Reading the NYT Week in Review from Sunday there was a quote from a young Shiite in Sadr City. “This just has to burn itself out.” In those areas where the fire has gone through and ethnically cleansed the locality of offending religious heretics, it’s gone back to men sitting in teahouses sipping tea amongst streets dotted with fruit stands. Nearby can be found the desolate neighborhoods where the waves of hatred have washed away the vast majority of human targets. In Iraq, according to our Vice President, there has “been a lot of success.” Not only is our VP a glass half-full kind of guy, he’s drinking something that would sell well at an all night rave. He’s raving, and he’s holds the rest of us in complete contempt.
When I think just how separated our leaders are from our people, our people are from other peoples, our personal knowledge is from our history, I can’t help but think it all seems pretty hopeless. Delusion is a necessary ingredient for sanity. Mythical thinking is the bedrock of our nation. Consumerism is the balm for tragedy. And tragedy is necessary for Americans to justify their exalted position as God’s chosen people. For those American who have suffered a real national tragedy, say maybe a collapsed levee or suicidal Boeing, your gift to us does not go unnoticed. You personally, sure, fuck if we care that much about you regardless of our tears, but the talisman your suffering and loss gives the rest of us as we blunder on down the cow path of banality is invaluable. We couldn’t stay blind without it.
I find that my demeanor oscillates between being a Pollyanna and an imp of the apocalypse. Some have warned me that I’m just not that important of an entity to worry about the larger states of our national mental health. Better I should take a trip to Mexico, or enjoy the beauty of my children that to contemplate such dark fjords of our imperiled coastline. I fear my Job-like wife has begun some of the processes of disconnecting from my desultory navel gazing. Either that or neo-menopause hormone fluctuations are spacing her out. Win-win I guess.
In a week I begin teaching my 16 week version of American History. I’ve been reading a book by David Hackett Fisher about the iconography and changing definitions of liberty and freedom in American history. His is a Whiggish history, one that basically and positively traces the changing and broadening definitions of what these terms have come to mean to Americans. In the last 26 years, which both encompass my political reckoning and my marriage; I would say that I have been subjected to a powerful example of the American way of liberty. What my personal life has given my political life has diminished. The irrelevance of my citizenship and my intellectual cosmology has not negated the meaning I attach to my existence, but it sure hasn’t been a boon to my worldly engagement. I can tell funny stories though. And I can make my friends wince. My students are privy to a life of raw hilarity and self-immolation. My classes are full. All I have to do is keep the fire in my belly, and keep it out of my head.