By Jim Norwine, Oologah
“There is no “real” America!”
I subtitled the first part of this series “Now the Cowboys are the Indians!” to try to draw a parallel between the European invasion and near-annihilation of Native American civilizations and the current dispossession of “Old” by “New” America.
I suggested that new civilizations, like new scientific theories, do not just add to, or even merely replace, a predecessor. Instead, almost without exception they endeavor to destroy the old order, root and branch.
Why so? Think about it this way: having finally reached this self-evidently “true” way of life, surely it would the worse sort of bad faith for the new civilization to forbear, to endure, or in current jargon to “tolerate,” the continued existence of the previous culture’s preposterous and grotesque and, all too often, monstrous, assumptions, habits, and beliefs. The new will therefore aggressively attack the old with unforgiving, relentless passion and, as necessary, force.
Thus the intent—destruction—and attitude—contempt—we are witnessing on the part of New America is strikingly similar to all such cultural revolutions through the ages. Even the method, although more sophisticated in some ways—drawing and quartering being too overtly icky for squeamish contemporary sensibilities—retains the essential, tried-and-true device of “scape-goating,” that is, blaming the victim.
To make sense of what is happening now requires a bit of background.
Civilizations have traditionally been defined by two things: firstly, culture, everything from religion and dress to kinds of technology and ways of making a living; and, secondly, demography-geography, i.e., the package-deal of tribe/nation/ethnicity/race/place aspects that through the ages differentiated one people from another.
New-America guru Jon Stewart claims there no “real” America, but in fact the American experiment represented something new, different and very real. It transcended both culture and geography, for it was based on an idea, that of a nation based on freedom and democracy. Although never fully realized in practice, as much ideal as idea, such a civilization seemed to the established order an alien, even existential, threat to its very survival.
It is true that America was a sort of paradox; in principle uniquely open but still fundamentally exclusive. In other words, although no longer rooted in the traditional national determinants like race or geographic source, it remained nationalistic.
Grasping that paradox is key to understanding Old America’s self-identification, which might be summed up this way: All are welcome to get in line, to pledge faithfulness to, and willingness to defend, freedom and democracy, and to renounce all contrary loyalties. Then, and only then, you are American.”
So. If that is–or was–Old America, what then is New America? Here’s a passage from the late political scientist Samuel Huntington, who in his final book answered that question with rather amazing prescience…
The views of the general public (or “Old America” in my terms) on issues of national identity differ significantly from those of many elites (now, NA). The public, overall, is concerned with physical security but also with societal security, which involves the sustainability…of existing patterns of language, culture, association, religion and national identity.
For many elites, these concerns are secondary to participating in the global economy, supporting international trade and migration, strengthening international institutions, …and encouraging minority identities and cultures at home.
The central distinction between the public and elites is (therefore) …nationalism versus cosmopolitanism.
Old America, rooted as it is in national self-identity, is thus utterly antithetical to a New America which sees itself as heralds, standard-bearers, “priests” even, of an emerging new universal and inclusive civilization. No mere “nation” but—at least the beginnings of—a planetary human community.
If it could speak it might say to Old America something like this: You began the process, yes, but you remained a “nation” in the sense of being defined in many ways by a single dominant culture, language and race to which all others had to adapt. Your fixation on nasty archaic ideas like “boundaries” and “borders” revealed your abiding exclusivity. Because your continuing survival would always pose a threat of collapse back into an intolerably primitive and cruel past, you had to go.
Well, that little background sketch is no more than the broadest of brush-strokes, but it will have to do, for next time I need to summarize, including a review of the specific changes that have favored one civilization over the other.
Till next time, blessings and Memento mori2
Notes: 1. From Leszek Kolakowski’s wonderful book of the same name.
2. Memento mori—“remember you must die”—was to ancient and medieval thinkers a reminder to seek your true heart’s desire, i.e., the highest, most permanent, things.
3. Texas A&M System regents professor emeritus, now living with Lottie, his wife of 50 years, on Oologah Lake. Zophar (one of Biblical Job’s blowhard neighbors) Boanerges (“windbag”, the name Jesus gave James and John, the sons of Zebedee) is Jim’s pen name.
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