YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 27, 2013

“American exceptionalism” retold

american-progress-ideation2I have already compiled a list of turning points for the ascent/decline of “the West” here: https://clarespark.com/2011/10/24/turning-points-in-the-ascentdecline-of-the-west/. But the purpose of this blog is to suggest a counter-narrative for American history, warts and all. The goal is to find an approach to US history that will not leave students or your home-schooled child adrift with lifeboats offering only tendentious accounts of US history, and offering either idealized or demonized versions of the American past. (For a patriotic account by “America’s greatest writer” see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or try this more recent one: https://clarespark.com/2014/02/07/herman-melville-on-the-materialist-solitary-backwoodsman/.)

In a short blog, I can outline only some major points.

First, to present a corrected version of US history, it cannot be rooted solely in America, with non-whites the hapless victims of murderous European-born whites. During the age of expansion, conflicts between France, England, Spain and the Netherlands were critical. Had Americans not expanded West, say by hugging the Atlantic coast, there might subsequently have been a jigsaw of European colonies like the map of Africa in the late 19th century and onward.

Second, westward expansion also exacerbated conflict between the industrializing North and slaveholding South. Without an economic history of these regions, US history and the politics of expansion remain incomprehensible.

Third, although ethnocentrism can be found in many cultures, racism in the U.S. directed against non-whites was a by-product* of American (and world) economic development (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnocentrism, or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism). But anti-imperialists deny that racism has been partly corrected, insisting that “institutional racism” persists despite the civil rights movement and its achievements. (I do not mean to minimize the effects of racism: see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/.) Nor would the anti-Americans examine the obliteration of high Western and American culture, substituting a popular culture that is mostly primitivist. Going native is a major cause of mass psychological regression to a stage of life where “adults” are over-influenced by parental surrogates and other ideologically tainted authority. Such primitivist regression is rarely criticized by hipster democrats; by contrast, communists accept a notion of Progress that ineluctably leads to Leninist bureaucratic centralism and that demonizes ‘capitalism’/market society as an imposition by filthy lucre and their “commercial” mass media.

Fourth, infuriated by leftist critics of US imperialism (often concentrated in the blue states), some “red state” patriots argue that the warts are removed, that American self-criticism has lifted us out of the Slough of Despond, and that the concept of American exceptionalism should be rehabilitated. This is a shallow judgment, though I partly agree. Urban decay and a rotting public school system for inner city kids remains an unsolved problem, one of many, including massive waste and fraud at every level of government.

Fifth, not enough weight is given to the bounty of Nature that greeted the first European settlers, an abundance preserved by mostly hunter-gatherer Indian tribes that famously refused “development.” Much of American economic success battened off the virgin land, and we are evading real environmental problems if we imagine that the Green movement is nothing but a communist plot in all its manifestations. (See Bob Ennis’s comment below, with which I concur.)

Sixth, though some “traditionalists” on the Right prefer a view of the Constitution as divinely inspired,  we do better by our children and ourselves to celebrate cultural and political pluralism. The secular state does not signify atheism, communism, and the end of pluralism, but rather secularism is the guarantee of personal freedom and the unmatched luxury of individuality. It is in our Bill of  Rights, along with the relatively free markets that are responsible for unprecedented upward mobility and wealth creation, that “American exceptionalism” really exists.

*There used to be a debate among historians whether racism caused slavery, or whether slavery caused racism, but it is now the case that major scholars treat “racism” as an independent variable, and indeed they claim that racism is the engine of U.S. history, a flaw so terrible and omnipresent that reparations are demanded. Do not underestimate the determination and penetration of non-white cultural nationalists. See https://clarespark.com/2012/02/09/glee-goes-la-raza/, also the illustration above, which takes its cue from Diego Rivera’s Stalinist murals, with a strong dose of the Fantastic and Surrealism.


February 9, 2012

“Glee” goes La Raza or “Duende”


Ricky Martin

(For  related blogs see https://clarespark.com/2012/06/21/the-hispanic-vote/and https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.)

On February 7, 2012, the hit show Glee buttressed the cultural nationalist view of those Latino irredentists who want to take back the Southwest, overwhelm Anglo-American culture, and generally advance what could be described as “brown supremacy” as opposed to competing ideologies in America. Somehow the episode titled “The Spanish Teacher” with guest star Ricky Martin slipped into some heavy propaganda without being noticed by the Wikipedia detailed account of the episode. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spanish_Teacher.) This blog fills in what the Wiki summary glaringly omitted.

The hunky pop star Ricky Martin (whose guerro appearance bears no resemblance to, say the mestizo construction workers in my neighborhood) predicts that in a few decades, Spanish will be the dominant language in America. [Add to the language factor, the conception of “duende” that Lorca defined as essential to Spanish culture: “According to Christopher Maurer, editor of “In Search of Duende”, at least four elements can be isolated in Lorca’s vision of duende: irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical. The duende is a demonic earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of intelligence, reminding him that “ants could eat him or that a great arsenic lobster could fall suddenly on his head”; who brings the artist face-to-face with death, and who helps him create and communicate memorable, spine-chilling art. The duende is seen, in Lorca’s lecture, as an alternative to style, to mere virtuosity….” From Wikipedia definition of “duende.” The word is repeated many times during the first dance and song number as the quality that non-Hispanics lack. I have a new insight into Ernest Hemingway: thank you Wikipedia.]

Moreover, by the end of the episode, duende-deprived Will Schuester (played by Broadway star Matthew Morrison), formerly the school’s Spanish teacher, hands over his job to the Ricky Martin character (formerly a teacher in night school), for [gringo] Will not only is less competent to teach Spanish, he lacks “authenticity.” The glowering Latina student “Santana” upbraids the abashed and guilty Will for pretending to participate in the culture of a [race] for which he lacks [roots]. This sacrifice perfectly reflects what black nationalists demand for their group: only someone with “African American” blood can transmit their cultural heritage and relate an accurate history to students in high schools and colleges. Such is the legacy of multiculturalism, embraced by the Democratic Party, and though devastating to the conception of the melting pot (see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-melting-pot/), does appeal to the most authoritarian, racialist, and backward tendencies in post-1960s social movements. [Added later: I had forgotten a detail: the Ricky Martin character states that his grandparents(?) were illegal immigrants! This would not be an issue for irredentists, for were not great gobs of the USA stolen from Mexico? Maybe not Ohio, the locale of “Glee,” but you get the point.]

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