Love of country must always be qualified these days, lest anyone think you are unaware of slavery, insufficiently regulated railroad stock offerings, Lester Maddox or the attempt by Philip Morris to conceal the addictive nature of cigarettes. Say “I love this country” at a dinner table with strangers, and it’s like shave and a haircut without the two bits. But? But? We are an exceptional nation, to be sure, but you can’t leave it at that. We are exceptionally misguided, exceptionally lazy and xenophobic, shot through to the pith with bilious perfidy, and our sole redeeming quality is our ability to constantly remake ourselves. We’ll either perfect society so we can perfect human nature, or do it the other way around. Either’s fine. Whatever works.
And what, you might wonder, caused me to prop that straw man up and jerk his jaw up and down? The Freakonomics blog on the NYT site has a contest: a six-word motto for the US. It was no doubt tendered in good faith, but reading the suggestions is like licking a corroded battery. The latter-day sub-Menckens will always get off the sharpest lines, of course; you can’t draw a laugh with something Grandma might knit on a pillow, and drawing a laugh – or a mirthless snort of appreciation, which counts as a laugh nowadays – is the prime objective. Go on: read. It’s not just a lefty thing; the hard-core Ron Paulites are there as well, luxuriously immersed in simon-pure certainties.
Hundreds of snippets of derisive snark. You can picture the satisfied little grins on the authors’ faces; you can imagine the whole tableau – the computer (which most people in the world will never touch, let alone use, let alone own) the TV in the corner connected to a network that has channels catering to every taste, the iPod stocked with music hoovered up free of charge without consequence, the fridge stocked with food – the light comes on when you open the door, too, unless it’s burned out, and then you go to the store and get another one; they always have another one. The soft bed, the coffee machine, the well-fed pet, the vast panoply of free information and unfettered opinion flowing 24/7 from the internet. You can drink alcohol without being sentenced to death; you can be a girl alone in a room with a man without earning a public stoning; you can stand up in a room and argue for the candidate of your choice without being arrested; you stand in a society that allows for astonishing amounts of freedom, comfort and opportunity. But.
But. Someone somewhere is a practicing Baptist and someone somewhere else is eating a hamburger larger than you’d prefer, and other people are watching cars go around a track at high speed. As your skinny unhappy friend said the other night: people are just too fat and happy. He bites his nails and plays WoW six hours a night, but he has a point. It doesn’t matter that these fascists-in-fetal-form never quite seem to accomplish anything; it’s not like they drove the gay Teletubbies off the air or had Tony Kushner drawn and quartered in the public square. But they’re preventing something. Something wonderful. And they’re driving large cars to Wal-Mart and putting 18-roll packs of Charmin in the back and they have three kids. Earth has withstood a lot in its four billion years, but it cannot withstand them. And even if it does, who wants to live in a world where these people don’t care that they’re being mocked by small, underfunded theaters in honest, gritty neighborhoods? (Which are being gentrified by upwardly-mobile poseurs who have decided it’s a great place to live because the theater is good and the restaurants are cheap. F*#*$ing interlopers. But we’ll deal with them later.)
ANYWAY. Bottom line: we will never be a great nation until we all realize how much we suck, and then we will also realize it is wrong to be a great nation. For that matter, nationhood are overrated. (The only nation that gets to be a nation is France.)
Nations are bad enough, but we’re something else:the only nation that has ever fought a war, acted in self-interest, had a good opinion of itself, permitted slavery, elected leaders who lacked a certain Olympian quality, had a popular culture that included simple catchy melodies and bright pictures, harbored racist attitudes, had a strong religious element, and contained a sizable amount of stupid people.
(Side note: the existence of stupid people in America is a touchy subject, and not easily explained away. It would seem to suggest that some people are smarter than other people, which could conceivably have an impact on their ability to succeed – but there are so many stupid people living in comfort that this almost implies that the bounty and opportunity of the country are sufficient to lift the leakiest dinghies if the occupants bail and plug, and that can’t be true. It is also unacceptable to suggest that some people do not succeed because they aren’t smart, since that suggests that merit is rewarded, and that can’t be true. Merit has nothing to do with America; it’s all about white male privilege. Do not be fooled by the rise of Hillary and Obama; put them together, and what do you have? White. Male.)
Anyway, America sucks except for a few parts of some cities if you ignore the Starbucks, and people in other countries are basically okay but no one in America knows it because they don’t have passports, and Dubya wants you to hate Islam which is ridiculous because I was backpacking in Tunisia for a few days and people seemed pretty cool. Hey, look at this, someone posted a video on YouTube that makes it seem like Huckabee is supported by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. What’s for supper? Thai? Again?
We don’t get colds in this house, but we come dang close quite often. I am under siege at the moment, and I’m zincing up. Still, I expect tomorrow to be thick-headed and logy, so I may just make it a link-of-the-hour day on buzz.mn with four Lance Lawsons. That’s right: four. Keeps the traffic up. I got a new batch at the paper today, and found something else: Sunday Lance Lawson strips and a Mr. Coffee Nerves I hadn’t seen before. Also a new Sears 1973 page. See you at buzz.mn!