America, America: Part II

I’ve said what I like about America. But what do I dislike?

Here again it’s hard to avoid cliche and attitudinizing. People have been hating America for a long time. It hasn’t done them much good or shown them to advantage.

On the whole, my dislikes are the flip side of my likes.

I don’t like the shallowness of culture and resulting cluelessness. That’s the flip side of freedom, diversity, populism and all the rest of it. If people go in every possible direction they aren’t going to know what’s what and there’s not going to be much of a culture. In the end, freedom won’t be much use to them.

Another aspect of the same tendency is pluralism—America as multicultural. God makes the sun rise and the rain fall on the just and the unjust, so all-inclusiveness must be a fine thing. But how can you be attached to a country that stands for nothing but the principle of standing for nothing?

It doesn’t make a lot of sense. The same could be said about America as a propositional nation. If you have a bunch of disconnected people it’s a way of organizing them and telling them what to do. How though can you feel at home in a proposition? And if no one feels at home, who’s included?

There’s also the question of exactly what the proposition is and who gets to interpret it. The situation seems designed for manipulation: “If you don’t get with the program is you’re not really an American.” So much for inclusiveness.

And then there are the attempts on the Right and Left to treat America or PC as a religion, and among bipartisan civic types to merge the two.

The basic problem is that people here view individual freedom as an ultimate standard. On the face of it that would abolish all social ties. To make up for the lack some sort of superstrength tie is needed. The superstrength tie is the demand that people believe in America as if it were a religion. If you don’t accept the religion, you’ve rejected the basis for social order, so you’re a danger and generally a bad person.

That’s sometimes true. Lee Harvey Oswald and the 9/11 hijackers did what they did because they rejected the American Proposition. Still, they had other problems too. Why not view America as a normal country rather than a god or demon? People don’t seem altogether sane on the subject.

More dislikes:

People for whom PC or American ideals define the moral universe. Antiracist bullies, classroom Robespierres, neocon loudmouths, the Mrs. Grundies of PC.

American education and public discussion. Our education disrupts minds, morals and manners. Our public discussion is a mixture of spin and dubious expertise. People who discuss things sensibly and have minds, morals and manners can function independently. That doesn’t fit in to a managed technological society, so it’s not promoted.

More generally, I don’t like the techno-cultural complex: megaversities, megachurches, chain stores, commercial pop culture, mass media pundits, New Age spirituality, half-educated scientific atheists, manipulative experts and therapists. The current attitude toward sex and the sexes is another aspect of that. Everything’s a consumer good.

The built environment shows what’s happened. We once had the New England village, clustered around a church; the Midwestern county seat, ordered around a courthouse and central square; the American farm, a homestead in the midst of an independent farming enterprise. That’s all given way to networks of superhighways, apartment complexes, office parks, and shopping malls.

On the other hand, Europe’s going the same way, so maybe the problem isn’t specifically American. In Italy they have shopping malls, big box stores and superhighways full of tractor-trailers from Latvia. Bergamo is considered quaint because its topography and the way it’s built mean commercial life there is still dominated by small shops run by individual proprietors. And PC is the new European religion. They’re very proud of that.

Naturally, I don’t like Americans’ personal faults either. In addition to individual faults, which are the same as everywhere, they have national faults that foreigners notice and comment on. They also have faults that vary by age, sex, class, religion, region, ideology, and ethnicity.

It’s hard to say much about that sort of thing. People get upset, at least in some cases. They feel free to comment on the foibles of Midwesterners and Californians, and they exaggerate the faults of Southerners and Protestant fundamentalists to the point of hatefulness. Other groups must have faults too, but the sensitivity bullies get on your case if you say so. So I’ll leave that issue for another day.