This blog is about the unexplored connection between “my country, right or wrong” (super-patriotism), America-hating, conservative objections to “perfectionism,” overpraising our children’s accomplishments, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD, a condition associated with both high achievers, and extremely anxious and depressed persons immobilized by the fear of making a mistake).
I am writing it on Independence Day because many conservatives look to the Constitution as holy writ, rather than as a document conceived by men who were creatures of their time. For these super-patriots the Constitution was perfect, even inspired by the (perfect) Divinity. It follows that any and all attempts to historicize this document must be initiated by sinister, demonic forces, out to destroy religion as such.
OCD runs in my family, though some of us have its symptoms more severely than others. In historicizing my family history, I have taken into account how immigrants, especially Jewish immigrants, have coped with competing in a society where modernity sits lightly, where populist antisemitism continues to ride high, and where immigration (often) has been tightly controlled.
As children, we had to be high achievers, even without the constant stimulation that the upper classes have achieved here and in Europe– such as devotion to high culture, engagement with world and local affairs, extensive travel, and tutors in many foreign languages at an early age.
In my particular family of origin, there was not much of that, even though my parents had high expectations of achievement, as if my genetic inheritance, my father’s precocity in medical research, and my mother’s descent from distinguished rabbis, would compensate for their neglect. In other words, I early discerned that I was on my own and fled to books.
But “neglect” had its advantages, for I was not “pushed” to be perfect. Nor was I indoctrinated in any particular ideology, unlike those veterans of authoritarian families who had to be flawlessly obedient to the ways of their ancestors, and who would be threatened by any engagement with America’s imperfect past.
I have never encountered an 18th century thinker who expected perfection from their efforts to achieve independence from Britain. Indeed, the classically-educated Constitution-makers favored a republic, not a democracy, such were their suspicions of “the people” (https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/.) And yet there are right-wingers who discard the Enlightenment as having made unreasonable demands on “human nature,” which is ever likely to get out of hand.
I have mentioned the super-patriots, but they have their opposite numbers on the Left: America-hating essentialists, the purveyors of identity politics as if America was a single individual with a uniformly horrid and shameful past. Such persons also demonize America, refusing to acknowledge any progress whatsoever in compensating for past, historically determined, mistakes. Rather, we are typified by Charles Manson.
Some of our presidential candidates on the Right are playing to the super-patriots, ending their appeals for votes with the utterance “We are the greatest country in the world.” They have their counterparts on the Left, who argue that their statist measures will beat the devil, and establish an error-free heaven on earth.
Here’s a toast to a more independent, historically-savvy, appraisal of our country’s past and present. Happy Fourth of July, 2015. Long may our striving toward improvement persist, for we were a great and unprecedented experiment in living with the search for truth, justice, independence and interdependence, for all.