Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Our improbable "internal political resource"

As the Trump regime builds out its baby jails for children under five, and we, the resisting majority, scream our protests, some repeat over and over "This is not who we are. We aren't like this!"

And those of us who have never been confident that the USofA was very good through much of our history sigh -- and contemplate the terrible job of gentle (and not so gentle) instruction we owe to our fellow citizens. What a horror show this country has been for so many: there was the attempted extermination of the native people of the continent; the use of African human captives as trafficable, disposal machines for cotton profits; the wars of empire in which torture and murder have been justified by religious and race hatred. And it goes on and on.

But there have also been also those other themes of our history: "inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; "government of, by, and for the people." The gradual expansion of "the people" to encompass more and more of us ...

Mark Kleiman at Reality-Based Community took up how we live among these uncomfortable contradictions a few days ago. We need to learn a more complicated, more truthful, history, of course. But also --

Aspirational history and political rhetoric
... “critical” history isn’t the only kind. National myths are, themselves, potent realities. A country where the belief that horrible actions Aren’t Like Us is widespread has an internal political resource that helps political actors within that country oppose such horrible actions.  A country where that belief isn’t widespread – where criminality is an accepted part of the political culture – lacks that resource, which of course is a benefit to criminal political actors within that country. The accuracy of the underlying belief is an independent question.

This post was a rare exception to the rule on the internet; comments expanded the discussion. Here's one from someone who calls himself "johnarkansaslawyer".

As a leftist, I'm in broad agreement ... that the United States has no particular claim to virtue. Also as a leftist, I'm also able to tell the difference between bad and worse. What we have right now is worse cubed. ...

Hating your own country is the internationalism of fools. That much I do know.

Becoming revolted by your own culture's flaws is a useful phase in development of a broader worldview, assuming you get past it. Getting stuck in that revulsion leaves you just as foolish, just in the opposite direction.

As we resist cruel barbarism, we can't pretend this country is flawless. But neither can we succumb to nihilism. That's throwing away any chance to fight another day.

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