Sunday, 4 July 2010

Relax, People--Everything Is Under Control: Part Two (Independence Day Edition)

This may come as a surprise, but it truly pains me that a few of my casual readers appear to perceive a faint tinge of anti-Americanism in my writings. I find that odd, since the nation I love was largely founded by Americans—the good ones, that is.

Really, how can I dislike a country of intrepid pioneers who, by dint of technological explorations as relentless as they are selfless, continue to push the frontiers of human possibility closer to that glorious though yet unespied realm where we shall finally be emancipated from the dreary law of brute necessity that the non-American West—having offered nothing to the civilisation of the last millennium but the barren trivialities of its Dantes, Michelangelos, Da Vincis, Galileos, Voltaires, Shakespeares, Newtons, Mozarts, McLuhans and Einsteins—never managed to transcend?

What diabolical perversity could prevent me from heeding the natural urge to bow my head in reverent salutation to the inventors of so much of the life-enhancing infrastructure that undergirds our lofty standard of living? Take, for instance, the fast-food drive-thru, a classically American institution. I think Mr. Colin, a Californian unhappy with his town's decision to halt the construction of new drive-thrus, puts the case eloquently:

[N]ot everyone is happy with the ordinance.

"They ought to put in more drive-throughs, not stop them," said Isaac Colin immediately after ordering burgers and fries for himself and his wife, Christine, at the Baldwin Park In-N-Out. "It's a waste of time getting out of your car, finding a parking spot, going in, ordering your food."

Indeed. The process of sitting down to a meal in a restaurant—with its need for preparation, speaking to servers, conversing with one's table-mates, and countless other nuisances that have nothing whatever to do with the act of fork-lifting meat into one's gullet—is an utter waste of precious time and resources. The invention of (and national passion for) the drive-thru is a remarkable embodiment of the American belief that the environmental and unproductive contexts within which the satisfaction of human needs takes place, which benighted Europeans and Canadians tend to think of as "living", are really just needless excrescences that delay and frustrate the things that matter. Why complicate the act of chewing and swallowing with adventitious distractions that pull the actor out of the experience of eating and push him into the alleged "reality" of the space-time continuum and the existence of other human beings?

No. I'm really quite fond of America, especially of its desperate need to have others be fond of it—arguably its most adorable trait—and, to prove it, I hereby offer a list (not entirely exhaustive) of Americans I like. Here we go:

Americans I Like:

Benedict Arnold:

The Case:

Described accurately by one of America's first serious military historians as the most brilliant soldier of the Continental army, Arnold has been vilified as a "traitor" by American chauvinists ever since he surrendered West Point to Crown forces in 1780, despite the fact that there was not, at the time, a constitutionally embodied American nation to be a traitor to (and would not be until the formal adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787). Ironically, it was Arnold who found himself victimised by treachery after masterminding and executing some of the colonists' most glorious victories, being made the target of innumerable fraudulent allegations by jealous co-colonists (and consequently repeatedly passed over by Congress for well-earned promotions). So far from being a traitor, Arnold has always seemed to me to be the one colonial general (who just happened to be also the best) who came, too late, to his senses.

Of Interest:

Shortly before finding sanctuary in British North America, Arnold led a disastrous assault upon it during the first American invasion of Canada, a generation before the War of 1812. He was defeated by Sir Guy Carleton, later to become British North America's first governor.

Daniel Webster:

The Case:

Webster is one of a handful of truly great American statesmen. Known widely as the co-author of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty that fixed our eastern border, he is rather less widely known as the inspiration for Abraham Lincoln's famous aspirational definition of the U.S. executive as a "government of the people, by the people, for the people."

His doomed effort to prevent Southern secession late in his career has unfortunately overshadowed his far nobler struggle against James Madison's ruinous war against British North America. So passionate was his opposition to the war and so determined was his view that it violated justice, common sense, and the constitutional rights of the New England states whose economies were brought to the verge of collapse as a consequence of it, he risked reputation and career by joining the Rockingham Convention and drafting a report to the president on its behalf that warned of Northern secession from the union if the war continued.

Webster is one of the few American statesmen (perhaps the only one) who managed to gain national reknown and prestige through a principled opposition to an unjust war, a feat unthinkable in America today, where grovelling assent to the unconstitutional outrage of presidential wars of choice has become a normative ethos.

Of Interest:

Webster's Rockingham Convention and the related Hartford Convention represented the first serious secessionist movement in American history. The Federalist Party, the de facto political sponsor of the conventions, was destroyed at the conclusion of the war because of its "treasonous" anti-war initiatives. The destruction of the party occurred under mainly Southern pressure, as Jeffersonian principles were strongest there. Ironically, those same Jeffersonian principles would lead Southerners to initiate their own secessionist movement forty-five years later.

John Brown:

The Case:

You'll never see Spielberg or Michael Bay direct a movie about John Brown. Americans love freedom fighters and noble martyrs, as long as they're killing Europeans, Commies or Arabs. I guess the story of an American being hanged by his government for trying to liberate fellow human beings from bondage and thus help drag the U.S. into a state of civilisation that had been reached by the rest of the West for generations just isn't going to sell much popcorn in Midwestern Cineplexes.

That's a shame, because Brown is one of the most fascinating men America has ever produced. He was an abolitionist, but attacking an American armoury would have been enough to assure Brown a spot on this list, quite regardless of his cause. Given the virulence of America's belligerent attitude towards Canada during the mid-1800's, Brown's act of reducing America's capacity to wage war (however slightly) should make him a Canadian hero.

Of Interest:

Brown often visited Canada while recruiting and fundraising. The fateful raid on Harpers Ferry was planned and financed in Canada, and a Canadian convention organised by Brown shortly before the mission capped its deliberations by composing an alternative American constitution.

Grover Cleveland:

The Case:

Of all the American presidents who've presided over an increasingly messianic populace, an inveterately imperialist military establishment, and an avaricious financial elite, only one has had enough integrity and intestinal fortitude to refuse the gift of a new colony delivered on a silver platter by U.S. expansionists.

In 1893, a clutch of American adventurers and businessmen overthrew Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Liliʻuokalani, and demanded that her realm be immediately annexed to the United States. Cleveland refused to ratify this sham and reminded an astonished nation that there was not a shred of evidence that the native Hawaiians actually wanted to become Americans, in a remarkable, unprecedented and never-to-be-repeated gesture of presidential respect for the opinions and interests of those tragically bereft of American citizenship. His decision would later be reversed, as history records, by a president more thoroughly versed in the American understanding of "freedom".

Robinson Jeffers:

The Case:

Fated to relative obscurity for his refusal to espouse the Modernist aesthetic of the Eliot-Pound school (thus, fated to remain obscure for his refusal to be obscure), Jeffers is nevertheless the quintessential American writer, no less for his commitment to the ethos of the wilderness than for his hauntingly beautiful meditations on the desolation wrought by the pressure of colossal impersonal forces upon the 20th-century soul.

Just as his reputation began to blossom in the 1920's, at which time he was California's unofficial poet laureate, Jeffers made the fatal mistake of sounding like he took his nation's founding values seriously and publicly denounced the causes and consequences of American expansionism. At first considered merely crankish, these views cost him dearly during America's involvement in the Second War World, which Jeffers believed to be ethically indistinguishable from U.S. imperialist adventures throughout the preceding century. His reputation never recovered.

Of Interest:

The nature of American reaction to Jeffers may be understood through a glance at some of his work, very little of which, I can assure you, has found a comfy niche in American high-school anthologies. You don't find your way onto Hummer-borne bumper stickers by opining that "America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire," though his assertion that "corruption never has been compulsory" seems like a keeper to me.

Noam Chomsky:

The Case:

Widely regarded as the world's most important living intellectual (a perhaps deceptively modest achievement when your competition includes meretricious charlatans like Christopher Hitchens), Chomsky is undoubtedly the closest the Anglo-American world as come to producing someone of Bertrand Russell's stature since, well...the death of Bertrand Russell.

For close to five decades, Chomsky has been an unyielding expounder of the blindingly obvious—that America, while in many ways the freest nation in the world, is also among the most violent and corrupt, with a foreign policy that traduces America's announced principles in virtually every detail. For this, Chomsky and his exhaustively researched perspectives have been unofficially banned from mainstream American media, while the imbecile Ann Coulter gleefully carries the lip marks of America's network elite on her buttocks whenever she wishes to spew her delusional rantings over the airwaves.

Of Interest:

Manufacturing Consent, the movie that threatened to make Chomsky a household name among the literate bourgeoisie in the early '90s, was a Canadian production. It's still the most successful Canadian documentary ever made. Chomsky, ever the uncompromising critic, naturally considers the film a failure, largely because it threatened to make Chomsky a household name among the literate bourgeoisie.

David Lee Roth:

The Case:

Arguably the most decadent of the L.A. party-metal bands that came of age in the Eighties, Van Halen spent its Roth-led years cutting a swath of deflowered virgins, annihilated hotel rooms, and nouveau riche cocaine dealers that ripped through every major city in North America.

The Roth of the mid-80's was perhaps the most completely realized icon of the American dream, insofar as he managed to embody the features (even the contradictory ones) that serve to make America a unique civilisation. Jewish (thus an outsider) yet blond (thus an insider), self-destructive (thus lawless) yet beautiful and athletic (thus resilient and powerful), Roth captured the nihilism of America's love of the misfit rebel with a hedonistic clarity unmatched by any rock star before or since. True, we had already seen Jim Morrisson and Iggy Pop, but there had always been something rather too European about them, a slight bookishness, an undisguised appeal to the highbrow: one actually had to have some scope of literary allusion to know where Morrisson got the name of his band or where Pop stole the title of an album.

With Roth, one never got anything more than the sharp outline of a tumescent cock snaking in bas relief across a painfully tight pair of spandex leotards. Roth's appeal was purely bestial, without the pretension to hippie chic that, in the likes of Mick Jagger, Robert Plant and David Bowie, risked introducing just a soupçon of the intellectual into the sex.

Van Halen eschewed the ornamental tangents, such as Mötley Crüe's toy Satanism, that conferred extra dimensions to their contemporaries' personae, keeping the focus on the hard dick, a key American totem. David Lee Roth wasn't about serving Lucifer or rebelling against authority or feeding starving Africans. He was all about chugging a case of Bud before banging Betty in the backseat of the Mustang, which Americans wisely suspect is far ahead of the Bill of Rights and reliable access to Walmart on the list of things the typical young Third-World male covets when he dreams about America.

Of Interest:

In contrast to his bubble-headed image, Roth is actually whip-smart and has authored what is considered one of the best autobiographies in its sub-genre, Crazy from the Heat. I've read it and can attest to its page-turningness.

Just for fun, here are the boys in their prime, playing an excellent version of "Unchained" whilst touring their criminally underrated Fair Warning album in 1981. C'mon. Everybody up!

Stephen Harper:

The Case:

Harper makes this case far more persuasively than I ever could.

Of Interest:

Nothing whatsoever.


Will S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will S. said...

But John Brown was a nutbar lunatic / dangerous fanatic, even if fighting for a cause we might today deem righteous and good and proper. Much like our own Louis Riel, really.

As for Roth and Satan / Lucifer, he did sing "Running with the Devil", didn't he? Otherwise, no quibbles there; VH was never the same with Sammy Hagar, with all due respect to him.

Sir Francis said...

Heh. I think you're being too hard on Brown and not nearly hard enough on Hagar, the man most responsible for turning Van Halen into Air Supply with Yngwie Malmsteen stylings.

jkg said...

The charge of "Anti-Americanism," I find, tends to assume that the criticism of current institutions, social structures, and norms is to criticize modern incarnations of a long historical development. My scant reading of American history hinted that the historical development of America was substantially more complex than what we see today (as your list suggests).

It is instructive that some of those you've listed shows a trend in how a certain policy perspective has slowly been removed from public discourse by marginalization. There is no doubt that a particular sanitized history has been romanticized. Benedict Arnold will always be a pariah (he was actually played by avowed neo-Conservative Kelsey Grammer). However, I would suspect that there will always be a segment of American society who will give a critical eye to trends that are ahistorical, even if it means being labeled as Anti-American.


David Lee Roth may have been the paragon of American optimism and romantic materialism, but I certainly could go without a return of men's leggins and tights :).

Jack Mitchell said...

Don't forget good old Gore Vidal. Barring a certain anglophobia and downright Tacitean devotion to the Republic, he's as pur et dur a Tory as the USA has produced.

Sir Francis said...


Yes, although my list is entitled "Americans I Like" rather than "Americans I Respect". I've always respected Vidal, but, for some reason, I've never been able to like him. He's just so...bitchy.

Jack Mitchell said...

Ha! Good point. I do find him very hard to take in TV interviews, all now on Youtube. Pomposity is not likeable.

Nitangae said...

Tacitus, like Gore Vidal, shows a great many signs of being bitchy; I doubt we would have liked him much either, even though we might respect him.

Dirk Buchholz said...

Dred Tory wrote..."Really, how can I dislike a country of intrepid pioneers who, by dint of technological explorations as relentless as they are selfless, continue to push the frontiers of human possibility closer to that glorious though yet unespied realm where we shall finally be emancipated from the dreary law of brute necessity that the non-American West—having offered nothing to the civilisation of the last millennium but the barren trivialities of its Dantes, Michelangelos, Da Vincis, Galileos, Voltaires, Shakespeares, Newtons, Mozarts, McLuhans and Einsteins—never managed to transcend?"...

Surly you jest ?

I quote Vine Deloria (Spirit & Reason:The Vine Deloria,Jr.,Reader 1999) for your consideration...

"Indeed American history has been the unfolding of a process by which an abstract idea,devoid of its cultural roots and geographic origins,was forced on an unsuspecting land and its peoples."...

..."The American Revolution,we can conclude,was a jump out of time and place of a conglomerate of people who were willing to abandon participation in history for the opportunity to experiment with a new form of human existence.It was a great historical act of cultural and political patricide; rebellion against the king was also a rebellion against the nature of society and against the reality of human existence.Whether this experiment will prove to have been valid remains an open question.But we can see the tension today in the continual efforts of American foreign policy to force smaller countries of relatively homogeneous racial background and limited geographic and economic resources to conform to the American understanding of social and political existence."...

..." was not the natural genius of the European,his civilized state,or instructions from God that enabled the white settler to survive but his adaption of Indian techniques in agriculture."...

And then there's Gore Vidal,don't get me stated ;)

Dirk Buchholz said...

correction And then there's Gore Vidal,don't get me started ;)

liberal supporter said...


liberal supporter said...

Hey! There's an election on!

Will S. said...

So? It's not like it matters; or else Sir Francis might wake from his blog-slumber.

For my part, I ain't voting, for the fourth election in a row. As a paleo-con / Red-Tory, I have no dog in this fight. (What are the issues in this campaign? Oh, that's right; there are none!) Nobody cares about the matters I care about; nobody stands for the positions I stand for; so there really is no point, especially since there's no-one I can support, in good conscience, nor any good independent candidate or good protest party running, locally. Freedom to vote means freedom to not vote, too; I won't bother complaining about whoever wins, don't worry, those who say one forfeits the right to complain if one doesn't vote, yada yada.

I'll leave voting for those who still actually believe in a particular ideology or cause; who still actually think voting makes any difference; that it's necessary and critical to vote, period, lest democracy perish by neglect and totalitarianism arise, blah blah blah.

Go ahead; decide without me who will rule our country; it's not like it makes any difference, ultimately. Tweedledum, and Tweedledee.

liberal supporter said...

Gosh Will S, are you from the CPC voter suppression brigade? Most of your compatriots are littering the internet with the suppression strategy.

Except it ain't working. Obviously things have changed since your comment, oh 6 days ago...

Will S. said...

No; look over my previous comments on other posts here, and you'll see I'm consistently paleo-con; I dislike neo-conservatism with a passion - though I still have a soft spot for the more populist variety that Reform / Alliance stood for, which got sold out in the merger with the PCs. I have since evolved in my thinking, but I think the populist element is still important and necessary.

Anyway, I simply see no reason to participate in the charade of modern Canadian politics, and I'd like to encourage my fellow Canadians to quit politics as I have done, since it accomplishes nothing, of value, any more.


Stan Theman said...

You DO like censorship, don't you?