Monday, October 27, 2008


It came to my attention last day that I had forgotten the occasion of a deeply-held personal concern, and that the source of my thought originates in the mind of a Black American commenting on slavery. Neither he nor I have ever been slaves, though both of us have ancestors who were. We both share a common memory, and his informed mine, though I forgot about him as the key to my understanding.

Memory keeps the individual coherent in his own existence. Below are four coherent memories of America.

John Kaminski, "The New Evil Empire: America has become what Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union used to be."

The evil empire, number one threat to peace in the world, is now the United States. No more Red Menace. No more Third Reich. Now it's a War on Terror executed by the biggest terrorist of all - America, the nation that killed its own people by the thousands in order to trigger World War III and capture all the world's oil fields.


And when the rest of the world comes calling to rectify this murderous tyranny and worldwide oppression that America now practices, what will you say to them when they aim their guns at you? That you didn't know?

"PETA Urges Ben & Jerry's To Use Human Milk; Group Says Move Would Help Humans, Cows." Waterbury, Vt.; 23 Sept 2008.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, cofounders of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., urging them to replace cow's milk they use in their ice cream products with human breast milk, according to a statement recently released by a PETA spokeswoman."PETA's request comes in the wake of news reports that a Swiss restaurant owner will begin purchasing breast milk from nursing mothers and substituting breast milk for 75 percent of the cow's milk in the food he serves," the statement says.

I preach to you, then, my countrymen, that our country calls not for the life of ease but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at the hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us shrink from no strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.

Theodore Roosevelt, "The Strenuous Life."

[L]et us leave this small and barren country of our and take possession of a better. There are plenty to choose from-- some near, some further off; if we take one of them, we shall be admired more than ever....

Cyrus did not think much of this suggestion; he replied that they might act upon it if they pleased, but added the warning that, if they did so, they must prepare themselves to rule no longer, but to be ruled by others. 'Soft countries,' he said, 'breed soft men. It is not the property of any one soil to produce fine fruits and good soldiers too.' The Persians had to admit that this was true and that Cyrus was wiser than they; so they left him, and chose instead to live in a rugged land and rule than to cultivate rich plains and be slaves.

Herodotus, The Histories. Trans. Aubrey de Selincourt. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books; 1965; p. 599.

We can't remember things we've never known. I often forget things I have learned. Still, I remember enough to remain more or less coherent as an individual through a long life-time. Above we have four memories of Americanism. They are, together, incoherent. We live in a pluralistic nation of many conflicting memories, united by something more than the details. Ernst Renan claims our nation is a daily plebiscite of agreement to live as a united nation; Johann von Herder claims we are an ethnic group united by climate, language, and ethnicity over the course of time. It must come to what we remember of our selves as nationals. We won't remember what we never knew; and we might forget much of what we did know. I venture the opinion that many Americans have forgotten, or worse, never knew, what America was and is. It seems that many have come to remember the memories of others, and taken them on as personal.

History is, from what I've experienced, an eternal dialectic. Nevertheless, one chooses much of what one remembers, and one acts coherently, if not necessarily rationally, to maintain the flow of the general movement. Still, it is a daily maintenance project for the person and the nation. Given what we have, we work to maintain it and expand it where possible. Memory, thus, is Will. Memory is also futurity. I will remember to remember what I remember in time to come so I remain coherent. So, history isn't simply what happened: it is what we will for the future. We keep what we can and move on to collect more later. Like chess, determined as it is, we are presented with life-Will nearly limitless in its options to move as we will. We can choose to remember what we will, even if such memories are not our own.

Americanism can be a Palinism. We can choose to remember America as our future by reifying the palin of American memory. We recreate America daily as we remember it privately. What kind of memory do we choose our future to be?


truepeers said...

I like this post, still I'm wondering what that breast milk thing has to do with a "coherent memory of America"... in my day, most kids were weaned *before* the age when memory starts to become more or less permanent.

I venture the opinion that many Americans have forgotten, or worse, never knew, what America was and is. It seems that many have come to remember the memories of others, and taken them on as personal.

-this seems a criticism, but the rest of the post seems to contradict the apparent pessimism here; as your beautiful idea of neoPalinism suggests, we must take on the memories of others, right? I mean weren't the Persians moved by Cyrus by doing just that? No one's personal experience is sufficient to serve the needs of the range of experiences we must communicate to each other to make our nation strong.

You suggest that you have given us four "coherent" memories of America. I'm not sure about the first two, or even the fourth (for America); but yes, surely it is ultimately up to us to make of the many experiences we see symbolized some kind of coherent identity, with integrity. This is why respect for the individual is so important: only the individual can synthesize the many representations of the nation in a way that makes sense and demonstrates integrity, becoming a model for others to follow, on their way to making their own model. No committee of comrades can do it - and so I doubt that paranoid conformist "history" of Amerikkka as a "coherent" memory. It is mythical, based on a misunderstanding of the sacrificial terms of its own emergence; and there must be a difference between that sort of myth and the kind of history that begins with Athens and Jerusalem and, inter alia, philosopher kings - a concept which reflects Plato's discovery of a new way of thinking - metaphysics - more than it represents any particular philosophy...

Memory, thus, is Will. Memory is also futurity...

I like that; it remains for us to elucidate how necessary, historically specific experiences can be represented and shared, illuminating universal truths. The will to shared memory is not simply an appeal to individual will, even though ultimately the individual's integrity is key to representing it to the rest of us in a way that makes sense.

Dag said...

I'm getting nervous, to put it mildly, that we not only have "forgotten" what America is but that so many, including our president, don't have any idea why we are a nation at all. A nation without a sense of its own history is doomed to idiocy. And worse, it could well doom us to death.