Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Glum Thanks

It's time-honored tradition for me to read Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates every year at Thanksgiving. Very eagle-eyed readers might have noticed something last year: I didn't write any post about it. Well, there's a good reason for that: I forgot to read it! I didn't even realize it until about a week into December, at which point I was too embarrassed to say anything and too into the Christmas bustle to go back and read it. Besides, the "season" had passed. But this year marks its triumphant return (even if it's still a little late)!

I must admit, coming on the heels of Ferguson, it wasn't the positive aspects of the Puritans that really rang this reread. In particular, their sense of "exceptionalism," of being a "city on a hill," the sense that they were chosen, and as such, it was their duty to "help" the rest of the world, is what seemed most relevant.

The very seal of Massachusetts Bay had an Indian literally saying "Come over and help us!" Boy did they, and we their inheritors do that, by providing Christianity and "civilization" and driving Native Americans to near-extinction and all. There's nothing more American than "We're great, and we're gonna share it, if we have to kill you all to do it!" We have to help the poor, benighted rest of the world! We're here to help, whether anyone wants that help or not! Why would they not want it, anyway? Once we "civilize" them, they'll understand. Iraq, Central America, Vietnam, Syria, the list goes on, are the result of that attitude, an attitude that no matter how time and time again we see how disastrous for all parties our "help" is, we just can't seem to shake.

It's a domestic attitude, too. Because when I keep saying "American," I really mean "white Americans," and white Americans use the same sort of bullshit "If only they'd be more like us" attitude towards non-white Americans. You see it in Ferguson, you see it on immigration. "Why can't [blacks, Hispanics, etc.] learn from our sterling example? Why can't they just do what we say? We just want to help them!"

Thanks, Puritans. 

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