed, you get taken by the rise. And then you soon lose sight of any intention except, that is, to return eventually the place you began from. Of course, thermals in conversation aren’t sun-lovelied air. They’re the passions on which ideas and witticisms rise to spectacular views of undirected general joy.
We reached such transcendent sailing in our last econversation. In other words, there were several points I obligatorily wanted to make, but never did. They just floated by. But I’m not bothered by it. Abundant disregard for order is a sign of a great conversation — as opposed to an excellent sermon or an inspired speech. Most sermons and speeches are mortifyingly boring: there’s no spontaneity left in them. It’s been written out. That also explains why all so many so-called conversations — recitals freighted with jokes and anecdotes — are such funereal fun. The spontaneity has been rehearsed. And the retailers of them are actors — usually amateur — who play for the attention of their audience who are like the dead held captive.
Here are some points that got left on the tarmac. Let’s give them a quick tow now for a swift ride in the sun.
- You never did explain why you supported Sanders. After listing your wishes, you returned to the promised topic of Sanders, but only to say that you trusted him. But why precisely did you trust him? On what points? Of your ten points, I’d be interested to know which you think Sanders supports; which he doesn’t object to; which he certainly opposes; and what the balance on the bottom line is that enables you and him to reach an electoral accord.
- You refer the Trump’s southern border proposal as “a silly wall.” Well, fine. But if you don’t want world immigrants using Mexico as an open portal to America, what kind of border barrier would you prefer? Something not silly, I’m sure! But what would that be? Because it must be something, otherwise it will be nothing. And if it’s nothing, America will be inundated with immigrants. That’s what happened to Rome. And now it’s happening to Europe. Rome was eventually ruined, not by the anemia of its war-spilled blood, but by the dilution of its culture. This time, though, instead of brutes in bear skins, the biotic invaders arrive wearing relaxed international fashions — American. And, with a phone in hand, they’re probably familiar with “Get Smart” and “Gilligan’s Island” folklore. Funny, right? Look-alike keys on viruses do the same thing to the locks on cellular membranes. The viruses then enter the cells and explosively proliferate.
- Related to this matter of immigration and national identity, there was a typo in your last post. You talk of protecting our “boarders.” Contained in that single homophonic error is the entire conservative-liberal debate concerning immigration. Do we protect our borders for the well-being of American citizens? Or do we protect our boarders — illegals gotten in by whatever means — who now seek legal immunity in sanctuary cities like San Francisco? Like churches in the Dark Ages, these superstitious cities consider themselves to be morally superior to sovereign legality. Back then the churches believed in magical saints, fecund virgins and vital bones. What San Francisco believes in I’ll leave for you to discover sometime on an urban immersion. San Francisco has been spiritually weird since at least 1900, and probably since its inception. Maybe it’s the miserable micro-climate there that produces spiritual fogginess the way dry weather results in flaky skin.
- Lastly, I’d planned to do a wordplay on your support for Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist, and on your concerns for America, which are nationalist. Of course, your interests in state sovereignty and home self-direction would mitigate the combination of being a nationalist socialist. But it’s always good to remember that Hitler ran for office on promises reasonable enough him to be called by the Republic to form a popular government. Alas, individually credible elements, like carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, when combined can become ugly — like HCN. No, that’s not Hitler Cable News. What a simple and even pure compound HCN sounds like! It’s cyanide gas. But now, in your last post, you say you’re not a nationalist. Of course, a nationalist sounds like a barrel-chested brute with a pickup truck in search of an anger-of-frustration six pack. “Internationalist,” in contrast, sounds so educated and trendy. “Internationalism for dinner, dear?” But of course, internationalism requires nations. Pure internationalism by itself is a homeless pastiche. Ask Stefan Zweig about the international lifestyle sometime. Meanwhile, all “national” words are virtually indeterminate in themselves because of their immense scope. Therefore they require specification and context if they would signify. And that’s what we’re doing here. We’re signifying. And if we’re successful, we’ll be significant. Obviously that’s a cosmological situation, a condition of fundamental evaluation. Macbeth, as I recall, had some issues with that. (See Reality 101 for the groundwork of significance.)
Now, in your newest post, I thought that perhaps another homophobic error like “boarders” and “borders” had occurred. In your fourth paragraph, you say that legal immigrants need to “ingratiate themselves into the American way of life.” I assumed that you meant “integrate,” which is both the idiomatic word and the idiomatic idea typically used. But now, I think you meant what you said. Not only does “ingratiate” imply and even necessitate “integrate,” it graces the obligation with an agreeable effort — with a complaisance conducive to a fond accord and an affectionate accommodation. To ingratiate yourself to America is to cheerfully train in the energetic nonchalance of the homeland of immigrants — the homeland of legal immigrants — the land of the reborn and even the rechristened — all of whom earn and acquire their new nationality with happiness. Indeed, one of my Vietnamese students just achieved his American citizenship this spring. Duc’s new American delight is ingratiating. So if you meant “ingratiate,” I agree. And if you didn’t, I applaud the error!
As a comparative cultural aside — or an international immersion — consider how I once suggested that Duc translate my Republic into Vietnamese. He looked at me as if I were daft. “If I took your book back to Viet Nam, I’d be shot!” he sternly advised me. His tone was that of a parent amazed by the smallness of a child’s world, and the immensity of their unawareness. “Good point!” I immediately agreed. And then I added more reflectively, “I hadn’t thought of that.” But why would I in America with our 1st Amendment? His unplacated mien continued to say, “Geo-political idiot!” Well, we Americans are global locals! It’s our genius! I think the English do that, too — or at least they once did. They called it eccentricity. Actually, there is no center. Though I don’t know if the English know that, what? Crown and gown and go bow kowtow to crone and throne. But from this international conversation with Duc, I realized something substantially conceptual which then became world-obvious with words. Duc had immigrated to America, not me to Viet Nam — Jane Fonda notwithstanding. “Me, Ho, you Jane.” Duc and I have shared many merry jokes over good old “Uncle Ho,” as he’s sanctimoniously called back home in ‘Nam. Ho Ho Ho! Merry obeisance!
Now, who is America for? Or should I say, Whom is America for? “Whom” sounds so much more judicial and definitive, doesn’t it? So let’s stick with “who.”
The standard America-is-evil story — complete with its own national anthem, “God damn America! Home that I hate!” — states that, in the beginning, Europeans stole America from the Indians. The Europeans did this because they’re twice damned by all that is good, natural, and true. They’re white and they’re unwelcome.
Let’s say that the Europeans did indeed steal America from the Indians.
Alright. Who did the Indians steal America from?
The story says, “No one! There wasn’t anyone there.” True! But consider how the Indians are held up to America as exemplars of immanent ecology and spiritual naturalism. Consider what that means. North America was a pristine garden of pure, sweet, and untrammeled nature. The animals gamboled about in the sweet verdant greens. Plants everywhere reached up serenely to the nourishing sun. Even the rocks in the babbling brooks laughed with the giggling tickles of the cool champagne-like waters, waters that forever flowed and purely refreshed the fortunate animals.
Then the Indians arrived and ate them.
The Indians probably ate the large mammals to extinction. Almost all of them. And that includes the horses.
The Plains Indians only became great hunters of the big buffalo — and don’t tell me they’re bison — after they captured some of the Spaniards’ escaped horses. These horses had returned to the wild and become noble mustangs. The Indians, imitating the Europeans, re-enslaved these freedom-loving creatures, and then reduced them to pain-feeling vehicles of exploited transport. Why? So that the Indians could now go after the big healthy beefs, not the sick and old animals the Indians had survived on as fringe carrion killers before Columbus discovered America. Yes, Columbus discovered America, though he misnamed it. He located and placed it on a round idea in the consciousness of knowledge. Hegel would say so. And no less a liberal than Marx would ditto that.
The Indians were now living high on the horse with their European animal technology and techniques.
And it was as authentic as a western.
But at least this time the Indians didn’t eat the horses.
A popular legal maxim, at least on the street, is that possession is 9/10 of the law. That means the other 10% consists of titles and transfers and adverse possession and replevin and all that convoluted sort of mysterious billable stuff. But in nature none of it exists. There is no property. Therefore, possession in nature is 10/10 of the law. And there is no law in nature. Therefore there’s only possession. That means if you’re a leopard, you haul your zebra leftovers into the tree with you when you take your post-prandial nap. Of land, that means you occupy it with your person and your urine. My cat — The Cat of my Beethoven book — is now very old. His occupancy of even my backyard has become quite inadequate. And the neighbors’ cats are taking over. And when my cat does occasionally go out and about on his rounds, he issues dreadfully mournful moans. “O what has thus become of my domain! My love once struggled for such joys of gain!” But such noble and unnerving Lear-like laments will never unmark the lawless land grabs of those natural cats. Only naturally chasing them out holistically will. And my cat, who is sun-lazy but not arthritic, can still show those illegal feline immigrants a thing or two!
Given that the nature of nature — outside of tribal cosmology stories — has no rights or laws but only bites and claws and brief genetic hugs, which with cats are not discernibly different, it’s not surprising that peoples so ardently possess their lands. Indeed, they possess them even to the point of dying on them, thereby never to be dispossessed. Again ruefully consider the rueful death of Herr Zweig with true world rue.
But now, at least, we know who possesses America: Americans.
But what Americans are — have been — and might become — is another question. Or, rather, it’s a whole set of sibling inquiries which are perpetually in need of answers anew.
You’re of the view that there’s a distinct American culture. That means there’s a distinct people — Americans — who distinctly do distinctly American things. I agree. As an example of this, I told a class two years ago that Americans even walk distinctly. Most of the class started protesting facially and even verbally at the obvious silliness of such a claim. “Everyone walks the same way! We’re all humans!” was the insistent gist of their bellicose commonsense. Whereupon one of my foreign students — Brazil is from Africa by way of France — observed that you detect an American even blocks away out walking on the Champs-Elysés. We both nodded and grinned. And, I could have added, Parisian waiters with their hunter’s eyes can spot Americans even further out! Meanwhile, most of the class, as in the sunlit morning lesson room of a serenely ancient Zen monastery, became silently stupefied as each looked at a hand which didn’t wish to rise.
I completely agree with you. There’s a distinct people called Americans. And there’s a distinct culture called American. And the world marvels at it. As do I.
Early in our history, America’s innovative culture was already superbly characterized by De Tocqueville in his astonishingly observant book on Americans. As for the book’s title, Democracy in America, that constitutes one of the rather rare pre-20th century misuses of the d-word to describe the Republic of America and its republican culture. De Tocqueville, an aristocrat, was attempting to warn his fellow countrymen — the French gentry — of what was brewing in the new world. Nothing like a little democracy to terrify the quality! Critias, Plato’s aristocratic uncle, likewise wrote a famous book about the “robustness” of the “hoi poloi.” Meanwhile, in the 19th century, Walt Whitman misused the d-word, too, but only because of his abundant love joy for the class relaxation and happy productivity of Americans. So, of course, I’d forgive Whitman his lapses. But forgiveness is impossible. Can you forgive the universe?
As for America being a melting pot, I had some interesting conversations on that topic a while back with one of my more engaged and engaging students, Alex, who affects an Order of Lenin medal on his tunic. Comrade! Amongst other things, he conceptually updated me to the contemporary concept of the “salad bowl.” In the story of this more liberal and understanding idea of diversity, America in the past was indeed a melting pot. Into an insatiable capitalist cauldron, everyone was dumped along with their all their differences to be melted down into a processed commodity — like homogenous “process cheese food” — to be extruded as individual bricks and blocks, and then cemented into the walls of freedom! Murpourri! But that was back when Ellis Island, arbiter of destiny, would imperiously change families’ names to more market-ready police-readable words. My parents’ cobbler — shoe technician, I mean! — complained to me how his family had been given such a name when they came through Ellis, a name from an ethnic group he despised. Well, when he retired and took his sign down, he was taking his name back. Tucker, indeed!I thought about that for a while. Not Tucker! And not even Beijing. You may have noticed how I say Peking, which in Wade-Giles is visually coherent English. Pinyin is a visual confusion of English orthography. It may even have been meant to be. English is already superbly confused enough — mongrel as Hitler and Heidegger would differently buy ignorantly say for germane German reasons — without foreigners meddling in our national language.
No, I thought about the melting pot and the salad bowl. And then I got back to Alex. Comrade! I’d realized that the idea was really completely reversed. When Israel Zangwill coined the phrase “the melting pot,” America was anything but homogenous. The phrase then wasn’t a fact. It was the utterance of a hope for Old World ethnicities now sequestered in their New World ghettos.
In other words, the first mistake of two here is the belief that the melting pot existed in 1900 because the phrase was then in use.
The second mistake is the claim that America now is a salad bowl.
But if America is a salad bowl, then America is not a nation, and American is never a nationality, and both are just cover names for a potpourri. In French that means “rotten pot.” And that’s the socialist hope of liberals’ apologetic power. “We got here first and we succeeded. We’re sorry! How can we apologize to you and diminish ourselves?” That is, America is a mixture of different and always separable human cultural ingredients. Any attempt at a blend is oppressive and xenophobic. Except for inter-racial marriages! Oh, but isn’t any recognition of race racist? Answer: Only when conservatives notice it. Meanwhile, most of the cultural ghettos of a century ago have emptied. And they’re not being replaced or refilled in the same way. The first generations’ native languages were soon limited to home use or for when the “mustaches” got together to kvetch. The children learned English, and themselves then discarded the Old World language from their own children’s home background. Thereafter, religion was the greatest maintainer of those ethnic enclaves. But the status of religion in America — the anthropological efficacy of its binding cohesions — has greatly declined since 1900. Today, people’s sexual allegiance is more likely to be inquired after than their religious affiliations, this to politically and socially locate them in the belief spectrum of American society. Indeed, from your autobiographical comments and your ten-point list, that seems precisely true of you. As I observe in Reality 101, sex has replaced heaven.
In other words, in the name of a greater diversity, a greater homogeneity is occurring.
The salad bowl is what America actually was in 1900.
And America now is actually the melting pot.
Anyone from any background is now progressively doing, or wanting to do, or wanting to try out what everyone else is doing or thinking they want to do. Or else they’re trying not to do the same thing as everyone else as a statement of the vanity of difference. But such reaction is never the natural expression of a culture and is as ephemeral as a sunset.
And so, with the melting pot being labeled “diversity,” the growing homogeneity of America and the world continues apace as the world’ cultures are blent into an overwhelming western base without much resistance or even recognition. Indeed, liberals are at the vanguard of socially advertising world sameness with their cunning “Diversity” brand of “processed rainbow culture.” Vorwärts!
Of course, there are American exceptions to all this. The Amish. The Hasidic. And those Moslems who hope for European no-go sharia zones and total umma. We’ve seen this international fashion before. Cells of communists once worked in the absolute belief of the one world way and its total true community. And, of course, communism was and is constitutionally protected — as speech. The public has an interest in keeping ideas in the open, especially the seductively ridiculous ones. Bigfoot. Aliens. Equality.
In summary, your first belief is in the existence of a national American identity. In this I fully concur.
Your second belief consists of a set of core American values: liberty, equality, self-government, individualism, and unity. These sound familiar, admirable, unobjectionable, virtuous, and wonderful. They even sound good to me as a contemporary American.
But upon rereading them — and all deep reading is rereading, all great writing is rewriting, and all significant thinking is a workout of familiar thoughts — I recalled last semester’s business ethics course where we analyzed a similar list from our text. That textbook is one of the top in the field, and overall an excellent work. Otherwise I wouldn’t use it.
You’ll recall that the text presents a list of seven “ethical concepts or principles”: welfare, duty, rights, fairness, honesty, dignity, and integrity. These are obviously unobjectionable in the way that rapine, pillage, rape, rampage, arson, slaughter, and gaiacide obviously are not.
But the author then proceeds to insist that these seven principles “express virtually the whole of business ethics.”
Last semester, when I highlighted that claim for the class, one student immediately objected, “What about vision?” Indeed! What about drive? Ambition? Unstoppableness? Undefeatability? What about the will to profit and its incessant maximization? Or is profit, well, umm, yannow, not quite, like, virtuous, or, well, a subject quite fit for polite conversation around small dogs and mainline ministers? “And the social gospel for today is redistributive grace and a progressive tax on love. Amen.”
With that recollection of the semester past, consider now one of your five core values.
Equality sounds good. But in Reality 101, I dispense with equality completely — even in arithmetic. And I denigrate equality not as an unattainable ideal for human aspiration and thus available for the paid assuagement of frustration priests, but as the beautiful misstatement of a world lie.
But let’s skip the geometaphysics of mathematics here. Instead, let’s consult with Marx. Marx is one of the best thinkers on the embeddedness of ideas in culture, in civilization, and in history. Marx will immediately ask you, Equal in what? For what? By what?
Indeed, you could do worse with “equality” than to distinguish Republicans from Democrats from Socialists from Communists by delineating what each of them means by that one word. They all ardently use it.
By equality Republicans mean equal treatment before the law. And that’s all. They don’t even mean equal opportunity — not if by opportunity you mean your parents’ natural and social resources. Consider that your life’s dream is to play professional basketball and your parents are short. Right.
Meanwhile, Democrats accept equality before the law, but only if the legal outcomes according to their metrics of equality are also equal. For example, liberals insist on racial proportionality in jail populations, though not of gender. And Democrats also wish — or say they wish — for a much more nearly equal social distribution: of money, goods, position, reputation, and happiness. For example, see the number crunching of Rawls in his reduction of justice to a social arithmetic of fairness.
Socialists insist on equality with a stridence that’s relative to their location to the left on the blue-red spectrum of liberty. Also, the redder the socialist, the more resentful is their insistence on the punishment and remorse of those who were superior in the past. In the revolution, Marx would be liquidated — just like my Marxist professor at Notre Dame who said that would happen to him, a destiny which he contemplated with a shrug.
Communists supposedly insist that everything must and will be equal every day in every way. But as with God, many false remarks get attributed to Marx. Marx didn’t think everyone would be as smart or as diligent as he was. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Marx as always would put out much, and he would finally receive much, too. True, Marx could be greatly wrong. He idea-murdered a 100 million people. But Marx wasn’t small — with one big exception. In lieu of wit, he relied on sarcasm and polemic by the book load. Such adolescent angers against nature are small-souled. They’re not great rages but incapacitated frustrations. And impotence makes us sad. Meanwhile, nothing in the famous Marxist mantra says how unequal humans might be in communism. But then, equality never was a goal of Marxism anyways — any more than it was of Christianity. Burning in hell over a slow infinite fire is definitely not the equal of being fanned by angels’ wings when standing in the radiance of the face of God. The concept of equality is in fact the post-holy hope of a vague social malaise. “Maybe I’m not getting all the fun that I should!” and “Maybe I’m getting more fun than I deserve!” This mediocre malaise has infected all the big conscience institutions — Christianity, Judaism, democracy, socialism — since the onset of the Great Red War.
As for your other core values — liberty, self-government, individualism, and unity — all of them are equally open to demands for specification of their social environment: of the economics and the politics of such values and their virtues. There isn’t time for that here and now. But consider: What is a unity of individuals? Is it physically possible with humans? Or even logically coherent with ideas? If it is, it needs amplification and delineation.
Since I’ve written a book on America, saying what America is could seem a somewhat superfluous exercise. On the other hand, it can be easier to write a book about a something than to say precisely what it is. And professors do so love words! On the other hand, if professors don’t love words with all the natural excesses of true delight, they shouldn’t profess anything.
So I’ll provide a short list of the essentials of America. And I use the e-word with rhetorical fortitude.
*The primacy, priority, and predominance of private property and a love of money. “Property is freedom!”
*A great civil society of energetic self-regulating citizens who mind their business. And they do so with such fond concentration, the differences of others become curiosities for sampling and experimentation rather than resentment and revenge.
*Divided sovereignty with multiple republican governments answerable only to their citizens and themselves — with some overlap for the vigilance of jealousy — and none subordinate to any power in any hierarchy with any center at any top.
*English as the exclusive general language.
*The unique heritage of America’s people, places and events, and the expectations, anticipations and plans for more America to come.
Hey, look! I matched your five values with five specifications of mine. Exactement! Call it the merit of luck or the cunning of pre-intentionality.
Now, finally, to the last point of this post.
You list two categories of people that you feel are incompatible with America’s core values. The first group consists of foreigners such as Islamic sharia totalitarians who openly and explicitly denounce those American values. The coincidence of the totalitarianism of theocracies and communism is, of course, not a coincidence. Both are religious polities and, at least in the West, monotheistic in divinity or dialectic. And notice how the words “foreign” and “foreigner” have acquired a hoary taint of outback vulgarity, and even a whiff of indecency lately. Well, if America is the national homeland of Americans, then the rest of the world isn’t. Domestic. Foreign. That’s simple and clear. And it’s concise and right.
In your second group of the enemies of the America idea, you place any citizen who “outright rejects someone because of their sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.” That sounds like one of those legal disclaimers at the bottom of a job advertisement! And it’s also incompatible with millions of citizens’ religious beliefs in many of this country’s variegated religions all of which are practiced constitutionally.
Consider again who America belongs to. The generic answer is, Whoever possesses it now. Precisely! A hundred years ago — when then was now — America was mostly possessed by Northern European descendants who practiced Protestant Christianity. That didn’t include my ancestors. I often must remind my students that the KKK hated Catholics, Jews and Blacks.
Do I agree that legal citizenship and civil politeness shouldn’t be withheld from “citizens of difference” in your list? Of course! Again, it seems like one of those obvious and reasonable lists. But in my experience, all-inclusive lists are never all-inclusive, but also specifically exclusive, too. Marx included all of humanity in the end of history. And history ended happily ever after. Of course, unrepentant capitalists would be shot first. The followers of Marx, with more inclusive amplitude, shoot the children, too. And your list, like so many contemporary lists, excludes or marginalizes precisely the antecedent possessors of America: WASPs. Oddly, given women’s chapel fascinations, that’s usually taken to mean WASP men. The WASP women, according to American liberal orthodoxy, were kept in bondage in their husbands’ houses, chained to beds and fed on bread and water, and never allowed to go clothes shopping. Foreigners notice a rather different matriarchic picture of America’s “macho” manhood. Well, as I’ve also told my classes concerning WASPs, I’m not Anglo, I’m not Saxon, and I’m not Protestant. But I can very much appreciate the viewpoint that America is a Christian Protestant nation, which almost also always means Northern European.
In other words, what you call American core values — such as LGBT in your previous post — aren’t core values of America, but the core values of some present Americans. And if those Americans have the ear of the law, the result is their present legal success. In real-time reality, that means Christian morality courthouse displays are out, and socialist diversity political displays are in.
I care for neither.
Therefore I’m pleased that neither of these current categories forms a core value of America. Why? As for anarchic diversity, I address an example of that — same-sex marriage — in The Republic (Ch. 28). As for the priority of religion, I’m eternally grateful that America II — America I was the Articles of Confederation, a notorious failure — was crafted by men superbly educated in the sciences and the delights of the Enlightenment. Both lunatic liberation and intolerable religion were removed from the governmental realm of the Republic, and relegated to the discretion of civil society. And I’m discreet.
This world-advancing political success need not always be the case. The 1st Amendment could be amended in favor of theocracy to defend against blasphemy. Not only would certain Moslems favor that. I know Christians who take the same firm view about an America of godless values.
In other words, who does and who should possesses America is an ongoing exercise in, of, and through history. And like a great conversation, it’s not predictable, you don’t know where it’s going, it’s always changing, and you don’t want to miss it.
All of this, in fact, is a part of my fifth specification from above. And that specification alone of the five would seem to be unadoptable by other countries.
But the other specifications are also capable of variance. Think of the variability of the Constitution. In the marvelous case, Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Supreme Court discovered a constitutional right to privacy under a bush. Eight years later this finding made Roe v. Wade possible. You’ll recall that bush. It’s an emanation of the penumbra genus. The legal Latin for this constitutional bush is penumbra emanatus astonicus.
As a lover of privacy, I think I’ll plant one in my backyard.
As a lover of private property and civic diversity, I think I’ll plant several hedges!