I had this very bizzare, very “Santa Barbara” experience at the farmers market today.
I was picking up the essentials (lettuce), as I am wont to do every Saturday morning. Usually there is a vendor selling Meyer lemons (great for salad dressing), so I found one quickly and went to pick out four of them (50 cents each) and fumbled with three of them, attempting to reach a fourth. This woman, who came after me, swooped in and started grabbing the ones I was going for. I made a comment that I was grabbing at least one more and she looked at me unapologetically, holding her $5 cup of coffee from the Handlebar, and just said, “sorry.” (What she meant to say was, “Fuck you and your lemons!”)
A phrase that I own and coin often is something akin to, “I’m a socialist. But it would never work in America.” There are variations of the same phrase that I often rehearse but the essence is there. I say this to my chagrin because I have been influenced in my life by events that make me pine for fairness. (Getting beat up at school, being viciously made fun of, and raised up under unremarkable circumstances. Also, my own parents have never even read my first book.) It has made me characteristically cutthroat and exploitative and I often wonder if there is an alternate timeline where things were better. At its core I’ve always felt enamored with a political and social mindset where people shared their resources to make the world a better place.
Facebook, among other outlets, sings the same familiar tune. (And when played backwards, you hear the Satanic inverse.) But I don’t think people practice what they preach. I’m a god damned positivist and I don’t practice what I preach. The socialist voice in America isn’t the same pitch and timbre of the places where this actually works, and I think for the most obvious reasons.
American nationalism peaked at the conclusion of the War of 1812. Subsequent spikes are the work of foreign wars and social upheaval, intermittent incidents in a long national history of eulogized selfishness. Even a Christian cult emerged, Mormonism, which nationalized religion and mythologized America’s origins, placing the United States at the origin of the universe. (The opposite was the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian cult emerging at the height of political corruption in the United States, which eschewed all appearances of nationalism.) At both of these peaks and valleys, American expression remained steady in its love of self-interested wealth. Our constitution is rooted in the Pursuit of Happiness, appended by the inferred, “And if you infringe upon mine, why I oughta’…”
The contrast that we see in Europe, the social milieu that makes socialism so viable, is their roots in tribalism that goes back thousands of years. There has always been infighting between states, but uncanny internal bonds. And while there has always been a sectarian conflict between ethnic groups within states, once these states matured past the frustrations of religious and class warfare, there has been a reasonably steady peace. War has also hardened these bonds on kinship. For instance, Russia has repeatedly attempted to invade Finland over the past thousand years, with the Fins rebuffing many, if not all of the assaults. The shadows of Empire have also strengthened national resolve, in the case of Norway being a property of Denmark for nearly 500 years. (They celebrate their “independence” every Seventeenth of May.)
In the United States where we are so blessed with an abundance of natural resources, acquired over the centuries through many shrewd dealings, our sordid gains have likely made us complacent. Combined with the mentality of Frontierism, prosperity through expansion and entrepreneurship, we have inherited a mindset from our forebears that is untenable in our exhausted real estate. We expect wealth and receive it from the least of our peers: migrant workers, wage slaves, immigrants, etc. Even myself, a proponent of ensuring we invest in our citizens through community programs and education, I have everything to gain from an economy that favors my willingness to exploit the labors of others.
All this came to a head, flashed before my mind, as I sarcastically, non-confrontationally, replied, “Wow, this IS Trump’s America.” It is very likely that I will not see this woman again, but given the demographics of Santa Barbara, she is statistically likely to be a Democrat, a social progressive, anti-corporation, pro-choice, drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, and pro-immigrant. Yet, at our core, we are a despicable people trained to look out for “number one,” and like a handful of Meyer lemons, we are more concerned about our welfare than that of others. Imagine the paradigm shift that I experienced when I saw this complete reversal in Norway when I was able to spend time there. I constantly compare my brief time there with my lifetime here. And while I’m sure that Norway has its own kind of culture shock due to its inherent bureaucracy and insistence on social conformance and enculturation of immigrants, the underlying spirit of their social contract is present and palpable.
Enough with myself bitching about lemons…
My second book is coming along with the first draft complete and being out for feedback among my inner circle for notes. I am hoping for another set of great comments from my brothers of other mothers Desmond and Bern. Soon I can start draft two and really dig deep into it.
My daughter Eowyn continues her external gestation. She’s doing good, and my wife also.