No Such Thing As America
March 31, 2012 Comments Off on No Such Thing As America
Over the years I’ve become increasingly conscious of how often the subtext of things in this country is that America is the only place anyone sensible would ever live and empirically the best country that has ever existed. I’m frequently moved to deliberately provocative commentary in public when they play the national anthem or “Proud To Be An American,” much to my companions’ dismay. I am sick to death of jingoism, which is the only form of patriotism there is, but until today I never really pinned down why.
It’s because America doesn’t exist.
Or rather, it’s because no one lives in America. You live in your community, which might be a neighborhood or a state or even a region, but no one actually lives at the country scale. America is too big. It might work in, say, Belgium, but the fact is that people simply cannot live their daily lives on the level of a whole huge country occupying 3.8 million square miles. When someone loves where they live, what they mean is that they love their grocery store and their downtown and their CSA shares and their neighbors. Any claptrap about ideals and rights is all well and good, but that kind of thing doesn’t actually make good grounds for arguing in favor of America’s supreme awesomeness. Sure, it’s nice to be able to call the police and access Wikipedia, but those issues are independent of America. There are a lot of places in the world you could live where chances are excellent you wouldn’t feel that your rights were constricted. There are also a lot of places in the world you could live where you would curse your existence, but the fact that America isn’t like that doesn’t necessarily make it a gem of modernity, it only means that other countries are maybe behind the curve.
If you take a so-called patriot who proclaims America’s merits to the stars and you place him in a Chicago project or a Mississippi slum, chances are after a couple years he would no longer think America is the greatest country on earth. Personal hardships have a way of clouding starry eyes. So what he means when you hear him hold forth about the greatness of Amurr’ca to his fat buddies at the neighborhood barbeque is that he loves his town or his state or his region, and his life as it currently stands. All of which has nothing really to do with America, if by America you mean the economic superpower and world leader. America doesn’t give a curse about you. To claim that you love a whole huge country strikes me as cultish and weird. I like where I live, but I’m certainly not about to take a bullet for the US of A.
Because, in the end, anywhere in the US, or for that matter anywhere in the world, is just a place. I get my back up over patriotism because I lived in Paris. Guess what? It was just another place. My life in France was a lot like my life in the US, except that you couldn’t buy peanut butter and I was afraid of the women in hair salons. Sure, I didn’t try to go around in a niqab, but instances like those where the underlying structure and laws of the country you live in actually affect your life are still as divorced from you as an individual as a snowstorm or your gluten allergy. Your country doesn’t have it in for you, but nor does it love you. Whether you admit it or not, the fact is that all your community loyalties are to a community on a smaller scale than your country. Non-regional loyalties don’t actually exist, which is why it makes me angry when people respond ardently to some nonsense about a Nation. It’s empty; there is nothing to it. Maybe it’s time to reassess your loyalties.