🇺🇸 Fourth of July
America's horrors and failures are many and real. They riddle our past and present and will no doubt find their way into our future. But it's a strange form of American exceptionalism that leads us to believe that they're unique to our fifty faulty stars. They're not. They are but a speck of the world's collective horrors and failures. And that's because they are, at their center, human failings, born of our shared nature and spread across countries and cultures and generations.
But even the unabridged history of the world's horrors and failures is but a speck in a long and vast array of specks.
(I'm thinking now of a picture of the Milky Way tacked to Harry Dean Stanton's wall in the Partly Fiction documentary. On the poster are the words "YOU ARE HERE" and an arrow pointing to a tiny rock in a giant galaxy. A little studio apartment in the solar system. Home to us.)
Both collectively and individually, we are as large as we are nothing. And we contain, as Walt Whitman wrote, multitudes.
We make music and movies and stories and life. We get to love and wonder and learn and suffer and change our minds and behaviors and make things better. We get to think all the conflicting thoughts, feel all the confusing emotions, cry at weddings and laugh at funerals. We get to drink good coffee and take good shits. We get to ponder and solve incredibly complex tasks, like how to launch from our tiny rock into the great unknown, or how to sequence the complete human genome, or Twin Peaks.
We even get to speak truth to power. Do you realize how incredible that is? To just not end up dead or in jail for criticizing the people who are presumably having occult orgies in big palaces at the tops of big hills? Two of the two countries I've lived in in Asia have laws and other measures in place to quash such dissent. And they have an observable effect.
The question I've probably been asked most over here (other than "What's your name?" and "Where are you from?") is "Why did you come here?" Meaning, why would I voluntarily leave the place that so many people around the world—including, usually, the asker—could only ever dream to go. And I have my reasons. But they still have their point.
The luck of being born with the all-access pass to the world that is a US passport is profound. Ask me sometime about the damn near geopolitical strategizing it took to travel with my Thai wife to Mexico and back. Ask me also why we chose to go to Mexico. (Spoiler: My wife was denied a US tourist visa. Because like so many before and after her, she entered the application process already suspected of trying to flee her homeland and disappear into the mere potential of the US.)
So damn the horrors and failures all you want. And I will join you. But let's not mistake them for the whole story of who we are or what, perhaps, makes us unique. Let's not mistake an American flag in a window or on a lawn for a political opinion. Let's see that flag in all its appearances as a symbol of a simultaneously small and boundless terrain, both beautiful and ugly, still in its infancy and struggling to work itself out.
None of us will see its full realization. Not from these meat suits anyway. But we get to do something better. We get to be part of the team of explorers and discoverers that's here now. We get to be pioneers, asking questions and expanding our minds, expressing opinions and participating in the process of shaping what comes next. So let's take a day to celebrate that. Let's take a few. And then we can all get back to the quest.
Happy Birthday, America. I ran from you until I got far enough away. But now I think about you every day.
Surveys show that patriotism is unpopular among progressives. To many of them, love of country is a divisive and backward-looking sentiment that stands in the way of progress. The reality, however, is just the opposite: Patriotism can promote the type of shared national identity and optimistic mindset that facilitates progress. If we want to build a better tomorrow, we need Americans on the left, right and in between to adopt a patriotic attitude.
Why should we care that national pride goes hand in hand with optimistic beliefs? Research indicates that optimism inspires the aspirations and activities that drive progress. When people are optimistic about the future, they are more goal-focused, persistent, innovative, cooperative and engaged in civic life. To build a better future, people need to have a positive vision and believe in their ability to make that vision a reality. Optimism energizes this type of thinking.
I'm in the loony bin
The dead fish, the air-conditioning
I got a ticket for your grande finale
It's 130 in Death Valley
I've been lost and double-crossed
Chased down and stabbed in the bloody frost
I'm a lost child on your evening news
You're a queen in a castle of sugar cubes
I've seen your guillotine
A fat boy adrift in a limousine
Through the land of the lost Cherokee
Down the rivers of red majesty
And I've seen your pastures of green
The crack whores, the wars on the silver screen
Hiroshima and the lynching tree
It’s a wonder my eyes still can see
You give me nightmares
Did you kill your son Joe Hill?
The night nurse, she read me his final will
I thought of running off, but where would I go?
I wouldn't make it beyond Buffalo
I'd miss your cowgirl kiss
The red fangs, the lips, the avarice
It's getting high time for your grande finale
It's 130 in Death Valley
You give me dreams to dream
Popcorn memories and love