Friday, October 14, 2005

Fine, Go To Canada. More Freedom For Us.

In talking to many of my colleagues here at this educational institution somewhere in the American Midwest (I won't say exactly, but the keener among you I am sure can hazard a guess), it seems that there is a love fest between young, liberal intellectuals and Canada.

It seems that they want to move there, become Canadian citizens and live happily ever after in such riveting places as Toronto (which is like Pittsburgh without a decent football team). They even go as far as to claim they are Canadians when asked about their identities abroad. They are ashamed to be Americans and want to get out of here as soon as possible.

I am, naturally, not new to this position. It seems that whenever things get tough in the US of A, the cowards and fatalists throw up their hands, strap on their skates and head north. They see Canada as the USA without problems, issues or difficulties. They point to the kind, socialist policies of the Canadian government that care for you from cradle to frozen grave. Incidentally, have you ever noticed that real Canadians (not these wannabes) all have a standard, ten minute speech on the benefits of socialized medicine? I think it is like their Pledge of Allegiance.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I am no blind, jingoistic patriot of the "America: Right or Wrong" stripe. We have our problems, societal hangups, economic challenges and political calcification just like any modern bureaurcatic nanny state. It is the nature of the modern state to suffer from such byzantine entanglements because the state becomes an entity unto itself: hard to change and impossible to get rid of.

What I do take considerable umbrage with is the attitude of these people that the idea of America is flawed, that the nation is beyond repair and that the best thing to do is run for the border and I ain't talkin' Taco Bell here.

By all means, get mad, get angry, but then get busy making change happen. Raise peoples awareness of issues, go to meetings of governmental bodies and let 'em know what you think. Exercise those rights that make this nation the great place that it is and can be.

I think that, along with this hatred of America, comes a doubting that the ideas that formed our nation are good, useful and viable, or ever desirable. As almost any schoolkid (at least fifteen years ago they probably could) can tell you, the "idea of America" comes out of the ideas of Enlightenment. From the words of the likes of John Locke, Baron Charles le Secondat de Montesquieu, the Marquis de Condorcet and many more, the vision of a rational, just and fair society migrated from Europe to the newly minted USA. These ideas, in my opinion, form the core of ideas for the most just, fair, equitable and humane society that mankind could ever hope to create.

Is it flawed? Sure is and the authors were the first to admit it, especially the framers of the Constitution. They allowed the thing to be amended, allowed for regular elections and generally put their trust (hesitant in the case of Alexander Hamilton) in the people to forge their own destiny as individuals gathered in a nation.

Now who could possibly have a problem with this? The intellectual of the sort who views the reason of the Enlightenment as stifling and, even worse, the hoary father and mother of the horrors that were inherent in the "short" twentieth century (1914-1991). The likes of Adorno and Horkheimer, in Dialectics of Enlightenment, place the combine of reason, technology and the growth of the state in both at the center of the development of conditions that would lead to Hitler, the Holocaust, Stalin and the terrors that would supposedly bring on this "postmodern" world in the first place.

What must be remembered of Adorno and Horkheimer is the times that they made their ideas were the immediate aftermath (and I mean immediate) of the terror of WWII. No one knew what to make of it; they were just trying to get over the daily fear of death, invasion and incarceration. I suspect that in want of an explanation for the absurd horror of war, they sought the cause in the intellectual heritage of the past centuries.

What is endemic in these ideas is that the Enlightenment saw its end, and thankfully, in the terror of the Second World War and we are now in a period of reaction where the evil forces of reason are in retreat. The postmodern condition allows, in my estimation, for an even more crass brutalization of humankind by the mere fact that it removes it as a prime actor in history.

Apart from atmospheric happenings, most of what goes on here is the doing of people and the "games people play," such as economics, military conquest, social formation, culture and so on. To remove people from the center of this dynamic is to render the whole enterprise on planet Earth meaningless. In this state, take their conclusions to the radical end. Since we are so unimportant and that history will roll on without us, why not some Jonestown-like mass suicides. With the prime actor removed, it shouldn't make a difference.

This is somewhat of a simplification, but the point should be made. Postmodern thinking in opposition to the Enlightentment is the sophistry of the worst order. I prefer to agree with the likes of Jurgen Habermas, Peter Gay and Roger Chartier in thinking that the Enlightenment is not complete and that we are still living in a distinctly modern world. The postmodern idea is simply a radical offshoot of the modernist project of eternal reason and progress. The Enlightenment will never end, but it can change.

It is the legacy of those years that are left to us to ponder, use and define. It is our world, but in a certain way, we play by their rules. We have been bequeathed this great idea of a reasonable and just society that can foster progressive change through the actions of its concerned and thoughtful citizens. THIS is America and it is the America that we should all strive to build.

Or we can be cowards, move to Montreal and bemoan the stupid, philistine Americans with their complete lack of ideas about progress, reason, fairness and true freedom.

Give me a fucking break.

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