Prelude to an escape from history

Pessimism about one’s own nation is an all-encompassing and all-defining condition, because everything any of us positively can be or seek as individuals is affected where not wholly determined by our membership in a national community – the state broadly defined.  When we refer to an “unhappy childhood,” it will usually matter a great deal whether we’re referring to our own childhood, and the same is true when we refer to the unhappy conditions of our national upbringing or to a “broken” national home.  Yet national pessimism is still not the same as absolute pessimism.  We can imagine the failure of any nation, including our own nation, as we have seen great national disasters, that would not equate with the failure of history itself.  We could even come to equate the failure of a national idea as essential to some higher good:   It would not be the first time for us, just the first time that we were referring to ourselves.

A national pessimist suffers a kind of exile from his own future, but he can still visit happier outcomes, on a kind of spiritual visa.  Over time, he may even be accepted by the natives, and find a new home.  Americans are particularly well-prepared to make this transition, because our national identity, paradoxically, is already built on the cancellation of nationality, on immigration and nothing else.  Our new citizenship may not be full and authentic, of the blood and soil, but neither is the one with which we are born.  The American idea at inception had before it a vast national phase to undergo, but what defined the American nation was that it was not and never could be a nation like the others:  The idea of a new world had to take on a purpose-fabricated national costume for us to assume and sustain a place within the world of nations, but the realization of our idea could never have been contained in a merely national destiny.  For the same reason, the victory of our “Greatest Generation,” at our national apogee, was the victory over ultra-nationalism, in favor of a new international system implying the supersession of nations, justifiable as an American national project strictly on that basis.  All of our history since that time has been governed by the same paradox of nationalized internationalism, but from the other, declining side, as accompanied by the conversion of American energy into mere mass – the accumulation of material wealth alongside the decay of national institutions.

We can therefore look forward to the completion of our creative self-destruction with greater hope, or at least with greater equanimity, than others in our approximate position have been able to muster.  What we stand to lose is everything we never really thought was worth having.  What we stand to gain is what we always sought.


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20 comments on “Prelude to an escape from history

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  1. Yes. And we can be a bit specific about the hope. Our continuing hopefulness can connect with a recognition that no matter what, there is something miraculous being experienced. We are experiencing the miracle of being. If we recognize the miracle of being, then we must dance and sing–everything we see is blessed.

  2. Also, with continued consideration of our “escapism” discourse, I have one more suggestion. The wording of this is also inspired by White. The energetic residue of the horses you mistakenly backed for too many years (as a result of backing horses you couldn’t imagine backing throughout your life) discourages you, the orator, from finding a place in the sun that would dignify the importance of beauty and values. It’s embarrassing to promote the importance of beauty. It feels trite after all the conservative weightiness. You could balance a new, braver appreciation of beauty (which I know you have in spades as far as aesthetics and art go, but have perhaps neglected in respect to nature) with a strong call for virtuousness.

  3. @ Scott Miller:

    I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not yet ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

    -T.S. Eliot

    Not that I lead my life by poetry taken as prose, but, before we’ve completed the migration, any particular hope, much of what we would want to praise as beautiful or virtuous, would be of our old new country, where beauty, virtue, and nobility were never or rarely, even when we were at our best, what we were for. They were what we set aside, sacrificed, as in one of your havans, or in a Faustian or maybe Promethean exchange, for what was needed. Much more often, even as a matter of course, when we encountered them in others, we scorned them. If it’s beauty, virtue, and nobility you want, you may prefer to stay behind and suffer the tragedies that go with them, an honorable course of action, but maybe not truly a choice.

  4. I don’t think it was ever intended as such, a victory of
    internationalism, was that what the Boys on Pointe Du Huc, died fighting for, no it was a uniquely American vision, ultimately when we don’t do something, it doesn’t get done, consider Bosnia took three years of brutal strife, followed hand wringing by the Europeans, which coincidentally did much to spark the Islamist fire, much more than events in Palestine.then a few weeks of NATO air strikes, read us, and one had the Dayton Accord; the irony is that most of the internationalists who had argued for said intervention, like Misha Glenny, George Kenny et al, ultimately turned against such operation there and subsequently in Kosovo.

    Consider the paradigmatic Star Trek, conjured up by former LAPD
    official, Gene Roddenberry. Kirk is unabashedly American, (although
    Shatner is Canadian) with more propensity to fight rather than negotiate, McCoy is even more so, Spock who some say was modeled on William Parker, is the paradox,

  5. @ miguel cervantes:
    Your arguments argue against themselves. Set aside whatever “the boys” may have subjectively determined they were fighting for, in every significant respect the U.S. was fighting for an international order that suited American purposes – as part of the “United Nations,” against ultra-nationalist powers.

    Needless to say, this is a huge subject, full of paradoxes and contradictions, as any human subject will be. The fact remains that after the dust was settled, the blood had mostly dried, the body parts had mostly been collected, the unexploded bombs had mostly been de-fused, etc., we had a nascent world government founded and eventually based in the United States, two opposed blocs, and a vast contested or potentially contestable region, each bloc led by a nation that saw itself as the lead historical agent of a transnational ideology: American Democratic Capitalism vs. Russian Marxist Communism, each a nationalized internationalist paradox, in unsustainable symmetry. Against many early prognostications, geopolitics in the atomic age ended up favoring Athens over Sparta this time around. Maybe it could have gone either way, but it turns out that this isn’t tomorrow – so far.

    In Bosnia, we acted through NATO – our premiere national-internationalist alliance structure – and the UN, our intimation of transnational justice, our articles of international confederation. We tried to act through NATO and the UN in Iraq, but couldn’t close the deal, so decided to go it (effectively) alone: It was supposed to mark our assertion of “national greatness,” and it instead seems to have marked out descent into national decline, which for us equates with a decline into mere nationalism, as center right turns into mere right, and as the country suddenly finds itself overwhelmed with nostalgia for something it doesn’t even know how to describe anymore.

    We now see a new transnational order arising, in the wake of the one we led into the famous historical dumpster, and we still haven’t determined our place in it. It becomes increasingly likely that the epoch in which we got to make that choice on our own is precisely the one that is closing.

  6. @ CK MacLeod:
    I was actually anticipating the swat. After I posted the last comment, I said, “He’s going to swat me aside.” But it’s not that easy, Scarlett.
    I’m not sure why it’s not that easy, or how the not-that-easiness will prove itself, but I have faith.

  7. Also, the beauty, virtue and nobility perspective is new for me. Trying it out as an alternative to the yoga wordings of things that have become habit. Thought maybe they would fly with you in the same way they fly for White, who quotes many of the same sources as you. It’s possible I’m not doing the best job with them–them being new. But I think you should be less resistant–it all having been handpicked for you in what I at least perceive as perfect timing.

  8. And you did open the door, asking for suggestions. According to ancient yogic knowledge, I’m supposed to wait for you to ask 8 times before offering any advice, but in this world no one asks more than once, maybe twice.

  9. I brought up the Bosnian example, because regardless of the imperatives of NATO if we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done, Now Iraq, for some totally non idealistic reasons didn’t involve French and German forces, but in addition to the UK, from whom the Burdens of Empire, we have been gifted, the Italians, the Spanish, Ukrainians, Dutch, Georgians, well you get the idea, not by March, we will have been there in earnest as the Brits were in 1925; around the time the
    Get out of Mesopotamia campaign got underway

  10. miguel cervantes wrote:

    Now Iraq, for some totally non idealistic reasons didn’t involve French and German forces,

    So, you believe that we went in for totally idealistic reasons? You sure that’s even possible? You sure it’s even desirable even if it is possible? At what point, if ever, do the actual results begin to detract from the beauty, nobility, and virtue of the totally idealistic act of expeditionary war?

  11. I was referring to the brave idealistic front they put up, rather than the realpolitik of those country plus Russia and China’s concession, through the Oil for Food Program, secured by the Baathist intermediaries

  12. @ CK MacLeod:
    That’s why you don’t claim it. You just connect your orations to those things through your heart. You just connect the natural expressions of those things to your heart. And I would say your comment on Fuster’s just posted post counts. Beautiful.

  13. @ Scott Miller:
    It goes for claims about other people’s noble achievements, too. In an ironic age to praise and to curse are almost the same thing – sometimes one is worse, sometimes the other, as they circle around each other like injured gladiators, looking for an opportunity to close the distance once and for all.

  14. @ CK MacLeod:
    We’re moving away from irony. Post-post-howevermanypostswegotto-modern is dead. Irony is dead. Sincerity is not an injured gladiator, it’s a track star widening the distance from irony like Bolt. Is that his name? You know, the 100 meter guy.

  15. @ Scott Miller:
    Granted, it’s a challenge to be sincere and funny at the same time. But many of the best yoga teachers do it masterfully. But it is more situational. “Most of my humor is situational.” Tricky Dick. The funniest non-situational joke about situational humor ever.

  16. @ Scott Miller:
    Only perfect, all-encompassing, and universal skepticism would kill the kind of irony we’re discussing. The suckers are still being born, or anyway entering into society and voting and reviewing and hyping and blogging and so on, every minute.

  17. Irony can be a defense against life, so that we don’t feel what keeps us alive.

    Irony can sharpen life so much that you don’t feel the pain at first, for a moment, and then it can be too much life to bear.

    I’m sincere about this and there is a deep irony in this.

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