November 5th, 2008 - Balinares — LiveJournal
Nov. 5th, 2008
Well. It's been a long restless night filled with uncomfortable dreams, but on the morrow, it seems, the world has changed, a little.
I'll add my congratulations to the chorus, not because I believe a choice was made that is categorically right, but because a choice was made that involved the huge mobilization of so many under the notion there's a way to make things a lot better.
That's big. That's huge.
It means there's something going on that wasn't there before -- that everywhere, the young, the old, the disenfranchised, the apathetic, the hopeless, but also the hopeful, looked up and realized, dude, we too are America, and got to their feet and pulled back their sleeves to get a say in this all, and that, I feel, is the real, true victory on this day.
Because the task ahead is huge.
In terms of identity, what it means to be an American today is essentially defined as a set of idiosyncratic atoms, of specific cultural notions: like everybody else, Americans sum up what being an American means to them in terms of what sets them apart from citizens of other countries -- or, more precisely, what they feel sets them apart. (That distinction is important, because it necessarily embeds a perception of what other countries are like in its axiomatic base, and such perception can quickly become obsolete as others, too, change.)
Thing is, pride in one's national identity often crystallizes into pride in that specific set of cultural notions. They no longer have to justify their origin or their meaning; it's just a matter of them being ours, uniquely ours.
Meaning that as things currently stand, you cannot bring America as a country up to speed with the rest of the industrialized world on a particular subject matter if that subject matter happens to have one such cultural atom attached to it -- not without bruising a LOT of feathers and stirring hard antagonism, when it is crucial for such a change to work out that you get as much heartfelt support behind it as possible.
And don't think for one second that because a voter chose Obama yesterday, they'll also support a proposed change if that change happens to go up against the territorial pattern matching of their hindbrain's algorithms.
There's the reason why so many approaches to so many issues find themselves labeled 'unamerican'. In so far as 'american' is defined as such a set of idiosyncratic cultural atoms, then in truth, the term 'unamerican' DOES fit, semantically.
So the first step to any lasting change in the way certain things work in America -- yeah, healthcare is clearly one such issue -- is to identify the root cultural atoms that such changes go against, and cautiously detach them and their emotional baggage from the proposed implementation. To make those particular notions not that important after all.
Which does imply, in a way, redefining what 'american' means, not in the dictionary, but in people's hearts.
Can it possibly work?
Two reasons why.
The first reason is that this doesn't necessarily negate conservative values. The crucial thing to realize here, is that in spirit, conservative values are not inherently wrong. Of course the government should be kept as small as possible -- but no smaller. Of course taxes should be limited to the minimum -- but no lower. Of course a functional family should be protected as the base social unit upon which individuals grow -- but so should other functional social units. It's all about what particular equilibrium best fits a particular social and economical context.
Nobody is up against a particular set of values, because values don't exist in a vacuum: they are, at heart, means to an end. Although it is a very natural thing to come to cling to values and lose sight of the ends as a result of fear. Change is always a factor of stress to the human brain. Which is alright. It's okay. That's why we need to focus on the ends, what we're trying to achieve, and then talk about how we're going to go about it with the conservative wing, or those of them willing to discuss, at least, because no one-sided ideology ever works out on its own.
As to the second reason... Many years ago, some buddy of mine, who since turned out hard-core conservative (and as far as I know, still pro-Bush to this very day), asked me what I thought America did well. This was an unfair question to ask out of the blue, because it's such a big question, it deserves a lot of thinking time, and in truth at the time all I could possibly give was a lame, lame answer. But it's a question I never stopped thinking about.
And today, I think I have an answer, a real answer to propose.
What's America is really, really good at is the "Let's do this shit" mentality. Setting up a whole new country from scratch on a new continent? Let's do this shit. Sending a man to the moon? Right, let's do this shit. Indexing every single one of the billions or trillions of Web pages out there? Private space flight within our lifetime? Hydrogen fuel cells backed by solar power? Absolutely, let's do this shit.
That, I think, is the core value. That's the edge of America. That's the thing Europe mislaid somewhere on two centuries of battlefields and for which we are looking up to you guys.
And damn it, if social democracy is what the 21st century's game is going to be, can America implement it better than anyone else before and beat the whole of Europe at its own game? Time will tell. But damn it, let's do this shit.
... Well, that's why I'm cautiously optimistic, at least.
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