Americanization was rejuvenation,
not because of the youth of the country -
you do not get the same feeling in young Latin America -
but because the society simulated youth. As have the people.
the world has known "child-like" America,
hating it and loving it familiarly;
this has pitched the world well along on the
path to Americanization.
Americans were often pacified by the belief, and,
because of technological change and science, the fact, that
their children would have a better lot in life than they.
This was true of Europeans in the same periods,
who, however, were crippled by wars.
But then both the fact and the belief in a better life -
first the fact and then the more stubborn belief -
turned negative in the latter years of the twentieth century,
just when the USA became far and away
the preeminent power of the world.
A general discontent and irreverence festered over
American politics and institutions.
Although the Constitution directed the government
"to provide for the general welfare,"
politicians and public media lent themselves to making an
obscenity of the word "welfare" as it was applied to the
young, poor, old, sick, Blacks and Hispanics, and
a large variously specified element called lazy.
Much discontent was displaced and projected by one group to
another in a complicated congeries of blame.
The worst were auto-yclept "Anglo-Saxons,"
but many others too - they might be Blacks or Hispanics or Irish -
because hating themselves, hated others whose
roots appeared more shallow, even when older and deeper,
saying "We got here before you and should be above."
A person's privations of the several great values
of life was attributed obdurately,
by the presumptuously proud, to one's ethnic,
racial, sectional, religious group traits, and to any number of
individual defects: America began vulgarly as, and has remained,
a prejudiced blaming and guilt society. No matter how
progressive the social and natural sciences,
human relations have been constrained to
lie upon this procrustean bed.
When, in 1996, television brought to the
University of Texas at Austin a roughly representative
assemblage, to see how "the People" would handle public issues,
the nearly one thousand samplings showed how brainwashed the
average American was in favor of the "deserving rich" and
how apologetic when voicing the plight of the poor.
A benevolent tolerance for the grossly rich contrasted with
a hatred for the "underclass."
The poor were commonly conceived not to be
"We, the people,"
nor persons deserving of concern:
"Who cares about their future, the ingrates?"
Apart from intergroup hostilities, a large problem
arose from the fact that the vast majority, including the
many minorities, had always set their minds
upon immediate advantages, and were encouraged to do so
by the political, economic and social system.
Observers commented upon this characteristic
behavior from the earliest days onwards.
If anything, perspective was further shortened:
"What are you doing for us today?"
they would ask of the heterogeneous, hapless,
and foolish politicians. That is, both
elite and mass failed the critical test of
living psychically in a better, longer future.
The twentieth century was disgraced in that heinous Hitler
should be hailing a Nazi 1000-year Reich,
with "Heute, Deutschland, Morgen die ganze Welt,"
while America held many millions of characters
(such as a recent Secretary of the Interior responsible
for conservation of natural resources),
who expected the world to be ended by God, soon.
Millennialism, and revivalism too,
were alive and well in America.
After disposing of Hitler's legions, and between other
international adventures, America's leaders spent most of their time
collecting money to run for office and dispensing
favors in return, then, too, on a busy
program of such matters as Constitutional
amendments to favor absurd praying in the schools and
sacraling officially the flag, abolition of the right to
abortions, trifling gun-toting restrictions, and futile
anti-deficit anti-debt - meanwhile
tax-cutting - legislation. As always in America,
any subject, no matter how minor, could become a
political issue, while politics avoided understanding, and
coming to grips with, the most important
problems of society.
For laissez-faire government never existed in America!
Politicians intervened on any and all occasions.
The clamor to "keep government out of business" or
"let people do their own thing" was always -
except for minions and a victimized mass of boobs -
bruited by a special interest group. Meanwhile,
highly important problems were let alone for many years -
slavery and racial repression, women's suffrage,
equal apportionment, the income tax, social
welfare, international integration, and so on,
from beginning to end.
In America, once, among the hunting, gathering, and
part-time farmer Indians, you could say, "Anything might
happen next," meaning that in the large spaces that
your people inhabited, nature was varied and the peoples
beyond your territory were different and changing,
often friendly, sometimes hostile. You often
moved your hearth, sometimes twice or more,
in the course of the year. There were many mammals and
birds, fish and insects, the skies and nature were alive:
life was varied and the unexpected was usual.
"Anything could happen."
I slipped into the moccasins of the earliest Americans, and the
variegated footgear that followed, saying to myself,
"They entered the 'Land of Opportunity.'
Did they make their fortune?"
A young apprentice shoemaker who helped
John Hancock dump tea in Boston Harbor
lived to near one hundred but poorly,
nor were his over fifty descendants spread
around the near Northwest much better off.
I found that conditions of life were usually more hard than easy.
Further, at one time or another, most people and
groups were treated shamefully.
I checked into European societies of the same ages, and,
although I could find some larger opportunities to strike it
rich in America, Europe was also developing and
expanding opportunities. As a refuge from political
oppression and economic disaster, America
(not alone among countries) was heaven-sent. (Yet there were
always many from all sectors of American society
who opposed letting America be a refuge, and who were themselves
oppressors of other Americans.)
What struck me most among all classes and kinds of
immigrants was the self-selection going on:
whether hungry or fat, musicians or laborers, with
disproportionately high frequency,
people who lusted for new experience often
took the boat to America. Indian cultures were
marvelously symbolic of this urge.
Most of life's values were not abundantly distributed here.
The pyramids of value, with a small elite at the top and
a mass at the base, were remarkably similar in Europe and
America. Further, the European pyramids, when they altered,
changed in the same way and even in the same proportions
as in America. In modern civilizations, at least,
the statistical laws both of Malthus and Pareto,
the one on the inevitable natural limits of population, and
the second on the invariable skewed distribution of income,
On occasions when the distribution of values changed
differently between Europe and America, Americans
fell behind as often as they moved into the lead.
This was unpleasantly apparent in the 1980's and
1990's, when, from top to bottom,
the life-styles and standards of the societal pyramids of the
European Community bulked superior to those of the
United States. The proportion of the rich-enough in
Europe grew more rapidly, while the hourly pay in
several countries exceeded or equaled the Americans'.
Knowing the physical and social risks, and the chances of
becoming poor and sick far from home,
why would people - or did they? - speak of America as
the Land of Opportunity? And why, in the United States and
abroad, might they be continuing to do so?
For several reasons: It was a capitalistic expression,
a slogan of the hawkers of immigration,
a rationalization by the successful, and
a cliché appealing to sober-minded women,
indicating that the reasons for being here and coming here
were to seize opportunities to
better oneself materially in the world.
The term "opportunity" implies social responsibility,
merit, hard work, a difficult climbing process
to an end, like a ladder to a storehouse of material abundance.
It does not mean taking potluck or just plain luckiness.
I took notice that most people, then as now,
did not want so much to better themselves by
these means, nor did they believe it to be so easy to
do so in America. Luck or opportunity,
only some people could realize a larger overall
happiness in America than at home.
I began to think and now am fairly convinced of it,
that America is not now the Land of (Easy) Opportunity, and
was never hugely so, but that America was the
"Land where Anything can Happen."
That is, the chances in life of successful leaps were
not so great, but the pursuit of success was more widespread,
random, gratifying, wild, careless, exciting, and
sporadic in America. Just looking at all the other
Americans running around was vastly amusing to
many who stood apart or momentarily paused.
This clause,"where anything can happen" does
contain the meaning of opportunity, but much more.
It holds the broader meaning of new experience,
of what I have elsewhere called "pneumos,"
breathing and moving freely, chancing the wide world.
It allows for lots of luck, good and bad.
It invites speculation. It excites expectations
and visitations of fortune. It says that one of
humankind's greatest values is the drive to experience the world,
to "live it up," to put in a heartfelt call
to Hollywood's great lover, Rudy Valentino,
if the line to Jesus is busy.
To know that you may find a new kind of work, that
you might meet without formality an exotic person, that
you might come upon a landscape different from, or even
amazingly like your own, that you might become rich, or
more likely go broke, but that you could feel freer
no matter what you did, and that everything is possible, and
to feel exhilarated by the thought that
"Anything can happen here, and anything can happen next.
Even in old care-worn America of the 1990's,
people from all over the world arrived,
excited as children, and this is not ordinarily for filling stomachs
- although no one starves - or for opportunity
to make a fortune - though this occasionally happens.
Running the border is the experience of a lifetime -
even if caught! The whole scene makes for a grand show,
exciting to people on the border's both sides.
One comes to live in the expectation that
"here is where the action is" - be it
Galveston or Philadelphia;
here is where things happen to people, to ordinary people, and
you can never tell what will happen next:
this, I submit, was always a powerful motive for
trying to get into America, for coming to America,
staying in America, returning to America,
being an American, exulting in or enthralled by the
very turbulence and troubles that caused
such widespread anguish.
As immigration to America was rising to its peak,
Friedrich Nietzsche, the oracular German philosopher,
declared in his work, Thus Spake Zarathustra,
what I see has been true of Americans of all times:
Ye must become exiles of all Fatherlands
and the lands of your ancestors.
Ye shalt love your Childlands:
this love shall be your new nobility,
yet undiscovered, in a far off sea!
Toward it I ask you to set your sails, and search, and search!
Ye shalt compensate your children
for the fact that you are your fathers' children..
Are we not saying, with all of this, that
people journeyed to America in search
of the value that we call by the name of knowledge,
self-education, to learn of the world first-hand,
to do field work, to found thereupon the
most empirical kinds of sociology and anthropology
when this raw urge came to be tamed.
In 1996, research reports demonstrated the
existence of a genetic predisposition among some
people to seek new experiences and novelty especially.
The responsible gene, the D4 receptor, affects the
dopamine threshold of the brain. Among the adjectives
describing the behavior of people with this distinctively
shaped gene are "extroverted, volatile, extravagant,
impulsive and exploratory."
Most typically, the conduct of Americans from the Indian
fifteenth century carrying down to the present
would be so characterized, just as I have described it, and
as many foreign observers have noted.
It may therefore be expected that comparative nationality
tests may be devised soon, on the hypotheses that
Americans are more likely to possess this gene
(and associated genes under investigation) than samples of
individuals from other countries, including
particularly people from the very same places that the
American sample had descended from.
Nationality studies might show significant differences
between foreign regions of Celtic ethnicity and
those of Germanic or Slavic ethnicity,
differences that tended to be erased by the self-selection
going on in the immigration process and by the
"D4 cultural-geographical forces" of the nation.
In the final analysis, proof by historical observation
may discover additional support in genetics.
And "assimilation" among the Americans would be seen in a
strikingly new perspective.
Future history is required of a great nation.
All the failures and faults of America,
so painfully exposed in this history book,
can be viewed from a reversed perspective.
Learning that "Things are not as good as they used to be,
and they never were," can inspire a formidable morale.
Independent of family and aristocracy of
blood and soil, of vainglorious deeds, of scriptural bondage,
of economic determinism, it is a morale from
a history fraught with human potentials,
universal and persevering,
"where anything can happen, even for the good."
For the future is a kind of history. Just as history is
the past as it is carried in our minds, and in the conditions
around us that make us ourselves, so it is, that the
next moments, days, years, and century will be
summations of what we are here and now, modified by
events only somewhat less real than the past.
Inasmuch as the story of what will happen and what ought
to happen is already part of our minds,
the future exists as active mental phenomena -
call it visions if you will - and these phenomena are
every bit as influential as the other past,
the past called true history.
The thousands of utopias, the myriad inventors,
the social experimenters of America lived their future.
Americans, all of them, need today a global utopia.
"Where there is not vision, the people perish,"
so says a Biblical Proverb.
Particularly needing to find large outlets for
surplus talents, the United States might well
lead the United Nations, or whatsoever
world government, into grand projects.
Not pathetic world conferences on the problems,
but programs to solve the problems (leading off
always with "Zero World Population Growth!").
The USA alone could pledge to deal with the
inexpensive provision of uncontaminated freshwater to the
many poor countries who lack it. The USA
alone could engage itself to guarantee
basic literacy around the world. The USA could
lead a world "Zero ozone depletion" campaign.
These were not high cost items, when compared with the
damage and loss they halted.
The ozone gas layer, which blocks ultra-violet
solar rays, was fast disappearing from the upper air,
and crop yields would be lower, marine food chains
disrupted, and millions upon millions of humans
and animals would in time be cancer-afflicted.
The culprits were merely aerosols, pesticides, solvents
and refrigerators - and those who profited from them.
But bigger and better projects were needed. Cars that
not only ran on electricity but also generated it for households;
superconductors; solar reflectors to illuminate
Earth's dark areas in winter; "paperless" offices;
new cities with minimal noise and pollution.
Enormous tracts of land - the United States'
barren West, the Tunisian and Algerian Sahara,
the Gobi Desert, might well occupy armies of
technicians, workers, and managers in cutting canals,
filling new seas, and bio-development.
There was no end to small and large projects and the
potential capacity to complete them.
Sterilizing the mosquito.
Still, if the past could not take care of the future,
how could we hope to do so now?
How could a generation be made to act for the future good?
Did the upcoming political generation have such earmarks?
Where was the instinct in all the people to live with
all in determined peace and union?
Religion, granted that life was so difficult and might be for
generations or always, probably ought not to be denied
certain solaces, even though the basis of religions -
faith in familiar gods, their heaven, their presumed gift of a
pleasant afterlife - and the technical capabilities of
religions to afford progress, both humane and material,
produced poor results in times past.
Many scientific historians, and scientists generally,
like William James, agreed that the multitude of
people should be let to retain their beliefs in the afterlife and
in the ability of their God to punish evil on earth,
because this would console them for life's pains. However,
this attitude would support in the future what it has usually condoned
in history: a miserable existence with only rare chance that
beneficent characters would hold power and direct affairs.
Religion might be caring, receptive, and consoling.
It was a major source of shared esteem and respect, and of
mutual affection. Still, pragmatic science could carry
religious banners as well.
Anyhow, people no longer believed as they used to,
witness the innumerable evanescent cults and the continual
watering-down of the contents of old church vessels -
Catholic, Hebraic, and Protestant - so that a more
radical proposal, perhaps for a scientific spiritualism, or a
scientific spirituality, might be the
best route for the future.
The question would still remain, why should those who
deny the afterlife extend benefits to the future?
Especially since, with a declining birth rate, very many of the
intelligentsia and governing elements would be without
brood, and certainly without illusions with respect to the
goodness and deserving quality of other people's heirs?
Would not then the elites, even more than
in times past, lack concern for the next and
succeeding generations? Without the churches,
without progeny, who could believe in what sort of future, and
thereafter authoritatively to define it?
Here is our hesitant answer:
No matter what happens, a great many Americans would identify
emotionally with, and wish the best of lives for, the
young of their generation, and thence for the children of the next,
the next and the next generations. Unless love
quite disappears, the young would be loved, and
assuring them a decent future would be considered an
important contemporary problem.
However, suppose that this motive were one day to be
insufficiently strong, and that all other hope
would be lost, that humankind could not sustain a
straight view of reality while simultaneously
unselfishly providing a world that aimed
at the enduring edification of the species.
This is indeed a grim prospect.
But maybe, although nature could destroy humanity,
humans could not destroy nature!
Perhaps, in the last analysis, we could not
exterminate ourselves, and, short of that,
we could not wholly destroy the world.
Theoretically of course, we could wipe ourselves out,
but practically it might be impossible for us to do so.
A dozen people could crowd the world in a millennium.
Even the most selfish group of people,
empowered fully, might not be able to destroy the world,
nor, for that matter, prevent the survivors from
being as happy as others who have emerged from
destructive periods of history.
It may be practically impossible for one generation
to raze fully the basis for happiness of the next!
Here would be an unexpected conclusion,
derived from history, and even from science: that,
left to go to hell, and even pushed toward hell,
the world would not only survive, but its survivors would
find something left to be pleased with and promote.
To project the saying of Will Rogers about the past:
Things are not as bad as they will be,
and they never will be.
Humankind would survive and have repeated chances at
bettering the human lot.
An even larger hope is possible.
Going beyond the last point, we may claim that
there exists in humanity a normal desire to
leave the world no worse off than it was
when one found it - and even to leave it a better place!
This would be our natural denial of entropy,
which is the tendency to universal uniformity and nothingness.
It is our innate denial, as living beings, of the
Second Law of Thermodynamics. It is part of the same
emotion that imagines and dwells in life-after-death:
we exist in order to impart momentum to eternity.
If we hold this kind of pride and honor,
we possess a moral equivalent to infinite foresight.
It is a quality that we can sometimes perceive
in a quite miserable sack of humanity.
We could call this flame within us "theo-tropism."
Theotropy would be our natural inclination to
control the world according to perspectives
of our being which are as close to divine as we can reach.
Such perspectives, present in everyone, are likely
constructive, looking toward the future.
Hence, we cannot help but project a controlled future.
Then, being unceasing, unlimited, in our projections,
it is probable that our farthest successful
stretch into the future will become the measure of
how happy we Americans had been today.
End of Book