The Nation State Fetish, continued even more

More on some thoughts here and here. Darwin Catholic makes kind mention here. I must add my apologies for the disjointed nature of these posts – even more than my usual posts, I mean.

In that synchronicity that so often occurs on the web, the Statistician to the Stars links to a nested set of articles, the central them of which is: Are Our Relationships Threatening The State? The original article in the series is from Slate, wherein the authors create an interesting myth from which they can argue that an unmarried working class woman is better off in pretty much every way raising a child by herself, rather than risking a (presumed to be ephemeral) marriage to some deadbeat guy who she’d then be required to make allowances for in her life, which would harsh her mellow and provide NOTHING. Never mind the effect of no dad on the child’s life – that the kid might actually want and even benefit from the involvement of the dad doesn’t even rise to the level of being important enough to mention merely to be dismissed.

The relationship of this mythical woman Lily to the state and everyone in it is essentially one-directional, at least in any constructive social sense.* She is assumed to be able to embrace single motherhood as a preferable option only because other are presumed to supply the needed stability and support. Amusingly, this particular myth includes the assumption that

Lily’s parents are “devout Christians who supported both her decision to have the child and her decision not to marry Carl, [and are] helping with child care.”’ 

All meaningful relationships are two way. Even God,  Who needs nothing, desires our ‘yes’ to His invitation to know Him. But what, exactly, are the rest of us who know and live with Lily supposed to get out her choice isn’t obvious.** Here, it seems, the radical individualism of the Right meets the radical individualism of the Left – we’re not supposed to ask what it is that Lily’s life *means* – as long as she holds down that job she (and not Carl, the child’s deadbeat father) has somehow been given to work. All criticisms are unwelcome and wrong. The state and the societies within it (especially Lily’s parents’ Christian society) in this instance are the magical source of Lily’s ‘freedom’, and make no reciprocal claims on Lily that Ayn Rand wouldn’t approve of.

As part of the ongoing 250+ year effort to reinvent society upon some other basis that that which it has always and everywhere been built, the myth-makers who came up with Lily cannot acknowledge that all people rely on their relationships to others for whatever meaning they have in their lives. In a nation of nomads, where the family are, at best, the people we call sometimes and maybe see over the holidays, the claim that both civil and political society are built on families seems absurd on the face of it.

I have been quite struck by the family histories of the last 2 Democratic presidents, especially by the near-universal gentlemen’s agreement to not call them what they are: horror stories. Clinton lost his dad to a car accident as an infant, was raised for a few years by grandparents while his mom was out of state getting a nursing degree, then was raised by an alcoholic and abusive step-dad, whose surname he nonetheless took as a 16 year old. The profound sadness here: Clinton had to threaten his stepdad with violence to protect himself and his brother, yet he still needs a dad badly enough to take that stepdad’s surname when he was 16. (See the Crescat’s recent post for some insight into this dynamic.)

And Clinton’s story is *better* than Obama’s, whose tragic lack of a consistent father is the emotional elephant in the room. Told more honestly, Obama’s early life looks like this: his mother married and bore him as a social statement. He then became, as often as not, baggage, dragged around and dumped as needed to keep him from interfering in mom’s career. Per the Oracle Wikipedia, “He described his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage.” I’m guessing that was the least of his problems, but it is the one latched on to by the myth-makers: while it is OK to tell Clinton’s story as one of a triumph over adversity, the messy core of Obama’s story is so ubiquitous, and so much under the iron rule that we do not blame children’s unhappiness on their parent’s irresponsibility and narcissism, that it cannot be mentioned as the tragedy it was.***

These two men were not just elected president, but have come to embody our view of ourselves, the very mirrors of our self-perceptions (and therefore become just a irrationally hated by those who hate what they see in the mirror). So, to answer the question of the linked essays: Do our relationships threaten the state? Not if they are like Lily’s – or our current President’s.

Returning to the nation state versus the village: above we see the mirror image of the questions mused upon in these recent blog posts, which might be stated: does the nation state threaten our relationships? The simple answer is of course it does. In the most direct way, as Marcel said in a comment to the first essay,

Whenever anyone asks, “Do you know what institution has caused more bloodshed than anything else in history?” I want to answer “Yes. The modern nation state.”

Going back to the well that is Fichte, a huge and pivotal champion of the (German, of course) nation-state: he saw family life as antithetical to the goals of the state. All families did was instill all the wrong sorts of ideas and loyalties in their children, and so the state – for their own good, of course – should simply round them up once they were weaned and potty-trained, and hand them over to state-approved and trained teachers for the next decade and a half of their lives. Contact with their families should be eliminated, as family life provides just the sort of contamination that makes kids grow up into poor soldiers, poor bureaucrats and inept factory workers. They get ideas, think for themselves, question their betters, start losing battles to the French and committing other hardly imaginable horrors.

No, really.  And he is the recognized spiritual founder of the current institutional view of the state’s role in family life, as made incarnate in the schools.

Marx, moving the ball forward on the right side of history, then points out that pretty much ALL natural human relationships are signs of false consciousness, tools of capitalist oppression, and vestigial organs in need of ruthless amputation for the sake of the coming workers’ paradise.

He must have been a fun date.

My mother’s grandparents left Moravia for America sometime around 1870. They left with a number of families from their village, including men who came first in order to get established and make enough money to bring the rest of their family members. From around 1870 to 1900, hundreds of individual Moravians and Bohemians arrived in East Texas (man, the real estate team must have whipped up some killer marketing brochures!) and – recreated, to a large extent, the villages they had left behind. I once whiled away an afternoon goggling Adolf Polansky and various Popecs, only to find that, indeed, Adolf Polasky lived near Temple at the end of the 19th century – several Adolf Polanskys, in fact. Whole families of Polaskys, each with an Adolf and a James, settled nearby, one of whom, old enough to be my Adolf Polansky’s dad, donated several acres upon which the immigrants build a succession of Catholic churches.

All across East Texas, Czech villages were built by immigrants, more often than not named for the villages they had left behind. The Protestant immigrants build little Protestant villages; the Catholics built little Catholic villages. As the US postal service came through and needed named places to which they could deliver the mail, the village names got mangled and anglicized and put on maps. But the immigrants came as families and created villages, and hung together.

My mother, Mary Magdalene Margaret Polansky, was born in 1919 to Adolf Polasky and Mary Magdalene Margaret Popec (whose mother and grandmother, at least, had also been christened Mary Magdalene Margaret) somewhere near Temple, Texas.  Until she was 6, she spoke Czech. Then, her parents sent her to the local public school, where only English was spoken. Adolf forbade his children speaking Czech once they got to school – they were Americans now.

And thus, as true Americans, they moved away. The brief flowering of Czech villages in East Texas lasted only about 60 years, from 1870 to 1930. With the Great Depression, and the coming of age of a generation of Czech kids who spoke perfect English, these children of the villages could and did leave. The villages and the surrounding farms began to be depopulated, then abandoned. The map makers removed them from the maps, except for those few that became American towns with new American names. The seven Polansky children ended up in Oregon, California, Oklahoma and Texas. Their kids were scattered to the wind – 2 of my 8 siblings still live in Southern California, but have nothing but disparaging remarks for our hometown 50 miles away.

Yet, I think I maybe saw a hint of that East Texas Czech village once in a while, as a kid. Every once in while, Mom would get together with her sisters Verna (Veronica) and Bea (Beatrice) – and laugh and laugh, like teenagers, as they reminded each other of the old stories they shared.

* Originally said “parasitic” until I recalled that that’s the term Rand and the rather more goofball Libertarians use. Another perfectly good word tainted by association, an association that makes it much too dark for use here.

** Unless one is gimlet eyed enough to see only another damaged, destructive child. But that would be mean, and, besides, a key aspect of modern serial polygamy is to deny that it hurts kids – therefore, whatever little horrors they grow up into must be JUST FINE, or, if that fantasy proves too much work to maintain when the little angel gets arrested or the burns down the house or gets kicked out of his 5th school, then we blame video games, other kids being mean, ADHD, gluten – ANYTHING but the emotional and financial chaos the kid grew up in.

*** Two other well-known men with white mothers and black fathers, from the world of sports: Blake Griffin and Shane Battier. About each of them, I’ve read stories about how they didn’t fit in on the basketball court – too white for the black kids, too black for the white kids. At least in Battier’s case, this rejection seems to have fueled his desire to succeed. But both came from intact, solidly middle class families with loving, present dads – meaning, I suppose, that their racial/acceptance issues might well be the most stressful aspect of growing up. But I can’t imagine that compares with the stress of not having a consistent, loving dad.

Today’s Spam Award…

…goes to whoever decided I’d be a good candidate for a ‘upgrade your office coffee’ spam offer.

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!
That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

We got bottomless Peet’s brewed in a decent coffee maker, with real half-and-half from a carton. In real ceramic cups.

So, unless you want to rent us a barista to work a La Marzocco on site, we’re probably good.

If we really feel the need for Art Coffee, it is available at two Peet’s locations within a mile of the office.

Have I mentioned we’re a little spoiled at work? I do appreciate it, though, having drunk my share of corporate swill brewed by lightly-trained chimps from canned coffee almost indistinguishable from lightly toasted wood chips, in a percolator encrusted with Carlsbad Cavern grade mineral deposits and powdered petroleum byproduct ‘whitener’ as the only option – well, we’ve all been there, right?

I’m just not there any more.

La Marzocco
You wanna drop 5 figures on a coffee maker? Welcome to Team Caffeine!

The Nation State Fetish, continued

(More musings, continued from here.)

It seems so automatic, thinking of oneself as the citizen of a great nation. While many of us are proud of our home towns, more of us, it seems, are willing to leave it with few regrets. It’s often the price for climbing the corporate ladder or for even having a job at all. Isn’t that why our ancestors came here in the first place? Because the grass (and the mega-fauna hunting) was greener on the other side (of the Bering Straight)?  With the occasional exception of people who think of themselves as New Yorkers or Chicagoans to their core (there are still people proud that they’ve spent their entire lives in the 49 square miles within the city limits of San Francisco), we are a nation of nomads whose place of birth is as arbitrary and meaningless as the spot on the steppes where the tribe pitched the yurt for the night.

A randomly-chosen Moravian village church
A randomly-chosen Moravian village church

We all know this. Old hat. I’ve been thinking about the attitudes such rootlessness generates, and how the rootless view of the world  results in, first, identifying with a nation-state rather than with a village, a people, or a religion (insofar as those are different) and an identifiable set of attitudes that inform what it is that is most important to us and what most offends us.

The cause versus effect issue is fascinating: did the collapse of rural/village culture bring about the rise of the nation-state, or did the nation-state crush rural/village life? I don’t know enough European history to say, but in America, both factors seem to be at play. From birth, America has had tensions between the city slickers and the country bumpkins, starting with the New England bankers and traders and the Virginian farmers. Those issues continue to this day, although it’s hard not to see the actions of the pro-rural elements as the twitchings of a fresh corpse. It seems more than a truism that someone who tries to live the (no doubt, idealized) life of an independent small farmer ends up hating the machinations of a government that seems bent on destroying him. See for example the stories of the corn farmers and Polyface Farms in the Omnivores Dilemma.*

As this country – this nation state – passed from majority rural to majority urban around 1900, the willingness of people to welcome, accept or tolerate the intrusions of the national government into their local and personal affairs accelerated. When the Great Depression hit, that welcome switched to demands. We now demanded that the nation-state, as incarnate in our leaders, fix everything. The government completed the transmogrification from rulers who fell under the watchful eyes of patriots, the people acting as fathers to their nation, to leaders who were those fathers watching over us, their children; from those charged with keeping order within which a person (and a family, a farm and a town) could pursue happiness, to those who would lead us to that happiness. Since country bumpkins could hardly be expected to be able to see the various Promised Lands and Worker’s Paradises our new leaders wanted to lead us to, and, in fact, more often than not had no interest in going there when they caught a glimpse, we slipped into a new social order, characterized by dishonesty and subterfuge: we don’t even expect our leaders to tell the truth anymore, aren’t even a little outraged when they are caught in lies – just so long as they keep moving the ball forward on the right side of history without turning the clock back – and so on and so forth.

A case can be made, perhaps, that, taken all together, the nation-state is a good development, and that the trade-offs are worth it. Usually, the argument runs along the line of the individual in the modern world needing governmental protection from the unencumbered greed of the powerful, just to level the field. In this context, the farmers and other romantics (isn’t it odd that farmers, among the more hard-headed realists in the world, get lumped with the out-of-touch dreamers?) don’t feel the weight of the evil corporations as much as the exposed factory worker does, thus their disinterest in getting the state involved in all economic activities. One must simply ignore, I suppose, that Goldman Sachs and a few other large corporations control key parts of the government (as a horseman controls the bit), in order to imagine, somehow, our trustworthy fox is keeping those bad foxes away from us hens. I won’t be making that argument today.

Of course, this switch didn’t happen all at once, and even today there are pockets of resistance. We’ve reached the mop-up stage of this operation, where all that’s left is for our leaders to identify and neutralize whatever opposition still exists to our great and glorious future.

Got off track, there, a bit. A result of all this is that a people with little connection to place & tribe to begin with has now lost it completely. Such a people is definitionally insane. I am insane. My mind is as lost as my place of birth, 500 miles away. My thoughts, actions, and beliefs, my loves and my hates, are not measured against a family or town or group of life-long friends and the culture and beliefs we all would hold in common. Nope, instead I stand like Agent Smith at the end of the Matrix trilogy, screaming, amid all the ugly that is the world he created: This is my world! My world! And I would hunt down any who do not reflect me, and make them like me, or destroy them, until my battle with Neo is witnessed only by a crowd of clones.**

Is that not the dream? A dream not of brotherhood, but of identity?

* The book as a whole has its flaws – here, I’m just referring to the attitudes expressed by the three real farmers profiled.

** Even a bad movie can have its moments.