Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The American Idea

First of all, sorry for the long absence. My new job is pretty intense, and it gives me little brain power left for blogging. So until I get a bit more used to this pace, I will ape from other sources.

The Atlantic devoted their November issue to an examination of the American Idea. I found David Foster Wallace's response particularly thought-provoking:

Are some things still woth dying for? Is the American idea one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, "sacrifices on the altar of freedom?" In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life - sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price? Is monstrousness why no serious public figure now will speak of the delusory trade-off of liberty for safety that Ben Franklin warned about more than 200 years ago? What exactly has changed between Franklin's time and ours? Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice - either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?

In the absence of such a conversation, can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, PATRIOT Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer - are they worth it? Where and when was the public debate on whether they're worth it? Was there no such debate because we're not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don't even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?


Word. Check out the issue, there's a lot of great stuff in it. As my life is being swallowed whole by various methods of transportation, I may draw more from it.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Brad said...

Don't want to be too cynical, but hey it's what I do. So...

Where was this kinda talk back when it might have mattered? I love these pseudo-intellectuals who bemoan the loss of "America" or whatever the fuck, and in most cases they are the same ones who've been controlling this lost "debate" from the beginning. The "debate" never happened in a major forum, but the "debate" has been there all along, just under the radar of these supposed "very serious people." They were the ones who stifled the debate by not participating in it with their all-powerful and ill-deserved megaphones and now it's apparently politically convenient for them to bring up such "difficult ideas." Fuck that.

And in short, fuck David Foster Wallace. He supposedly covered the aftermath of 9/11, and he didn't see this shit coming? It's all such a surprise to that "genius." America brought this on itself with his support.

Oh, and can we stop with this idiotic, pandering fetishization of America? For fuck's sake. There is no American idea and there never has been. Sure, if you're stuck in the mentality of your first-grade history lessons, you may still believe that garbage, but any serious examination renders that foolishness moot.

"The Atlantic: Ruining America one pretentious fuck at a time."

Uh, sorry. Bye.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Cliff said...

I love you, Brad!

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Brad said...

I was in a sarcastic quotation mark groove last night. F'realz.

11:37 AM  

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