08 July 2007

This Land Is My Land, This Land Is My Land....

For the 4th of July, the fest of Americaness, Americanism, whatever you wish to call it, here's an entry on a current topic that goes, I think, right to the heart of what the Hell it means to be a American, Amerikan, Amurrican, or whatever you want to call us anyway.

That is the current brouhaha over immigration, and especially illegal immigration, which is just yet another part of a recurrent cycle of debates, discussions, screaming fits and pogroms for Fun and Profit that we've had throughout our history.

There are so many reasons thrown out by the partisans of the various sides of this issue, some economic, others cultural, political, linguistic and historical in nature, and their nexus is, in a question posed by the old Firesign Theatre character George Leroy Tirebiter in the classic sketch, How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All, "Who am us, anyway???".

Well, that all depends on whom you ask at any given moment, but there seems to be a kind of unspoken default definition of what an American is, and that's a kind of a off-brand Englishman, who speaks English, and ONLY English, thank you very much, reveres all the proper national symbols, of course, and generally, whatever the original European ethnicity from which he or she comes, lives, works, worships, eats, sleeps, screws, and otherwise practises everything in his or her life in a proper American-modified Anglo-Saxon, Scots and Scots-Irish, slightly adulterated, but not too much by little bits and bobs from Irish Cat'lick, Eye-Talian, Froggie, Jew-Boy, Polack cultures, etc, manner.

While the brand of English spoken here can include loan words and phrases from a wide variety of languages, like schmuck and putz from Yiddish, gung ho from Mandarin Chinese, kamikaze from Japanese, amok from Tagalog, etc, etc, etc, best not to actually speak a language other than American English at home. Otherwise, you're some kinda Goddamn no good, greasy, baby-poppin', lazy, job-stealin', wage-depressin', Pope-worshippin', Wop-Chink-Gook-Kraut-Polack-Mick-Flip-Yid-Jap-Kanaka-Redskin-Camel Jockey-'Rican-Beaner-Porch Monkey son-of-a-bitch, who's out to collect our welfare, drive down our property values, stink up our neighbourhoods, and, God Forbid!!, marry our daughters, or at least give 'em a good, proper, non-Anglo-Saxon screwing.

The prospect sickens, or at least, thickens.

After all, the proper way that the universe should be ordered is that we Americans, and ONLY we, should be able to go to other people's countries, monkey around with their economies, social systems, etc, fuck, though not marry or bring fiancees, or worse still, fiances, home to meet Mater and Pater, who will promptly drop dead of massive cardiac infarctions on the living room floor, post-fucking-haste, for-ever and ever, Amen.

That, Me Buckos, is an aspect of American culture at its very worst, because it encompasses all of the traditional religious, ethnic and racial prejudices found in American and Western culture in general, combines them with a bit of nasty imperial sentiment found in any number of imperial, post-imperial(present-day Britain and France are good examples of this in action) and aspiring imperial sentiments, where only those who belong to the dominant culture, and especially those who are members of the governing and business classes within that culture, are the only valuable people around, and everyone else is just plain shit, no foolin' no kiddin', no Goddamn nothin'.

Mind you, very few people put all this quite as plainly nor crassly, at least outside of the confines of their own minds, their circle of intimates, or certain social and political segments, like the Far Right, and especially the Racist Right.

Nope, there are usually at least slightly more sophisticated rhetoric and arguments to cover all that with at least a fine layer of pancake make-up to render the Ugly Underneath a lot more palatable than it might otherwise be, if taken straight, no chaser, thank you very Goddamn much.

But, at the core of these arguments and rhetoric lies the same, ancient impulses towards stranger-fear, territoriality, and lust for power and dominion, if not outright domination, over other people.

Fear of cultural change, linguistic change, which is heavily intertwined with the former, economic competition, of being sexually and genetically swamped by the "Other", whatever and whomever the Hell he or she might be, and just plain good old fashioned fear, just like Mother used to make, drives all this, as it does so much of the evil being practised in the world, and it's no less evil just because we practise some form of it.

Fear is an emotion, like any other, and has its place. But, to use it as a decision-making and policy-setting tool, especially on a large scale, outside of contexts where a healthy amount of it is called for, is to commit a supreme social idiocy, one that can, if taken too far, result in lots and lots of dead bodies scattered hither and yon all over the local scenery.

It's not that every immigrant who comes to this country, or indeed any other, is automatically some kind of Simon-Pure saint, pure as the driven snow on a Siberian winter's day, always kind to his or her mommy and daddy, loves small children, animals, and long walks in the park, etc, etc.

There are a fair number of arseholes who beat their wives, lovers, kids, etc, get drunk and fall down in public, have overly-long and loud parties that keep the neighbours awake at night, smell bad, get into fist fights, and otherwise act like complete and utter nincompoops with heads stuffed so full of shit that their eyes, if not brown already, should be brown.

Fine and dandy. But, there are any number of good ol' Yanks, of whatever background who do all those and worse, as well.

Best to keep that in mind afore sayin' that such-and such and so-and-so members of any immigrant group should "go back where they came from", especially as, and you don't have to go very far back in American history to see this, your ancestors, grand-parents, and even parents might have been described in roughly the same terms, if not worse, as the ways in which many immigrants, especially illegal ones, are to-day, and treated accordingly by many members of the majority society.

In a land like this one, but not exclusively this one, by any means, built upon conquest and annexation of various forms, the descendants of the conquerors, much less those of those who came in their stead to work on farms and in factories, have damned small genuine reason for sayin' who can enter and who can't.

One of the biggest differences, so we like to tell ourselves, between the US and the rest of the world is that our national identity isn't built around belonging to one specific ethnic, religious or racial group, but around a kind of shared consensus from members of many different groups about what who and what we are and aren't.

Too often in our history, that's been honoured more rhetorically than in actual practise, and, while there has been considerable improvement in how we view and treat each other since the beginnings of the American Republic in the 1780's, what's disturbing is just how quickly we revert to the default setting of "I'm a Goddamn White Man With A Gun. So, do as I say, work when I say, or get the Hell out, 'cos if ya don't, I'll kill ya."

At the heart of this sentiment is, as I said before, lotsa fear, but also a lust for domination that rooted in a whole set of social relations and their underlying assumptions, like "Hard Work's great, and so's bein' Rich, but gettin' someone else to work hard while I get Rich is even better," the sanctity of private property rights, and that no one with a dark, or at least yellow, brown or red skin, has any rights that any self-respecting White Man is bound to respect.

Well, I don't know about you, but I think that all that is just so much horse-, bull-, and dog-shit, and it's about time, in fact, it's long past time, that we leave that kind of thinking in the dust.

It never was worth much, if anything, to start, and has only resulted over the years, decades and centuries, in an incredibly sheer waste of time, talent, resources, and human lives for what is, in comparison, just so much Goddamn piffel.

This doesn't mean that the Mexican and Central American, as well as various Eastern European and Asian governments, business classes and general societies don't have problems that they'd Goddamned better address in an effective manner that will create the ability for their people to make a decent living at home, if that's what they want.

That also means that the US government, as well as those of the so-called developed world, had best start creating and implementing policies that will actually, at the very least, ensure that their governments and businesses will actually help ensure that ability on the parts of the peoples of the so-called developing world through trade policies that opens up a greater portion of the former bloc's markets to goods and services from the latter.

If the so-called developed world can't do that, it should at least stay the Hell out of the way if the peoples of the so-called developing world decide to throw out their political and business elites, and re-make their societies and economies in manners that they sit fit to make.

No more sendin' the Marines, the Royal Marines, the French Foreign Legion, or any other military or paramilitary formations to make the world safe for American, British, French, German, Italian, or any other country's business interests.

No more political interference with other countries' political systems, just so a relatively small group of elite politicians, investors, etc, continue to have their way at everyone else's expense.

No more propping up corrupt, inept and thieving elites just because they "play ball" with our political and economic elites.

It's conditions like these that help create political, economic and social messes that result in loads of peoples heading from their respective parts of the world to ours, simply to be able to make an honest living and live out their lives as best they can, and we, along with the rest of the developed world, as well as many elites in the developing world, are responsible through the decisions they make, the policies they set, and the actions they take.

It's crap like that, as well as the often shabby ways in which we treat many immigrants, as well as our "native" working class and poor, among others, that puts the lie to, or at least leaves a damned sour taste in the mouth of any thinking person who hears, our rhetoric about being a "Land of Liberty", "fairness" "democracy" and all the rest of the extravagant praise we heap on ourselves on days like to-day, and on practically every other day of the year.

Let's either actually, effectively, work to make this the country that we are so proud of boasting about, or shut the Hell up about it, and admit to ourselves and others that we're no better than the rest of the world.

Bashing immigrants, legal or illegal, whether rhetorically or physically, is a sign of societal failure, not success, and we'd best not forget that.

That's a point to be remembered, not just on the Fourth of July, nor Memorial Day or Veterans' Day, but every day of the year.

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