Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Travel Lessons: Real Resistance is Rebellion

The more I travel outside the U.S., the more I realize how uptight Americans are. In fact, a cursory review of American history--if taught well--will emphasize almost all its accomplishments have come from immigrants and minorities. Most people realize Einstein, a German refugee and minority, along with immigrant Leo Szilard, helped America win WWII. Some even know most major American technology companies were founded by immigrants or minorities. Apple was founded by Steve Jobs, the product of a Syrian refugee and Catholic mother. No Vinod Khosla, no Sun Microsystems, and no hardware-software behemoth Oracle as we know it today. Tesla? Founded by the son of a rich South African, Elon Musk. The list is endless, and I won't bore you by citing all the companies and products Americans would lack without an open approach to immigration. What does any of this have to with being uptight? 

Almost all of America's genuine resistance post-Vietnam comes from immigrants and minorities. As a Muhammad Ali fan, I've realized America lionizes him so much because he's the most genuine American-born product of resistance. Sure, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden must be placed in the pantheon of resisters, but they were part of the Establishment, and a whistleblower carries a different, softer tune than a rebel. (Ellsberg, by the way, is a "sort-of minority"--he was raised by Jews who converted to Christian Science.) 

Other than Ali, Warren Hinckle and Hunter S. Thompson, modern America lacks native-born rebels. The Beatles? British. The Sex Pistols? British. The famous group who sang, "We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control" and railed against the public education system? Irish. Just kidding. British. The best antiwar campaign? John Lennon, a Brit. David Bowie, who challenged gender stereotypes and married a Somalian Muslim? A Brit. (Meanwhile, America's most famous Somali is Islamophobe Ayaan Ali, a role model for nothing except psychological transference, even as Canada's honorable Ahmed Hussen takes the spotlight next door.) Joan Baez? Mexican father. Bob Dylan? The product of generations of Russian Empire Jews. 

Ok, so what if the Brits seem to be better at music than Americans? Do you like art, politics, and comedy? Outside George Carlin, the son of an Irish immigrant, the most astute American commentators have been black aka minorities: Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and Richard Pryor. As for politics, where would we be without Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers? 

In fact, if you remove minorities and immigrants from America, you are left with law, order, and guns, aka cowboys and tough guys posing as rebels. See Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, Steve McQueen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis. America's non-minority heroes are military, police, and cowboys, and once they exile the corrupt sheriff, they take his place--a paean to law and authority if ever there was one. (Why are Americans so surprised a television celebrity became president in 2016 when Reagan and Schwarzenegger, both movie celebrities, had already become governors of one of the world's top ten economies in 1967 and 2003?) 

America's cultural schism starts to make sense when we realize the American military may have lost Vietnam--and every war thereafter except for Grenada in 1983--but it won the military-industrial complex. If you have a country founded by sexually repressed Protestants too uptight for Britain that then decides to spend more money than any other country on the military, why shouldn't the product be sexually-repressed, violent, confused, and bombastic? What else would form the perfect cocktail for a cognitively dissonant schizophrenia that allows Americans to spend most of their tax dollars on the military and war while going to church every week and praying to a pacifist who never led an army or owned a weapon? And why shouldn't most of its innovation--a form of rebelliousness against the established order--and wisdom come from people outside this system? There are no more Frank Capras, John Woodens, Walter Cronkites, Edward Murrows, Bill Wattersons, or General Eisenhowers from America. The soil today is too polluted for them to prosper. 

Perhaps America is going through its second midlife crisis; if so, we should all welcome the experience. Maybe this time, the kids will get it right. 

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