Friday, March 15, 2013

American Myth of Origin

I recently heard about a bumper-sticker (and by the way, bumper-stickers fascinate me in general) which read, "I Want My Country Back!" I was immediately perplexed by the statement... Now, I know that a bumper-sticker hardly deserved much analytical attention but I couldn't resist... 

What could such a statement - "I want my country back" - possibly mean? Assuming the most obvious implications and assuming that it is in reference to the United States, the statement is incomprehensible. The implication is either moral deficiency or sociohistorical ignorance. The latter is reflected in the mythical memory of an American golden-age; when everyone was getting along, waving flags, going to church, and watching Leave it to Beaver with white-toothed smiles on their faces. Such a time has never existed. American history has always been conditioned by a degree of social horror. One need not look too far into the past to see a time when women were not allowed the right to vote, when Japanese immigrants were thrown into internment camps, when whites were lynching black families and turning fire-hoses on groups of activists, when it was legally permissible for a man to beat his wife, when gay people were required to conceal their identity in order to serve in the military, and when torture was permissibly employed as an American military tactic. Is that what they want 'back'? I can only assume that the one who sports the slogan, "I Want My Country Back," is simply under the spell of ignorance; oblivious to the racist, sexist, homophobic, and elitist content implicit in their ideal...  

You want an ideal... that's fine - even right. But recognize that such an ideal cannot be discovered in the myth of origin, it is nowhere 'behind' us, you can't have it 'back' because it was never there... what lies behind us in history is conditioned by the categories of finitude and social horror. It must be ahead of us... and Christian hope proclaims that it is beyond us.

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