The article comes from a site called "Front Porch Republic," who's slogan is "Place. Limits. Liberty." It might as well be. "Arrogant. Ivory Tower. Elitist."
I despise the attitude behind this article, titled "On the Use of a Grim Joke and a National Elegy," in what I can only understand to be an attempt at a New Yorker-esque title, penned by Jason Peters. It makes my blood boil, because it's basically "conservatives" (although I'm sure they'd prefer the term "liberals"--but only in the classical sense, of course!) taking the concept of anti-Americanism, which is "cool," and twisting it so that they, too, can hate the country. It's also a part of the progressive mindset that, of course we know better today than anyone at any point in history. And by we, I mean the priveleged elite who "gets it."
Are you ready for an adventure in elitism? Buckle up.
You don’t have to think much of Allen Ginsberg to credit a question he raises in one of his better-known works: “America,” he says in inebriate apostrophe, “how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?”Allow me to translate for you, if you've got a serious case of MEGO (Mine Eyes Glaze Over). "McCarthy was an idiot for thinking the Chines and the Russians were a threat." Thus the improper grammar when "channeling" the mindset of McCarthy and others (read "Reagan") You still see that attitude today when patriotic Americans are mocked with the cries of "'Murca" and dismissed as idiot rednecks or teabaggers (Aside on that, I play a good deal of Halo and other video games. At least in that context, that's what you do to someone after you blow their brains out with a well-placed sniper shot from accross the map to demonstrate just how dominant you are, so I fail to see how that's an insult, but I digress) who blindly follow their idiot leaders (Read "Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh")
The ambient (or maybe, by then, residual) McCarthyism of the time turned Ginsberg into a man of finite jest for a little over a hundred lines. Toward the end of “America” he mocks the fear-mongers:
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations …
and so on until, after a slight modulation, he says, not altogether seriously, but also not without buckshot, “America, this is quite serious.”
America, this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America, is this correct?
There’s some incredulity in that last line (which isn’t the last line of the poem—or “poem,” if you prefer), and it seems to sound the right note in a piece in which the speaker had asked earlier, “America, are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?”
(Ginsberg wasn’t the sanest of men, but it would please him, I think, to learn that the editors of Time will soon be publishing an edition for adults.)
As far as poets go, Ginsberg isn’t exactly my cup of sack, but I found he wouldn’t go away recently, even though he’s dead. I thought I saw him looking over a few shoulders this past weekend, a weekend behind us at last, still wondering in his way whether a holy litany can be written amid the ambient (or is it residual?) silliness of a people increasingly incapable of ceremony, propriety and meaningful remembrance.
It was hard not to see a great deal of dime-store sympathy and self-congratulation in those solemn moments just before kick-off. It is never easy to believe that made-for-TV tributes, whether brief or insufferably long, achieve their emotional pitch by means legitimate. But it is also dangerous to accuse others of sentimentality when maybe you yourself have lost all capacity for sentiment.And here we run into another tenant of hipster conservatism: cynicism. Of course, the NFL and other 9/11 remembrances couldn't have really meant the taps and the giant American flags held by first responders and family members of victims. No, they're just appealing to emotions.
But then again that’s not quite it, is it—not really. Rather, it’s that we’re bumping up against matters of scale once again here. We’ve been asked to assemble our small talents and even smaller thoughts and do something significant ten years after a grim day we still only slenderly understand, if at all. We’ve been asked to put aside our pervasive cultural silliness and accomplish something of real gravity that can’t be done well on a national scale.In other words "We don't understand 9/11, and we're idiots for trying to remember it as a country." I'm sorry, sir, but those slogans do not trivialize the task of remembering that awful day that you so blithely dismiss. They mean much to those who truly understand and take them at face value instead of attempting to derive some cynical meaning.
And since it can’t be done well on a national scale we find ourselves clinging to the slogans that simplify, and in simplifying trivialize, the task: “We Will Never Forget”; “These Colors Don’t Run”; God Bless America.” They don’t mean enough, these slogans. About all they can do is invite us to pledge allegiance to an abstraction.
We Will Never Forget does not mean, as many of your fellow hipster snobs have suggested, that we should think about it all the time, and if we don't, then we're being hypocrites for using the phrase. "These Colors Don't Run" means that Americans don't back down from a fight. We stand firm. We rebuild. Which makes more sense: A nation that rolls over and plays dead, or a nation that stands up for itself? God bless America does not mean we want God to only bless America, but that, well, we want God's hand on America. Funny how straightforward these slogans are if you're not looking at them from an ivory tower.
And pledging allegiance to an abstraction? We'll get to that later.
I would not be misunderstood. Love of country is something of which we must all be capable. But we must be capable of it in ways suitable to creatures whose habitation is a countryside, not a country. We are not giants, after all. We are men and women.I don't know about you, but my love of my country doesn't exist simply because I live here. There are millions around the world who hate their country because it is oppressive, dictatorial, etc. I love my country, just as many love our country, because of what it stands for. America stands for freedom. It stands for individual rights and self-governance. The Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independance, the Constitution, all of our founding documents indicate a country unique in this world.
What happens when the slogans invite us to love a country at the expense of a county? A town? A neighborhood? Many there be who shout from the grandstands U-S-A ! U-S-A ! but have no idea where they are and, moreover, don’t care where they are. Their love has no real object. There is no branch for that nightingale to light upon.
I also have a deep and abiding love for my fellow citizens of this country. Like the country they hail from, Americans are unique in this world. But of course, Peters wouldn't understand that. And if he did, he would probably label it as a bad thing.
Those fans chanting U. S. A. are cheering for their freedom, for their fellow man, and for the last great hope for peace and freedom in this world. Without America, who's left?
Am I questioning the loyalty—the patriotism—of people I don’t even know?First of all, I don't think I've heard of a single soldier who has died for his or her country who died just for the idea of the nation. No. They died for their father, their mother, their siblings, their wife, their children, or their neighbors. They died for people they don't even know. They died not for the "lexicon of war" and "Mission Accomplished." They died so that others can live in freedom. That's not a love that comes cheap.
No, I’m not. For one thing, “loyalty” and “patriotism” are words that hardly signify anymore, and at any rate I’m with Dr. Johnson: “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” For another, I’m trying to say something more to the point—something about love and its proper objects. I don’t think a nation is such an object.
Love of a particular place, love of particulars, is always difficult. It is a high order that makes high demands on us because its object is always before us. It can ask, as a nation can’t, not really, “do you love me?” And it can wait for an answer.
Oh, the nation can ask you to “make the ultimate sacrifice,” but that’s because its vocabulary seldom extends beyond the lexicon of war and “Mission Accomplished” and “them Russians and them Chinamen.” Ginsberg was right to ridicule it. Love of a place enlarged beyond the scale of our competence is an easy love made for easy lovers. This is the nature of abstraction. Love for it comes cheaply, and usually without responsibilities anyone can point to beyond voting and singing the national anthem in the coliseum before the bloodletting begins.
Likewise, for those of us who live at home, it's not a love that comes cheap. We realize the payment, in blood, made by others on our behalf. Many of us fulfill our duties as citizens by voting and being involved in the political process. Many of us serve other members of our country in some form or another, be it a soup kitchen or a Sunday School teacher or a researcher trying to cure cancer.
On a sidenote, that's the most hilarious description of football I've ever seen, and reveals perhaps better than anything else in this article the ivory tower attitude of this author.
So it is with women (if I may be permitted). Loving women is easy. You don’t have to worry about making a single one of them happy. But loving a woman is not easy, for a woman will not suffer your mouth to speak to her in the language of greeting cards. She requires more of you than a little jury duty every couple of decades. She will be spoken to in the particular language of love particularly suited to her. And she will expect to be loved—by you.So, it's bad to hate the people whose sworn goal is to slaughter us all, but it's fine to mock and hold in contempt those who are righteously indignant at evil men? Or to hate the "abstraction of America"?
A nation can make no such demands, and where there are no such demands love will always be easy. You can love an abstraction without ever having to enact love at all. (In fact, you can do it from behind the bushes.) The reason you don’t have to enact it is that you can’t enact it, nor can it be loved. It is so big that you know not where to love it—not, at least, until you know where you are.
Once you know where you are, you can begin to love. Until then you’ll welcome into your “living” rooms the talking heads who, loving an abstraction, spread a pestilential hatred and blast a people into profound ignorance. Of this I am quite sure.
Let's face it, a country is not an abstraction. A country is a collection of ideas, of founding principles. Russia is not an abstraction any more than America or Bolivia. What sets Russia apart from America is the ideas behind how it is run and how it behaves as a nation. It's intangible, but far from abstract.
There’s a grim joke going around that I’m going to risk telling:Did I miss something? Maybe he and the rest of the people locked away in his snob commune have forgotten 9/11 because we have to move on, but the rest of us haven't. I talk about it more than just once a year, and it has certainly had a more profound effect on us as a people and as a nation than he'll ever realize.
“Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “9/11.” “9/11 who?” “You said you’d never forget!”
It would be difficult to find any humor in this if you were still mourning, ten years later, the loss of a son or daughter. I fully acknowledge that. But the object of its satirical jab is nothing less than our immense capacity in times of great pitch and moment to surrender all thought to the sloganeers. If we wish to be a people capable of ceremony, propriety and meaningful remembrance, we’re going to have to resist prefabricated thought. We’re going to have to refuse to write our holy litanies in silly moods. And we’re going to have to enact a particularizing love in particular places, not in the any places where the scoundrels are taking refuge.
Ten years ago I was walking up the stairs to teach a class on revenge tragedy and the insane logic of retributive violence that governs much of it. One of the towers had already fallen, and I didn’t even know it yet. By the time the lecture was over and the classroom empty, all the mischief had been accomplished. I walked down the stairs to find a crowd assembled around a television that had been wheeled out into a hallway. About an hour later a colleague, upon hearing the news, said without missing a beat, “You know what this means, don’t you? It means war.”Only a contemptuous cynic would describe the events of 9/11 as "mischief." And only an Anti-American snob would fail to see the attack as anything less than a declaration of war. What were we supposed to do? Apologize for putting the towers in the way of "their" planes? Apologize for the passengers of Flight 93 for so rudely crashing the plane in a Pennsylvania field? But I suppose if he sees America as an "abstraction" that needs taking down a peg or two, that's the only thing that makes sense.
The insane logic of retributive violence governs more than just revenge tragedy.
Since then, especially at times when national attention and sentimentality are high—I mean at sporting events—I think of the NBA All-Star game in 1991. We were engaged at that time in a desert war we were calling a “storm,” which, as most people know, is an act not of man but of nature and so is nobody’s fault. You might say that, being a natural cataclysm, it comes with its own metaphysical sanctions. Maybe some people remember who won that meaningless basketball game. Many, I think, will remember hearing one of the most moving national anthems ever performed—the solemn wordless Hornsby-Marsalis rendition. And, notwithstanding the blank visages of some of the athletes, and the slogans all around, there was something there to outdo the Ginsberg apostrophe, a radiant sobriety in the arena and a high seriousness in the music. It wasn’t a war-cry. It wasn’t a remastered version of that absurd “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It was an elegy.From dictionary.com (You can check Webster too, if the internet isn't good enough for you, Mr. Snob)
Here is where we see the hipstercon mentality fully realized. Cynics like Mr. Peters would like to think they see the world objectively. But this deliberate misunderstanding of the use of storm just to shoehorn the mission into his ideology of "Bad America" is an excellent example of how stupid his thinking is. Has he never seen any medieval movies? Read any King Arthur tales? How could he not know that "storm" has multiple meanings?!
a disturbance of the normal condition of the atmosphere, manifesting itself by winds of unusual force or direction, often accompanied by rain, snow, hail, thunder, and lightning, or flying sand or dust.
a heavy fall of rain, snow, or hail, or a violent outbreak of thunder and lightning, unaccompanied by strong winds.
Also called violent storm. Meteorology . a wind of 64–72 miles per hour (29–32 m/sec).
a violent military assault on a fortified place, strong position, or the like.
a heavy or sudden volley or discharge: a storm of criticism; a storm of bullets.
A snide jab at those who like sports: "that meaningless basketball game." And another depiction of the "mindless Americans," wooed by the mystical powers of the National Anthem to make them zombie warriors for the abstraction. The end. America sucks. Time to go drink a chai latte.
People like Peters scare me far more than any liberal nutjob.