As a Native American, I’ve found it hard to have a straightforward way of identifying as an American.
Before I get into a bunch of personal stuff let me clarify what I do not mean.
Clearly, I have no doubt of my legal nationality. That might sound too basic to bare mentioning but we’re all familiar with how idea exchange on the internet works and sometimes basic stuff needs to be clarified.
I am also not claiming to speak for anyone’s experience but my own. My use of the personal pronoun I in that first sentence looks a little clunky to my eyes but I did it anyway. I’ve held onto a few basic assumptions about writing and grammar from college English classes and one of those is that, since your writing is authored by you, there is no need to attribute your own conclusions and chains of reasoning to yourself. Nonetheless, I’m leaving that sentence as “I’ve found it hard” instead of “it is hard” in order to emphasize that I’m only speaking for myself.
(I’ve never broken anything like that down before now, and I’ve definitely been way less careful when talking about books and video games, but I suspect this is a topic where the reasoning behind word choice might be looked at closely)
A third thing that I am not claiming actually segues into the rest of what I wanted to write about: I am not anti-American, although throughout my life I’ve found it hard to be well disposed to America emotionally and morally.
So, getting back to me-
Early in life, like many Native Americans, I learned that the nation my family has historically belonged to had it’s autonomy wiped away for no better reason than that white people wanted their land. Said white people were also guided by a moral force that made land piracy innocent so long as it happened to non-Christians.
If I wanted, I could take this into a bigger argument about the annexation of Native America in general, but as this is a blog entry about my personal feelings I’ll confine my scope to my own heritage and my own thoughts. I’m a Tsimshian, and Tsimshians are indigenous to modern day British Columbia. When rampant disease broke out upon initial contact with white people, a Scottish missionary named William Duncan led a handful of Tsimshians farther north where they would settle Annette Island which is now the reservation called New Metlakatla.
It is documented that William Duncan wanted to abolish the rank of chief, largely because Tsimshian chiefs were believed to be the descendants of divine supernatural beings. The chiefs were considered representatives of the spiritual world which made them religious authorities. In his letters, Duncan wrote that he intended to replace the authority of the chief with the Anglican Church.
Now, William Duncan is justly celebrated in the Southeast Alaskan Tsimshian community as someone with genuine good intentions and a worthy legacy. He wanted New Metlakatla to be an economically and socially self-sufficient community and today he is remembered as one of its essential founders.
But it all came at the price of forfeiting our historical spirituality and replacing it with Christianity. And the movement north from British Columbia to Southeast Alaska happened in reaction to rampant disease and economic displacement, which makes the moral framing of Duncan as a great founder really questionable. If someone offers to save you from death and disaster if you do whatever they say, is that person really a hero?
This is a minority opinion among the Natives I grew up around and I’m well aware of it. Once, as a teenager, I attended an anti-suicide event with a handful of other kids from my hometown with family ties to Metlakatla, along with a few community leaders. One of those adults accompanying us mentioned once that conversion to Christianity was the one undeniably good thing to happen from white contact. Many rural Native communities in Alaska are strongly Christian as are many rural communities across America. One night, during a summer-camp trip organized by the local Native corporation that I was a part of, a few adults and a few kids decided to assemble a traditional sweat lodge. Many of those participating helped build this and participated in a sweat, while many others refused on the grounds that it was “witchcraft”.
While many in the Native community I grew up in are heavily invested in our traditions, language and culture, Christianity is given priority whenever it clashes with those traditions. The moral sanction that Christianity gave to the American conquest of Native Americans was the main reason why American patriotism was emotionally and morally repugnant for most of my life, to say nothing of the emotional and moral repugnance of Christianity itself.
While, as a thirty year old adult, I am not anti-American, this is not because I think any of these things turned out to be good in the end. Nothing can ever exonerate or justify the erasure of Native American culture and spirituality and nothing can diminish the role the Christian Church played in it.
In spite of that, my distance from being anti-American even extends to being pro-American. This is because, in many substantial ways, America has set important moral and historical standards. The moral elevation of freedom of expression, religious and intellectual pursuit and democracy are all essential steps forward for both the West and the rest of the world. I absolutely believe that the existence of a global standard-bearer for democracy and the steps the Enlightenment helped us take away from monarchical autocracy and religious tyranny is necessary on the world stage.
Make no mistake, like any other huge developed nation, I think America harbors an inevitable degree of confusion and animosity. While there is always a rational-to-irrational spectrum within public opinion, I feel like many sides of many common conversations agree on the right things.
For example, the importance of individual autonomy. In spite of what many Libertarians claim, they are not a besieged minority. Most people in America think the individual is a basic cornerstone of our values and any politician who wants to get elected will need to say so. You could be a corporate Democrat with everything that makes them repugnant, the kind of person that Republicans think of whenever anyone brings up big government or political correctness run-amok and Progressives think of as a Hilary Clinton-style bad guy who gets cuddly with Super PACs and is totally okay going to war with whistle-blowers like Edward Snowdin and Chelsea Manning…and you would still have to at least pay lip-service to the individual. Sorry for the ugly run on sentence, lol
To illustrate this a bit more: my values as a libertarian made me a feminist. For me, feminism has been a logical expansion of the values had back when I identified more strongly as a libertarian. As far as defending ones right to control their own bodies and govern their lives as freely as possible while not disenfranchising anyone else, feminism has done way more heavy lifting.
I’m not gonna waste my time defending second-wave feminist insanity any more than a self-proclaimed Libertarian will defend Timothy McVeigh. I don’t think any transsexual (such as myself) or anyone who is a sex worker or thinks that sex workers are human could ever get behind second-wave feminism. Those who espoused second-wave feminism were also disturbingly willing to ignore the autonomy of large groups of women and queers, this would happen along the lines of “you’re too saturated with internalized misogyny to be reasoned with”, with transsexual women being especially likely to end up on the receiving end.
With the freak-bin safely out of the way, I feel like the link between feminism and libertarianism is pretty hard to avoid, at least in terms of moral reasoning. No one is wed so much to the sanctity of the individual and self-determination as feminists and libertarians.
(if I seem inconsistent about capitalizing things like proper nouns, it’s because I know there is a difference between those who identify as Libertarian with a capital ‘L’, as a proper political party, like Republican or Democrat, and those who use words like ‘libertarianism’ and ‘feminism’ as generalized categories like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’)
What I’m saying is that, a lot of the time, we agree on many of the essential and necessary things even if we disagree on a million other things. Lately, I’ve become less convinced of this.
While I feel like many people are aware that the press has been profit-driven and manipulative in the past, it has never really bothered me as much as it does now. While presidential elections in America have often been a personality competition, I don’t feel like I’ve observed anything like the 2016 election in my lifetime.
Before 2016 I feel like there was this threshold for cynicism, within which was permissible irreverence and a somewhat hopeful spectrum of possibilities for an elected official. Before 2016, if your choice for president made it to office, you might be resigned to the fact that they will play ball with the big money on the other side but still confident that some of things you voted them in for might reasonably happen. Now, I’m not altogether sure if that threshold still exists.
At least a little bit of my doubt began when Donald Trump began his relationship with Alex Jones. A presidential candidate had chosen to validate someone who thinks all mass shootings were false-flag operations carried out by NWO puppet masters to trick America into surrendering its guns. Trump validated a group of people who don’t think mass shootings even exist. So far from introducing a specific side in the debate on gun violence, the American mainstream was now embracing people who are willing to dispute whether one even exists. Perhaps involving disagreement over the nature of reality itself was meant to provide room for a positive view of how an unobtainably expensive border wall will impact our economy.
My doubt grew a little more when anti-SJW internet trolls unanimously fell in line behind Trump. These are people who felt like a hypothetical anecdote from Anita Sarkeesian was the same as an attack on all male gamers and the panic surrounding non-binary individuals. I think, inevitably, the hysteria over genderqueer people within alienated nerd subcultures has some link with the stigma of furries and otherkin. A ton of Anonymous and 4chan groupies had already built something of a subculture over ripping on otherkin and furries and the second someone got confused over the concept of “non-binary” it became an intuitive lightening rod for these people.
I mentioned in my very first entry in this blog that I have, for a few years, anyway, followed Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast and considered him the last remaining good guy among pop-atheists (I might include Ayaan Hirsi Ali in that as well but she’s not very invested in theism versus atheism). And even Sam Harris mentioned “nude pronouns” as one of the things that alienated people from the left and contributed to the election of Trump, as if it was a clearly insane priority that the left should have known better than to get involved with.
The reason I’m mentioning trolls is that Trump validated a whole movement of people with a ton of anger and no inclination to map that anger onto anything that exists in the real world. Within internet troll culture, ripping on feminism in gaming and gender non-conforming people didn’t beg any further explanation because, within its own culture, it was understood to be supported entirely by malicious humor. After internet trolls were embraced by the alt-right, though, they were empowered by the realization that they were taken seriously without an explanation. Feminism and queers were accepted as illegitimate and threatening on their face and that position could not get called out in public without drawing censure and ridicule.
The generalized dismissal of feminism and queer equality also had a smooth consistency with many men in Trump’s fan base who showed up to rallies wearing t-shirts saying ‘grab America by the p****y’. The whole ‘p***y grabbing’ buzz phrase evolved from a sexual abuse allegation. Not infidelity, not being a closeted gay or bisexual, not for being a closeted kinkster or any number of morally innocuous (in my opinion) things that politicians have been discredited for in the past. The allegations were about sexual assault. Soo…within mainstream right wing culture, the people who claim to support individual autonomy no matter what, up to the point that they think you should be able to shoot trespassers on your property…these people, so many of whom being self-proclaimed Libertarians, have ceased to consider sexual assault discrediting.
Remember when I said that we are generally aware that the press has a history of being self-interested and manipulative? Strictly speaking, I think shifting popular conversations away from policy and facts toward generalized attitudes is nothing new.
But maybe, now that I’m thirty, it’s really sinking in for the first time. Or maybe this time it really is different. Presidential addresses have definitely been very suspect in the past for similar reasons. How many former presidents, though, have called the American press the “enemy of the people” and mentioned political fads in popular sports (at least) twice? The Independent recently published an article about spent casings from artillery used by ISIS has been tracked to nations and groups that America supplies with weapons. And yes, the casings and the weapons the ammunition goes to are of American make. The rebel groups and nations that we are supporting in the Middle East are openly playing ball with ISIS and Trump is making stupid little pot shots at sport stars who support BLM.
All that can be simplified as: the American president is now openly attacking the press while at the same time using it to establish links between pop-culture and the attitudes of his base. What sort of political leaders attack the press outlets that aren’t being bent to their will? While also hijacking attention away from things our government is doing that has real consequences? Where in history or contemporary geography have we seen things like governments that go to war with the press while using it for misdirection and propaganda?
Again, manipulating the masses through buzz-words and oversimplifications is nothing new. But I can’t help but think that America has never had a president that is as openly cynical about it. And sure enough, whenever some stupid new outrage catches the ire of CNN some talking head is going say that this isn’t going to happen a second time, that this isn’t the new normal. They’ve did it more than once, every time CNN or some other big name news outlet compiles a list of lies spoken by Trump they’ll also add some comment about how this is just a contemporary anomaly and that Trump definitely is not setting a new standard. I find it very hard to believe these optimistic claims…but if they’re as wrong as I think they are, then what does that suggest about our future? Have we actually passed the threshold from political cynicism to political nihilism? Have our disagreements over the nature of reality passed beyond the attacks the religious right makes on science into something even more ubiquitous and destructive?
AAaaaaaaaaand now we’re full circle regarding my own personal feelings regarding patriotism and my beliefs about America’s role in the world and what being an American is even like. I mean, I’m not gonna say right now that America has abandoned its moral and cultural vitality, but I’m definitely closer than I’ve been to thinking that than I’ve been in a very long time.