I Don’t Want The Story Of The United States To End
I am dispassionate on matters of nationalism. I’m critical and demanding of the national story we tell ourselves, wanting desperately to understand any truths far above any emotionally delectable fable. And that yearning to understand tempers any blinding love of homeland I’ve ever had.
I willingly recast our culture as multiple instead of singular, as wounded, as a grand imperial experience containing the beating hearts of many nations, as a ship secretly pulled through the water by invisible lines, to test our reality against these many truths. I divorce myself enough, I think, to at least feel like I’m standing on objective grounds. But culture, any culture, can’t be understood except when felt. That objectivity can be both illusion and truth. The medium of culture, the one great evolutionary tool of humanity, clouds and reveals simultaneously. I can see it. Many thinking people can see it.
And yet, because I was reared in this particular imperial culture, I cannot fully look away. Even if, hypothetically, I packed bags for Peru or Papua, I would still keep brain cells tuned in dedication to the US experiment. I am still invested in the story the United States tells itself. I want to believe that innovations in democracy will continue, that the arc of justice and reason will still bend towards light, that it is possible that the American experiment will succeed. I still love her, somehow. Is it something like an adult child’s complicated love for a difficult parent? Or Stockholm Syndrome? Or is it because it is the first true cultural framework I ever knew and it is thoroughly interwoven into my physical being?
The thing about human cultures is that they not only change, but change in ways we can’t predict. An emphasis that centralizes a culture will shift so that something like ‘love of one’s country’ will be quaintly replaced by love of a style of drumming, or animated around an animated gif, or reformed around a graphic novel that is, right now, birthing new styles of religion. The impulses of nationalism and spirituality, of hunger, desire, fear, and the rest cannot be denied — like an open fire hose those natural human feelings gush forth — but the container with which we corral those impulses — the culture — will change shapes many times. The story we tell ourselves will change.
Will the January 6, 2021 Insurrection matter in a hundred years? I doubt it. But I am moved, unexpectedly, to know that it matters to me right now. Because it feels as if the story our culture tells itself is about to end. And more than jealousy or rage or love, more than fear or reason…the purest, deepest, most profound of human impulses, that of being pulled along by a good story, is most central of all to the human experience. The fact that a story that centralizes every human life, every human culture across space and time, is the one constant in our human universe.
And I don’t want the story of the United States of America to end right now.