The End of “Traditional America” (1789-2012)

The end of “traditional America,” of course, is Tea Party code for the end of the political success of its Fox News constructed, eccentric, and childish narrative about America from 1789-2012. The perceived crisis of America is not actually in the 50 stars, but in conservatives themselves.

I like this from David Simon. Clear, concise, nice:

Change is a motherfucker when you run from it. And right now, the conservative movement in America is fleeing from dramatic change that is certain and immutable. A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a white man, of course. There’s nothing wrong with being anything. That’s the point.

This election marks a moment in which the racial and social hierarchy of America is upended forever. No longer will it mean more politically to be a white male than to be anything else. Evolve, or don’t. Swallow your resentments, or don’t. But the votes are going to be counted, more of them with each election. Arizona will soon be in play. And in a few cycles, even Texas. […]

We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests. And now, normal isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal. That word, too, means less with every moment. And those who continue to argue for such retrograde notions as a political reality will become less germane and more ridiculous with every passing year.

America continues to be, at bottom, a progressive country, not a reactionary one, and is moving in fits and starts, as it has always done, more and more each and every year in the direction of what the rest of the world is also gravitating to, which is this:

__________

The above video, it seems to me, represents the real “traditional American” narrative going back to the Founding Fathers. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all, is the Anglo-French Enlightenment come to global fruition.

I understand that the devil is in the details, but you would think that, not just Democrats, but Republicans, could readily embrace the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the general platform for their politics, and then compete for diverse American constituencies in the embracing of it.

Instead, Republicans have been hurting themselves politically by trying to, in essence, re-litigate key aspects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What’s up with that?

Notice, by the way, that the above video is dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi and that President Obama visited her in Burma yesterday. A coincidence, but fitting:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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18 Responses to The End of “Traditional America” (1789-2012)

  1. As an equalist, I like to hear stories like this but I have a deep rooted fear that on the back of this seeming grand change will be those formerly disenfranchised groups who will in their turn find a way to cause us to stumble again for a year or two or eight. Not because it is their wont but because they forget how we got to where we are in the first place; they will see some light at the end of the tunnel we all travel and think it hangs there just for them.

  2. Staffan says:

    This New America is a frivolous escape from reality. America was built on individualism, on the idea that anyone could do his own thing. The welfare state is built on the idea that everybody should have access to basic stuff, a certain standard of living. Traditional America was economically strong. The new America is a country with a changing demographics in which financially succesful groups are being outnumbered by financially unsuccesful groups – meaning it’s a poorer America. This is solved by having white middle class pay for everything – hence their backward-minded and supposedly racist resentment. And if they have enough and leave for places like Australia then New America will just fall like a house of cards.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: can you endorse it?

      As to individualism, I agree that it’s a key component of both Enlightenment liberalism and America, but there has also been a strain in American history that brings along the poor and the outcast, and that shows solidarity of dignity and rights with them.

      As to America, it’s simply not true that America is becoming a poorer country. It is becoming a richer country just about every year, and more efficient economically. The US has a larger economy than it did prior to the Great Recession. It has fewer jobs because that economy produces more using fewer workers. Its inefficiencies, in other words, have decreased and employment is now awaiting yet further growth.

      I think Obama, if the Republicans will work with him, will cut a deal that gets the federal government’s fiscal house in order. And America’s relative youth in terms of immigrants and diversity positions it for success, not failure, in the global economy going forward. California’s diversity, for example, is its global strength. You would much more want the demographics of California going forward than Japan (aging and homogeneous). And America’s freedom and entrepreneurial spirit is in tact.

      There’s no energy crisis in America.

      As for racist and resentful whites, they won’t leave the country. They’ll retire to states like Idaho and watch Fox News on satellite as the world passes them by.

      As a white Italian American myself who has lived in multiracial counties in California all of my life (LA County is not majority white, for example), I can testify that the water is fine. There’s nothing to worry about.

      Also recall that Spanish-speaking states like Brazil are where economists predict the most dramatic growth in the Americas over the next decades. It’s not the color of your skin, but the content of your economic policy that is important.

  3. Staffan says:

    “As to America, it’s simply not true that America is becoming a poorer country. It is becoming a richer country just about every year, and more efficient economically. The US has a larger economy than it did prior to the Great Recession. It has fewer jobs because that economy produces more using fewer workers. Its inefficiencies, in other words, have improved and employment is now awaiting yet further growth.”

    Like I’ve said earlier here, if the population grows, the economy grows so this is not a sign of prosperity; you have to adjust for population. In 1950 American GDP per capita was number one in the world. In 2011 it was 14th, beaten by for instance Canada, Australia, Austria, Denmark. According to the World Bank the growth per capita in the US has be 0.07 percent in 2006-2011. This suggests that you will fall behind even further in the next few years. Meanwhile your public debt to gdp is now 11th in the world. And sure, Japan’s is even bigger but they owe Japanese creditors while you own Chinese and Japanese creditors.

    “I think Obama, if the Republicans will work with him, will cut a deal that gets the federal government’s fiscal house in order. And America’s relative youth in terms of immigrants and diversity positions it for success, not failure, in the global economy going forward. California’s diversity, for example, is its global strength. You would much more want the demographics of California going forward than Japan (aging and homogeneous). And America’s freedom and entrepreneurial spirit is in tact.”

    While aging is a problem, unskilled young people is not going to help much. And they will become old too one day. There is nothing to suggest that diversity promotes economic growth either. California has more Asians and Jews and less than half as many African Americans as the rest of the country. And you have 7 percent illegals helping out too. I wonder what will happen to you economy if they would be given human rights…

    “As for racist and resentful whites, they won’t leave the country. They’ll retire to states like Idaho and watch Fox News on satellite as the world passes them by.”

    There has already been a demographic change similar to yours in Holland. And white people with money, education or just initiative are moving out. Even liberals are moving out saying they can’t stand the racism anymore.

    “Also recall that Spanish-speaking states like Brazil are where economists predict the most dramatic growth over the next decades. It’s not the color of your skin, but the content of your economic policy that is important.”

    It partly coincides with skin color, although I have great hopes for India. And Brazil is a matter of natural resource. History shows that ideas are becoming increasingly important at the expense of natural resources. If we can replace oil with ethanol we can replace ethanol with something else.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Holland’s issue is immigration from Islamic countries, isn’t that correct? I do agree with you that Islam is accompanied by unique assimilation issues.

      I’m still curious to know what part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives you pause (if any of it does).

      –Santi

  4. Staffan says:

    Yes, Muslims are much much worse than Mexicans who mostly want to be part of the American society. I’m just saying that changing demographics in western nations can lead to white flight – and they can still be taxed in Idaho.

    As for human rights, that could be a long discussion. But let’s begin with article 1,

    “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

    I imagine they mean that we should have equal freedom and equality in dignity and rights from the start. But endowed with reason and conscience? We know for a fact that there are people who have no conscience. When you can track the psychopath’s life history you can find many cases of how they would torture and kill animals for fun at an early age. This happens in by all accounts good families too. We know this to be highly heritable.

    Reason? The American military has a limit of 85 in IQ for admission. Sweden does not. On my first shooting exercise a couple guys in my dorm fired four shots by mistake. One of them almost shot himself in the head. They have very limited reason and are a risk to others. Research shows that they cause numerous workplace accidents.

    Unlike the UN declaration, these are not my opinions. These are facts.

    I noticed that you didn’t mention the 7 percent illegals that boost your economy. How do you view their rights? Are they nullified because they broke the law by coming to your country?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      You’re quibbling. You’re free to do so, but the general observation that, as a species, we possess universal access to reason, to an inner life, and to human sympathy is true (and an important pre-condition to trade, dialogue, cooperation, understanding, democracy, individual rights, etc.).

      Reason is our most recent universal tool for survival (as opposed to instinct or ideologies of intuitive blood and race-based nationalism or religion). Likewise, conscience and sympathy can (and I think, should) be a tool for greater circles of sociability that extend beyond family and nation.

      Followers of Herder–Herderians–deny these things, and I’m trying to determine how aligned with intellectuals like Herder and Vico you are (as opposed to, say, Jefferson and Locke).

      In terms of dignity, what animates my own politics is a belief that individuals have vast stores of potential that are most likely to be realized only if certain obstacles do not thwart them in advance. Thus, for example, I support the compulsory vaccination of children before they enter school, and think parents should be compelled to send their children to school, both male and female, because it is in accord with what our reason tells us makes for broad human flourishing.

      I believe there are trade-offs between liberty and universal human flourishing, and that those trade offs require balancing. This is where democratic politics comes in to play–deciding on the right balance between important and sometimes contending interests.

      What makes for human liberty and flourishing is a rational, scientific, and philosophical question, and so politics is invariably intertwined with these things.

      I also believe in human universals. I think that to believe in human universals is a precondition for the advance of broad Enlightenment hopes (both as to liberty and flourishing). I think of the far right, religious fundamentalists, blood and soil nationalists, and postmodernists as generally enemies of Enlightenment hopes.

      As to illegals in the United States, people need to respect the law, obviously, but the fate of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America are intertwined. Thank goodness that the cultural differences are minimal between us. The mixing is not a problem. (I’m hoping Puerto Rico, for instance, becomes a 51st state of the United States someday.)

      So I’d say that illegal immigration is far less of a problem in California than you imagine. A good deal of illegals are seasonal workers in the agricultural fields, and they return to Mexico at nonseasonal times of the year. Others blend in quite well because so much of California is already Hispanic and Hispanic in ethos. Mexico is not an alien culture from the United States, and as the Mexican economy grows, people are happy not to cross the border for work. Most Mexicans are Catholics and the rest are Protestants. They have families; they shop at Walmart.

      I remember a dozen years ago, before I started having children myself, looking with ENVY at the Mexican Catholic parents with their kids in the grocery stores on a Sunday afternoon. They had such beautiful family lives and were so obviously happy with their children, and I thought, “That’s what I’m missing!” I remember almost coming to tears in a store observing one Mexican American family. A few years later, I married and now have two kids. If you think of me as the white American “norm” (actually, my Italian grandfather only came to the United States around 1920), then Hispanic Catholics didn’t assimilate to me, I ultimately assimilated to their example. Indeed, a dozen years ago my Catholic grandfather would have recognized his own life (he had ten kids) in them, not me. I don’t go to church, but the Hispanics in California generally know what’s important in life and reinvigorate the ideal of the close-knit family. How their growing presence hurts California is not obvious to me. It certainly has never hurt me.

      Off to have Turkey at my auntie’s house with my FAMILY.

      –Santi : )

  5. Staffan says:

    I forgot the latter part about “spirit of brotherhood”. This goes against research on in- and outgroups that shows humans to be tribal. We are to behave in a way that goes against our nature? That would be as phony as communist “comrades”. Behind the brotherhood was a Serb, a Croation, a Slovak etc. And we both know how that played out.

  6. Staffan says:

    I’ll look into it. Happy Thanksgiving! Look at you, traditions and family ; )

  7. Staffan says:

    “You’re quibbling. You’re free to do so, but the general observation that, as a species, we possess universal access to reason, to an inner life, and to human sympathy is true (and an important pre-condition to trade, dialogue, cooperation, understanding, democracy, individual rights, etc.).
    Reason is our most recent universal tool for survival (as opposed to instinct or ideologies of intuitive blood and race-based nationalism or religion). Likewise, conscience and sympathy can (and I think, should) be a tool for greater circles of sociability that extend beyond family and nation.”
    Ok, but as a champion of Enlightenment I assume you would base this view on more than a “general observation”. Reason would mean that we have the ability to learn from experience, but there is a great deal of research that shows how a combination of impulsivity and low IQ makes it practically impossible to do so. But the liberal way is to assume the have reason so we give them rights and freedom accordingly and they end up in jail. In the process they usually traumatize a number of innocent bystanders. They are involved in about 5-6 times as many traffic accidents as the average person. Innocent people get killed. They are allowed to drive because they are assumed to have reason. You know this and you allow it and then you wash your hands off it and call it an accident. Me, I quibble.
    Then we have the “spirit of brotherhood”. Again, there is massive research showing humans to be tribal in nature. Sympathy is normally found within the tribe or ingroup. And it’s not a pre-condition of cooperation. America has very few embargos against other nations and there is currently only one country on which there is a total embargo, Mali. So you trade with Cuba, North Korea, and Iran with zero sympathy. What you need is the rule of law, clean and simple.
    So the spirit of brotherhood is not necessary. But what happens when we try to implement it in the real world? Historically it seems one dominant group takes charge and governs under the pretense of brotherhood. Russians were dominant in the Soviet Union, Serbs were dominant in Yugoslavia, Czechs were dominant in Czechoslovakia, and so forth. And when their reign was over the whole brotherhood constructs fell apart along ethnic lines, and sometimes with a lot of blood spilled. That is where America is today. Again, the liberal idea is to keep pushing the idea of brotherhood and wash your hands when things go south.
    “Followers of Herder–Herderians–deny these things, and I’m trying to determine how aligned with intellectuals like Herder and Vico you are (as opposed to, say, Jefferson and Locke).”
    I’m into both Herder and Locke. Herder thougth man was tribal and has largely been proven right, although he puts a huge emphasis on nation. Like Locke, I think science should be the arbiter of these questions. The irony is that his followers have turned his, understandably outdated view on human nature, into an ideology and ignore the modern research that contradicts it. So either you find some scientific arguments for you viewpoint or you should stop pretending to be a Lockian.
    “I also believe in human universals. I think that to believe in human universals is a precondition for the advance of broad Enlightenment hopes (both as to liberty and flourishing). I think of the far right, religious fundamentalists, blood and soil nationalists, and postmodernists as generally enemies of Enlightenment hopes.”
    And yet, blood and nation/tribe are human universals. The notion that the ingroup is superior has existed in all known cultures. Did you know that studies show that if you show a picture of a needle piercing a hand people will react with more discomfort if that hand is of their own color? There is loads of research like that. So what is you human universals, that we all have capacity for empathy? True, but if it doesn’t extend to outgroup members it means nothing.
    We have lived in small groups fighting each other for most of our existence as a species. And anyone who didn’t like that was soon eliminated. Those who killed many enemies had lots of women and passed on their genes to future generations. We are the end result of that process. Let’s acknowledge our human nature and make the most of it rather than pretend like we are angels who fell down from the sky.
    “As to illegals in the United States, people need to respect the law, obviously, but the fate of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America are intertwined. Thank goodness that the cultural differences are minimal between us. The mixing is not a problem. (I’m hoping Puerto Rico, for instance, becomes a 51st state of the United States someday.)
    So I’d say that illegal immigration is far less of a problem in California than you imagine. A good deal of illegals are seasonal workers in the agricultural fields, and they return to Mexico at nonseasonal times of the year. Others blend in quite well because so much of California is already Hispanic and Hispanic in ethos. Mexico is not an alien culture from the United States, and as the Mexican economy grows, people are happy not to cross the border for work. Most Mexicans are Catholics and the rest are Protestants. They have families; they shop at Walmart”
    But they are in effect second class citizens. The do not have access to public service that real citizens have. I brought this up since you seem concerned about human rights but unconcerned with the illegals. If this is how diversity becomes financially successful then I’m not impressed.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I myself am trying to square my reading of (and personal enthusiasm for) Nietzsche with my liberalism, so you’re challenging me (which is good).

      As to those at the left end of the bell curve with regard to IQ and impulsivity, Nietzsche made an interesting distinction here that I think is helpful: he spoke of civilizational values and cultural values. Civilization is the thing we do to teach discipline and values to the herd; culture is what the elite create out of their creativity (and out of having benefited from learning the disciplines of civilization). The impulsive (whether of Nietzsche’s “blonde beast” form or the herd following form) are tempered by the disciplines of civilization, and SOME who learn discipline in a good civilization then go on to excellence.

      The reason, therefore, you give everyone the same rights, etc. is because, even if you believe in Nietzschean inequality, you don’t know which human seed will win the jackpot and become one of the great plants. Think of Barack Obama’s improbable route to the presidency. His mother and father had signs of high impulsivity, leaving marriages and ditching the child they had together with grandparents. But Obama had just enough civilizational watering and opportunity to still thrive.

      Civilization shouldn’t contribute to the putting down of citizens–it should assume that each one has great potential (or, if an individual doesn’t, one of his or her offspring might in the future). Nietzsche wasn’t against herd civilization and herd values practiced by the herd. He recognized that herd civilization and values are a precondition to elite culture–an incubator for great individuals to learn discipline and suffer in a certain way, and to then reject and transcend herd civilization; to create something new.

      Liberal idealism and Nietzsche, therefore, can be reconciled as both supporting the groundwork for herd flourishing. Liberals would advocate civilization for reasons of herd happiness, but Nietzsche would still find it USEFUL to elite flourishing–generating elites and keeping the dull herd happy and doing its own thing out of creators’ way.

      One way to leave the elite alone to generate culture and innovation is if the herd feels itself also free in its pursuits. Nietzsche thought the world was justified by its Beethovens, and didn’t think they should be bothered with the altruist morality and concerns of the herd. But he thought that the altruist morality was good for the herd (because it functioned as a precondition for the thriving of Beethovens).

      Roosevelt thought in similar ways. A little American socialism (the New Deal) inoculated civilization against more dramatic forms of collectivism. Contemporary conservative purists who want unbridled capitalism and hate key aspects of equality have missed the wisdom of Roosevelt and Nietzsche.

      So here’s my position: you don’t know how the genetic and environmental lottery will play out from round to round, but structures that make for THRIVING should be in place to increase the probability that, when “good lottery tickets” show up, they get cashed (metaphorically). Everybody benefits from the productions of genius.

      Thus utilitarians and Nietzscheans might arrive at similar social policies if they think it through.

      As to low IQ and high impulsivity correlated to traffic accidents: if true, then I would agree with you that the licenses should be more difficult to obtain with a harder test, but I do think there is a balance of risks in any civilizational decision. There’s something American about universal access to the car. Safety is not the last consideration. (Nietzsche might call us bloody cowards for making it so.)

      As to universals, I agree that family and nationalism are universals, but I also think that the circle of concern can be widened into a global brotherhood. Humans beings widen their circle of concern all the time. And the Internet makes the world seem far smaller than it did, say, 200 years ago. I suppose there was little sympathy extending between the inhabitants of Virginia, say, and those of China at the time of Thomas Jefferson. Now, such sympathy doesn’t seem as difficult a stretch. Even Ronald Reagan once said that, were an alien civilization from another planet to attack us collectively, we would unite as one people on planet Earth.

      As to your “men, not angels” comment, I agree that we’re embedded in a historical process, but that’s all the more reason to think universal brotherhood is possible. Fundamental transformations of forms of life are part of the productions of time.

      –Santi

  8. Staffan says:

    Sorry about the paragraphs, I wrote it in Word and for some reason the paragraphs disappeared when I posted it.

  9. Staffan says:

    Lots to consider here. While there is an elite which constitutes a necessary condition for art, or higher art, I don’t view what you, or maybe Nitzsche, calls the herd as something that the artist needs to grow out of and reject. It’s my distinct impression that the elite has taste but is itself largely impotent. If you for instance look at composers in the 1800s, when opportunity for the working- and middle class was even smaller than today, you should find at least some of the greatest coming from the upper class. Clearly this is not the case. And one key trait in this is probably impulsivity. The members of the elite are guarded and very aware of their social status. They don’t sing from the heart. But they can spot a talent and nourish it, and they’ve done so throughout history. That’s how I view the basic dynamics.

    Do we need to grant the herd total freedom in order for these talents to thrive? If that’s the case, then where is our Mozart, Wagner, or Beethoven? We have never had more freedom and rights than now so shouldn’t we have geniuses on their level or even better? Many of today’s elite would say that Arvo Pärt is our equivalent of the names above, but that’s just one man – and one man who spent most of his life behind the iron curtain enjoying with less human rights than most of us.

    For that reason I don’t believe that freedom is a vital ingredient in the recipe for making geniuses. And freedom turns the herd into a stampede. Traffic accidents is only the tip of the iceberg. If you look at the condition called ADHD, this becomes very apparent. This condition is characterized by impulsivity and in most cases also a low IQ. About 25 percent of the prison population here in Sweden meet the criteria, as compared to 2 percent of adults in the general population. I agree that safety is not last consideration, but consider what these people do to their families, neighbors, colleagues etc. I’m not a Nitzschean; I love art, and I believe that art is the only thing that has lasting power, but I have empathy too. I’m not willing to make that kind of sacrifice, especially if there is no art or any higher values at stake. It could also be argued that not even their personal freedom becomes optimal when their initial freedom turns into alcohol dependence and long stretches of time in jail. My attitude toward the herd is paternalistic, I think any good society will take care of its citizens, but not by giving them personal freedom they can’t handle.

    The widening circle that Peter Singer and others are talking about is an undeniable fact. While this might be a good thing (I say “might” because this could be dumbing us down to a global culture built on the least common denominator) I doubt it is enough to achieve any sort of global brotherhood. Would you be as devastated by losing you little finger as if 100 million people in China died in an earthquake? Perhaps you would, but Adam Smith’s general idea still holds. If 100 million Americans died in some natural disaster I’m guessing you’d be freaking out (correct me if I’m wrong). The difference in impact is a measure of your tribalism, and as such a measure of just how much of a stretch the idea of a global brotherhood really is.

  10. Santi Tafarella says:

    With regard to Nietzsche and the aristocratic or elite culture, he thought they had absorbed too much of the sensibility of herd morality, but applied it to themselves only (a culture of honor and protecting their own class, etc.). Nietzsche’s ubermensch overgoes both noble and slave morality and makes his own way in accord with his creative growth.

    As to where all the Mozarts have gone, I would say that they’ve gone into pursuits other than, say, classical music. Film of the past century has seen film directors that will be regarded as great centuries from now, etc.

    Geniuses always encounter the problem of belatedness and having to find ways forward where others haven’t gone before. Postmodern art is bad because all the fresh territory has already been explored and the most talented have gone into other professions (science, architecture, film, etc.).

    As to granting total freedom, if it’s a crap shoot where geniuses will come from (and your first paragraph seems to concede this), then everybody needs freedom.

    The way society punishes the impulsive is it makes them poor. That is, wealth accumulates away from them. This doesn’t mean that the poor should be left to starve.

    One test of your values is if the Louvre was on fire. If you could save one person from the fire or one piece of art (say, the Mona Lisa), what would you run out with?

    Another issue is happiness. If one is willing to sacrifice short term pleasure for long term accomplishment and make present comfort unimportant, then you end up with disciplined parents that force their kids to learn violin (as, say, middle class parents in China might do). It’s a possibility of a value choice, but the individual has to make it (thus the need for freedom).

    As to tribalism, people are complicated and hard wired for tribal responses. My first response to mass death in China might be less than in the United States, but then I might have second and third responses–and many other responses over time. We are very complicated animals, psychologically. Lots of things flow through us.

    As to the poor, they’ll always be with us, and we may be among them someday (either for a long or brief time). And you never know when you could have a stroke or become otherwise mentally diminished or incapacitated. A little humility is, therefore, in order. This is why I like Rawls’s idea about how to set up a just society (blindfolded, not knowing where you might land in the hierarchy as you proceed through life).

    Nietzsche was probably grateful at the end of his life to have some kind person attending to him a bit in his decline.

    –Santi

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