Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 8:46am
This is kind of a Thanksgiving note but it is not really heartwarming or cheerful. I also hope it is readable on occasions after Thanksgiving. Perhaps if you are pretty sure you will not have a great Thanksgiving it would not be a bad note to read. If you are on the borderline call an old friend, watch football, offer to help someone clean up the dishes or whatever BUT don’t read this note. America has always had some serious problems and for whatever reason those problems have always weighed upon me. They are not the only things weighing on me andnever have been. However, this year is a year in which those problems weigh very heavily. I see the election of Barack Obama as kind of an anti-Thanksgiving event.
Thanksgiving comes from the most optimistic and positive part of America and its best historic moments. There have bee a lot of good times and moments of glory in America and in a real way Thanksgiving ties us to all of those times. “The pilgrims prepare a feast and invite those who lived in America before them to join the feast. These Aboriginal Americans called Indians join them and there is a period of peace and collaboration.” That’s the basic story. There were days of Thanksgiving, of Repentance, of Intercession and other such spiritual exercises in the Plymouth Brethren community. Unlike the Anglicans of James Town or my own Acadian forebears (who were mostly Catholic) these feasts were not scheduled to fall on holidays that were the same each year and regular ritual was avoided. If the Acadians had been the dominant culture on the continent in every way there might be a Jour des Bonnes Temps. There was in Acadie a society of recognized knights and non-aristocrats called “Le Orde des Bonnes Temps”. This Order of Good times would fund a priest or missionary to have a mass or service when they came through and would support community celebration of holidays. They did invite MiqMacs to their feasts on occasion. However, even with some charitable and religious functions of their own the order had a principal purpose. That was to be a kind of buying cooperative to ensure that the best possible meats and wines and pastries would always be for sale in the young colony. They did that by throwing several feasts each year that were as extravagant as they could make them. These Catholics, like the Spanish Catholics who celebrated the first Texas Thanksgiving in 1521, did have Thanksgiving Days on occasion. Christians of all communions did this to recognize occasions when something good happened especially in the dangerous new colonies of America.
The Order Of Good Times has an interesting and not unimportant story. Theirs is a better episode than many others in our continent’s history but certainly not better as a foundation than the one the Plymouth Brethren gave us. However, since this sect avoided holidays in the traditional sense our government had to revive the custom and the practice somewhat artificially later in our history. But it is still the child of Plymouth. Some silly modern scholars have called the 1621 holiday attended by Squanto and dozens of other Indians secular compared to a religious Calvinist feast on 1623 that was whites only. That is absurd, the two feasts are simply unrelated occasions. Both thanked God but one did it in an inclusive way and the other was the same people acting in the more narrow inside baseball way that they acted when assembled as a Christian sect. By the way this 1621 Feast is the only instance where Native Americans is a good term for Indigenous or Aboriginal Americans in common speech. Native means born there and most pilgrims were not while all Indians were in this instance.
Thanksgiving is a very American holiday and a holiday related to many personal and family memories and associations. I am able to remember a few Thanksgiving Days when I barely observed the day. However, I have never been in the United States on those days. I have also not at all aware that I ever did less to make a day of it. Three years I won a turkey for Thanksgiving and one year I won two turkeys.This year I did not enter any contests. But I think that there is a sort of perfect storm of long and short-term trends which have taken almost all the energy I had for Thanksgiving. NONETHELESS, I WISH ANYONE READING THIS EARLY OR LATE A VERY HAPPY THANKSGIVING.
It has taken me a while to get this note out. This will be the longest period of time between two notes since I got on to Facebook. That is largely because of personal concerns and post-election fatigue and depression. In this note have decided to step back from my philosophizing and conjecturing about the country and civilization and to discuss my own life. It is an odd time to do so but there it goes. I do odd things…
The stuff about the country in this note has to do either with what day it is or with how the country affects me directly. So I am thinking about another of the many fathers of the Thanksgiving Holiday. To some degree it was proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln after the extremely bloody Battle of Gettysburg. Even if one believes that Gettysburg was a great and important moment of good (my own feelings are ambiguous but I am more of a Confederate sympathizer than a Lincoln fan — that much is sure) this was the darkest pattern to help make the Thanksgiving tradition. Even if you just count Yankee dead it was a bloodbath which would not have rated such a holiday under any other President we have had up to now. I don’t know about the new alleged Illinois man.
The United States before the Civil War always commanded the plural form of verbs. These days however I write that the US has been in crisis rather than that the US have been in crisis much of my life.
We are not entirely lost but we are not entirely saved either. What we have got going is a suicidal narrative and process. Fortunately, however, this is still competing with a number of productive and life-giving narratives and processes. My own life has been lived out in the context of the tensions and conflicts of this country at this time. Many Europeans and a handful of Northeast Asians like to think that there has never been much of a life of Thought in the United States of America. Many Americans agree with them. However, that is not true. There are different forms of intellectual life and America excelled in a few of them. What America has offered far more often than Europeans like to admit is a life in which especially Greek, Jewish and Roman thought was vitally connected to intervening thinkers and the life of the day. We have however an America where almost nobody thinks reading Greek, Latin or Hebrew should be a requisite for even a doctoral degree. In fact not even in a doctoral degree related to the humanities is such a skill normally required. Many times in the past any American intellectual aspired to at least a faltering mastery of one or more of these tongues. Our newly elected President was Editor of Harvard Law Review. However, what real connection did he have to the grand body of knowledge which alone justifies having anything like Harvard.
The Thanksgiving we remember is the one at Plymouth but its history as a national holiday has more to do with the bloodiest killing of Americans we have ever seen. The battle of Gettysburg saw the flower of Northern and Southern young men die in agony. However, the Union under Lincoln set up a Thanksgiving day to celebrate victory in this fratricide and the nearly inevitable loss of the Confederate cause. That is only on of several days of Thanksgiving however, even Washington had at least one. However it is Plymouth’s that we really honor. If Colin Powell, Jessie Jackson Jr. or Clarence Thomas had been elected as our first Black president they would have been in tune with the part of America that does not just lie down in surrender before the endless waves of new blood and people. Instead of this story of struggle and people-building in the great sweep of American history culminating in the highest prize we have another “only in America story” that shows how weak we have always been in America.
We are also strong but not having a common religion, recognition of the exceptional in our politics or the constant success of newcomers does not make us strong. Rather those are actually part of the cost of being who we are. It is a cost worth paying when the Plymouth Thanksgiving is being lived out. When old and new come together and God is honored in a kind of secular way and there is both hard work and excitement.
If literally anyone can become President then I am afraid that we really don’t have a country. For me that moment arrived with Barack Obama. l think I had almost reached the end of my ability to stand where this country has been for so long but this is total insanity in my view. Foreign rulers or near foreigners in other countries can be healthy. If they have deeply established religious institutions, aristocracies and nativist privileges then a foreign dynasty or lazy and benevolent occupation can be energizing. Usually it is a bad thing but often enough it is a good thing. America is not that kind of country, it has always been a minimalist official society. Now we are way below the minimum. For me the end has come, it just hasn’t set in yet. Barack’s background cuts out the tiny connective tissue of a country with too little connective tissue.
When I think of America today and of my life in it I think that it has been a slow and inevitable process that so many American streams of real thinking have dried up entirely. I am entirely sincere in saying the following: Feminism has both produced some of the worst thinking in the country and has had an enormously healthy effect in clarifying ideas, enlivening intellectual communities, opening debate and integrating ideas into life. That mix of good and bad is rather common among booming intellectual movements. Feminism certainly formed an important part of my intellectual journey and landscape.
There have been times when I was resentful of and resistant to feminism. However, there are also times when I have been involved in supporting feminist causes. I feel that the individualist — statist tension of much of modern feminism is ver typical of the recent United States of America. However, while I dislike that very much in American feminism I actually think it is less pronounced than in more male dominated discourses of American thought. Having groups of distant relatives, family and guests gathering in different religions on a Day set aside to thank God is also an antidote to the poison of seeing only individuals and governments. American women still carry most of the load of making Thanksgiving work.
I was married to a feminist. However, like most feminists (and this more true than of many male dominated movements) she was inconsistent. Women tend to drop ideas that are not working. They tend to compromise and find circuitous routes around conflicts when they don’t think they can win. My ex-wife was like many other women in that regard. In recent years I seem to live out the lyrics of the Lenny Kravitz(sp?) song “American Woman” However, I don’t feel that there are many reasons related to feminism that explain this isolation.
My isolation seems to be related to many things both about me and my society. I just joined Politico. Com, it has been interesting and people dialog with me about my comments. In setting up my profile there I had chosen to keep my personal information only for friends and to make my blog public. So far ( I have only been on two days or so as I write this) I had scores of people who visit my profile and did not issue friends requests or view my blog. Therefore, these visitors basically just looked at my screen name and the title of the blog entries. Somehow this ability to get lots of people interested enough to make one click but universally sure that two clicks would be too many must mean something big. How exactly does one do that? As I write this I have tried to get my personal information in a bit better order and have decided to open up my personal info to the public. I will see how that works out.
There have been very few times in my life when I was sustainably happy for more than a few days. There have been few periods when I did not generally avoid rather than seek out the company of most people I could associate with in my life. I think that trends are still moving in that direction for me. However, on short-term occasions like Thanksgiving Day I have had many happy times. When my love life was really good I was usually very happy for a while but those times were not that frequent. When I won something honorable with a big payoff I was often happy. There have also been sometimes when I experienced religious consolation that made me happy. There were also other times but they did not add up to very large percentages of my life. I am the kind of person who will always care about the political and social order.
I still live to make a future and as though I may live another forty years or more. However, it seems to me that we are really moving past the edge of any worldview that doesn’t approach what I would call hellishness. There is little else that I can say except that I am glad to be alone most or all of this Thanksgiving Day. In my own way I have always loved America very much but I think a lot of that love is dying. Dying in me and I feel no shame in saying that publicly. So far me this year a sad and quiet Thanksgiving Day seems about right.