Saturday, April 27, 2013

national body odor

When was the last time my country came together in a sense of satisfaction and unity after, perhaps, having put a man on the moon or discovered some medicine that would benefit the world? When was the last time anyone glowed quietly that their country had done something decent and good and, yes, perhaps pretty exciting ... something positively creative? The acceptance and protection of gay marriage may one day be seen as an obvious and decent and honorable accomplishment, but that day is not today.

Nowadays, increasingly, Americans bond as one (roughly speaking) when someone like Osama bin Laden is put to death or the grisly business of war dresses up in "success."

The slow slide into a national crassness is dispiriting.

It is wispy and amorphous on the one hand and as plain as a fart under the covers on the other.

To create and give has a salutary warmth. To rely on the bullying and bloody as a national adhesive ... well, the angels of national satisfaction may still be angels, but within the heart there is the rightful sense that these are lesser angels ... and somehow there is no escaping their toothy maw.

A week or so ago, Americans bonded when two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring scores. This was horrific and the sense of horror was intensified by the remembrance of the 2001 demolition of the World Trade Towers in New York. The horror translated into a huge manhunt, one that effectively locked down Boston as men dressed in black and carrying rifles and attended by military vehicles swooped and swept through the streets. We'll get these bastards! And sure enough, as it seems, we did ... and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief and satisfaction and, perhaps, national pride. There was an enemy ... he had been identified... he had been defeated.

The ascendancy of the word "terrorism" in our language -- the use of it as a get-out-of-jail-free generalization -- has set my hair on fire for a long time. Will no one look to the roots of what is so plainly horrific? And what is the result of not-looking? Isn't it just the nurturing of a different kind of terror, the kind of terror that diminishes individual rights, cripples the creative decency that might rightfully warm the national heart, and leaves the society with what feels like an advancing case of spiritual body odor?

Nor are Americans alone: In Britain, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that it is, for the first time,  operating potentially-armed drones over Afghanistan. It's all "surveillance" at the moment, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know how that story will play out.

Well, Bill Moyers' interview with Guardian columnist and author Glenn Greenwald makes the points better than I can. I think I am too busy being terrorized, too busy being caught between tears and rage, too busy playing the placard-waving and unduly-righteous activist.

I hate this encroaching body odor. Greenwald and Moyers offer some attentive soap in attempting to identify the problem.

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