Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What is America Supposed to Represent?

Many Americans particularly if they were born here in the civil and literal sense will say they are "Proud to be an American". For others, being an American would be going through the naturalization process and handling all the paperwork. Is being an American merely about paperwork? Perhaps the Native Americans should have been asking for ID and passport when the Europeans started coming over en masse beginning around 500 years ago. The primary reason at least for most northern Europeans was to escape religious persecution that was coming at the hands of the monarchs and bishops. The second wave of immigration from southern Europe that would come in the 19th-20th century was primarily economic and cultural more than religious.

What about assimilation? Are people from China or Mexico supposed to dress the same way Europeans do? Speaking of Mexico, the Aztecs were there first. Are English speaking Americans supposed to eat the same foods as Greek-Americans or Italian Americans? Should a man's name be John Smith or Bob Wilson? Or would Kim (Marilyn) Novak be an issue? At least the Hollywood studio boss Harry Cohn had an issue with it. It was "too Polish" to him although Novak is actually Czech-American.

What about languages? I could understand perhaps learning English or some dialect of English in order to function on a day to day basis. But suppose the French had won the French and Indian War? Would it be an issue if the American people turned out to be generally French speaking? If I was to visit Spain or live in Finland part of the year, perhaps it would be fitting to at least learn some of the language. But if a person wants to keep some of their cultural heritage, then it shouldn't be held against them. After all, didn't immigrants come to this land because it was to be about the opportunity to be themselves?

Are we supposed to be of the same religion? If we are of the same religion, denomination or what have you, is that by choice or coercion? I can tell you as a Baptist, that contrary to what is being portrayed, Baptists are not walking lockstep beating to a single drummer. It is diverse to the point of having disputes about various issues. The issues are less about theological doctrine and more about personalities and politics.

Is being an American about belonging to a political party? If you believed most of the stories you hear, you would think that there are two parties: Democrats and Republicans. But yet, there are the Libertarian Party, Green Party, Constitution Party among others. If you go back further, there was the Bull Moose Party, the Whigs, and the Federalists to provide a small sampling. Any way you cut it, it is absurd to think that two political parties which in reality aren't all that different can sufficiently represent 300 million people. Or as the saying goes, put ten people in a room and you will get eleven different opinions.

How about our entertainment choices? Entertainment choices during ancient times generally were for civic and political purposes. Also the notion of individual rights and free-market economics in a societal sense only started to take hold in the past 200+ years. The main reason this notion took so long to gain traction is because human beings are primarily social animals. We want to associate, belong, be part of the team, tribe, or organization. In one sense such as being part of a football team, that is fine. But taken to its extreme, you end up with the gladiators (who were mostly slaves) or the rise of the Third Reich. So these days, entertainment is primarily personal. I like to watch some TV shows and not others. One person may like to watch pro wrestling whereas someone else likes to watch ladies oil wrestling.

What about the American Flag? What does it stand for? What do the colors represent? One take on the colors is that red means hardiness and valor.
White signifies purity and innocence. Blue is the color of the Chief. The star symbolizes heaven and the goal all man have been striving for. The stripe is a ray of light from the sun. Should one salute the flag? I suppose the simple act isn't a problem and I've done it before too. But as I became an adult and learned more about the history of the Pledge and symbolism, there has been a certain unease that overcomes me. Do I put my allegiance to the flag over my allegiance to God? Sadly most Christians in 1930's Germany did just that. While practicing your religion and attending church wasn't prohibited initially, loyalty was to the state first and foremost. It was the same way during the time of the Roman Empire.

What about interactions between people of different skin colors or different religious beliefs? What about a man who is originally from England, is Anglican and a writer marrying a woman who is from Turkey who is a Gypsy and a belly dancer?

Is one un-American if they criticize the president or disagree with official state policies? Or is one un-American for not criticizing the president or questioning official state policies?

What do you make of Samuel Adams when he wrote "Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen, and then say 'what should be the reward of such sacrifices?' Bid us and our posterity bow the knee, supplicate the friendship and plough, and sow, and reap, to glut the avarice of the men who have let loose on us the dogs of war to riot in our blood and hunt us from the face of the earth? If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!"

It seems like a swipe at the John Rockefellers and J.P. Morgans or the military-industrial complex itself which is a topic that I've written a great deal on.

Does being an American represent something else? Perhaps it is about ideas. Was Thomas Jefferson wrong when he wrote "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Is this idea strictly limited to Americans or to the physical United States of America itself? I suggest we take the ideas of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and spread it throughout the world. This is ultimately an intellectual and moral endeavor, not a military endeavor.

Needless to say, this country is diverse to the point of having a sense of opportunity, mystery, frustration and tension all rolled up into a ball of fire.
It is what we do with our own ball of fire that makes the difference.


Clay Barham said...

Is it self-centered greed or legitimate self-interest that concerns most about Ayn Rand? Many who admire and criticize Ayn Rand’s beliefs about people standing on their own feet say she promoted selfishness, thereby greed, which is self-centered and anti-individual creativity. That is not Ayn Rand. She admired creative individuals like railroad builder James Jerome Hill, on whom she was reputed to have based her character Nathaniel Taggart in Atlas Shrugged. Independent “I’m OK, you’re OK” people are OK with Rand, not thieves and takers. Howard Roark’s summation to the jury, from Fountainhead, does not show a self-centered individual destroying his work. If greedy he would simply accept his payment. Roark was an other- and outer-centered individual in love with his own dreams and creations, as one would love a spouse, child or family and refuse to allow them to be assaulted. That is the self-interest that built America. Though love for anything more important than self is not inconsistent with Christianity.

Mike K said...

Well written. I think what makes someone an American is their desire for freedom and the willingness to stand up for that freedom.