I've heard it said that America is the only country that struggles so much, and creates so many myths, about what it's supposed to be. No-one writes essays about the Norwegian Dream. How true that is, I can't say. But I think I might have a few points to offer, and there isn't a power in the 'verse that's going to stop me responding to a node that references Fahrenheit 451. Anewplace's writeup makes a number of fine points, but to me displays a number of logical flaws, most notably - to put it as delicately as I can - something of a sense of American exceptionalism, and a certain lack of historical perspective. Nihil novi sub sole, after all, and I think an outside perspective may come in handy. And so. Does America have a dark side? Well, of course it does. The United States has been responsible for a fair amount of misery in the world throughout its history. Whether it's the Trail of Tears or invading Iraq under false pretenses, America's history seems to tend towards a combination of brutal violence, political meddling, expedient lies and high-minded intentions, and at times the hypocrisy is almost palpable. But here's the thing; the British Empire is calling, and it's calling you amateurs. We're the Caravaggio of brutal imperalist repression; grossly underappreciated, but once you recognise the techniques, you can see our influence just about everywhere.
What's that you say? The National Guard shot peacefully protesting students at Kent State? Well, in 1919 the British Indian Army fired into a crowd of thousands of unarmed people who weren't even protesting, and hadn't been warned. The commanding officer's rationale was that "I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing, but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself." He was retired early, but retained a great deal of support from the public. Oh, you forced Native Americans onto reservations? We invented the concentration camp. Really. And what that situation's roughly analogous to is if the US Army had, on finding itself stuck in Afghanistan, responded by corralling every civilian they could find, and letting about a quarter of them die of disease and starvation in the hope of demoralising the insurgents. America kept slavery as an institution into the 1860s? We kept colonial detention camps into the 1950s. Worried about Halliburton exerting too much influence on the US government? The British East India Company took over India with its own private army, and Robert Clive was actively encouraged to align his interests as both a member of company and government. The US fought a war for oil? We didn't just fight one war against China for our right to sell them opium. We fought three. And stole Hong Kong in the process. What's that? The US killed 200,000-300,000 people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? We killed anywhere from three to five times that number with the cunning use of tubers.
So that's the notion dealt with that America is unique in its depravity when it comes to foreign policy. It's certainly not unique in its hypocrisy. Plenty of upstanding Britons of their respective days believed in 'civilising the natives', and even today we have Niall Ferguson to whitewash their histories for them. What about the cultural side, then? Well, bread and circuses is hardly a unique idea. TV obsession is only new because television is new, and the underlying humanity hasn't changed. People knew about sensationalism, the fetishisation of violence and good old-fashioned escapism when Christians vs. Lions was still the star billing at the Colosseum. Lack of depth? People are rarely as engaged as perhaps they should be. That's the human condition. And if there's one thing I've learned in the past few years it's not to sneer quite so brazenly at the mass of people who comprise the body politic. Yes, working in an office is boring, and soul-crushing. But most of those people have lives outside their grey commute, lives which you never see because they make themselves invisible and you don't care to look for them anyway. You can't force people to be individuals, after all, and even if it's a system you can't feel like you'd fit into, it's everyone's own decision.
One thing I notice in myself when I was younger was a tendency to divide up the world into the damned and the saved. It was wrong then, and it's wrong now. People change in ways you might not think possible. But more to the point, who the fuck am I to pass judgement on who faces reality and who doesn't? Since when am I staffing the universe's drink-driving checkpoint? If you want to read things and think about them, that's grand. If you don't, or you have more important stuff you need to be doing just now, fair play to you, I can't force you to act differently. But mostly I despise this idea that thinking and doing are mutually exclusive. Let me be clear. If you act without thinking, you're an idiot. If you think without acting, you're a different kind of idiot, or arguably a post-modernist academic. If you can't think and act at the same time, why do we have civil engineers? And if you can't do mechanical, productive things, and at the same time think deep, philosophical thoughts, where the hell did Richard Feynman spring from?
You are not special. Neither is America. It's all part of the same tangled, often stupid, frequently ugly, just as frequently beautiful, messy, complex fankle of humanity, and at some level, everyone has to compromise with that. Does America have a dark side? Yes. Everything under the sun has a shadow in the right light. But none of it's new.