It’s the Land, StupidBy D. W. Sabin for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC
Washington, Ct. It is no accident that Marx and his fellow travelers on the road to flea-bitten utopia were found in the libraries of Britain at some point in their intellectual development. Though the Germans have long possessed a certain Savoir faire for gadgetry and industriousness, it was in Great Britain that the Industrial Revolution was first incubated into a strapping force of global significance. British empiricism, financial dexterity and colonial proclivities conspired to catapult Britain into the forefront of nations in order that they might enjoy both the rewards and punishments of industrialism. As a result, industrialism’s great and abiding theology known as social democracy was incubated and exported from the British Isles along with all the rest of the machinery and packaged commodities of modern life.
Even though she has stubbornly held onto the trappings of monarchy because of her innate conservative streak, Britain, her colonies in Asia, and her cohorts on the Continent have embraced the industrial construct of social democracy, and it seems to suit them like a well-worn tweed jacket. Thatcherism may have reared its free market bouffant for a spell, but in the end, these villagers on their garden isle will generally eschew the occasionally deft salient of the Tory and submit to the lures of the collective. After all, collectivism is the very font of satire. If there is one national trait held by all in the land of Bits and Bobs, it is a deft hand at satire.
These New World Colonies on the other hand–below the 49th degree of latitude and generally too serious for their own good–seem to want to maintain the illusion of a stubborn distance from the purported historical inevitability of industrial collectivism. Here, we spout our folk songs about the free market, rugged individualism, and the “land of opportunity” while maintaining sharp tines on the national pitchfork against the pernicious influences of namby-pamby socialism. Or so we like to sing. Or so we used to like to sing, or growl, and growl and sing.
When Farmer George, the Mad King, moral bibliophile, and student of science attempted to extract the vig of the collective from the far-flung colonists, we took umbrage and found that a little high dudgeon would go a long way, particularly when practiced within the vast hideout of North America. You can see the rhetoric of the revolution early, when North American landowners would fire off pointed letters to the Factors of London, taking issue with the dunning for mounting bills and calling the collateralized home, their “rock of independence.” And so it was to be. But how can a people so similar in cultural and genetic constituency be so different in their approaches to the industrial collective?
To paraphrase those Third Wayers of the Clinton Middle Faction, “It’s the Land Stupid.” It is not unusual talent nor unique sentiment nor greater energy nor intelligence nor the graces of an appreciative deity that have allowed us to maintain the charade of Free Market Individualism within the collectivist industrial era, it is the good fortune of a fine piece of real estate. The finest in fact, on the globe. This remarkably well-watered and generally fertile province has been, up until recently, our secure castle. We had millions of acres to hide out in and generally decent weather and two oceans of moats and little to keep a person from carving their own reality in stone or timber and setting it up to admire in the smiling latitudes of twenty-five to forty-nine degrees north. In this respect, we really were unique.
Travel directly eastward from the silty Potomac and you will cross the Atlantic to find the lands flanking the Mediterranean and quite a lot of people despite no small measure of aridity . Keep going east and you will traverse the Levant with our current motion narcotic, oil and then across Persia and the Caspian Basin until you reach our new rival China. Only then will you find broad stretches of well-watered, fertile land. Pockets and snippets of productive land abound throughout the latitude but nothing like on the scale of our benighted technocracy. Go north and you will find Russia, which, like Canada is well watered and in possession of productive soils but you will also find that remote fastness imposed by arctic climes. Go southward and you will find the Congo Basin of Africa and the various terrains of South America. You will also find excessively leaching rains, pernicious tropical diseases or narrowing land where better latitudes arise. Even with venerable China, inhabiting the same general latitudes as we do and with significant areas of water and fertile land, there simply is no comparison with our embarrassment of riches. Vast mountain plateaus, torrid and parched desert basins and that most problematic of natural features, the sheer mass of the people themselves conspire to greatly reduce the capacity of the Chinese landscape to furnish her people with the resources she needs. Add globalism to China, and be ready to stand back and watch the fireworks.
This ploughman’s holiday of ours afforded, at one time , a certain sang-froid , a sturdy can-do self-reliance for us self-referentially independent revolutionaries. Despite embracing industrial modernism and flirting with collectivist forms, we were able to preserve our distance, flexibility and abundance. However, it would seem that all this is over now and we are embarking upon a process of assimilation into the hive in order that the so called “Community of Nations” can become equalized regardless of territorial riches. Why? Because it is, as they once snarled in the libraries of London, an Historical Inevitability. After all, as “leader” of the so called Free World, it is our solemn duty to bring the savages to heel and secure the breezy efficiencies of Free Trade in all time zones. We can no longer hold disingenuously to these conceits of unique brilliance and independence, we must join the collective if only in a leadership position as a consequence of superior fire power on a dodgy finance plan.
Sorry Charley Foxtrot, no can do. The old greensward is a tad manky after the industrial opening and the knackered nipper is reduced to chuffing like his forebears on the Sceptred Isle. Its bail-out time at the OK Corral for the skiving Prats of the New World. Things too big to fail are Bobs Your Uncle now. In American, that means we’re boinked.
It was a good run, and we’ll coast along for some time yet while the collective head adjusts to the culminating leveling of historical forces. But make no mistake, despite this land never leaving us, we have left the land and with it goes our uniqueness, that uniqueness that never was “We The People” in particular, it was just this lovely place we inhabited. The United States were big enough and largely benevolent enough to afford us all the opportunity of maintaining the charade that we can join the Circumscribed Industrial Social Democracy without bending to its demands. You win some, you lose some and the clock, unfortunately, aint a scoreboard.
However, here at the Front Porch, we have an opportunity to not so much play fusty old varmint and baleful Cassandra as we do to play tour guide. We can remind our fellow metropolitan arriviste that this nation was unique because of its land and little more than that. Sure, we might have seen the remarkable congruence of a few brilliant minds in space and time conspire to launch a momentary resurgence of humane republican ideals but the bottom line… in this bottom-line happy nation, was that we could only do so because of this land–this sea to shining sea–this place that every dusky skinned terrorist wants to firebomb while wearing a University of Michigan sweatshirt.
The truly wonderful thing is that no matter how hard the determined boosters of Industrial Socialism try to occupy our attentions and seduce our wants with the various sparkling output of silicon and gears, this land will generally forgive us our sins. Beyond the tattered breastworks of our suburban riot, she remains as lovely and fecund and heart-crackingly gorgeous as she always has. Her people bear this out because still, as far into our consciousness as this global consumer juggernaut has burrowed, as one-size-fits-all we are becoming, the smiling individual remains. Better yet, our polyglot countryman is an individual that has been annealed by a remarkable land and though somewhat flummoxed by the current version of reality we’re tuned into, this individual remains about as pacific as any increasingly crowded people rightly deserve to be. We might not love one another as ourselves but despite all the various institutional efforts to separate the citizen into distinct polling groups, the Ugly American is a pretty congenial knucklehead. Surely, in this nation, we have it made. The only way we will break this spell is to capitulate to all the fast talkers who have ditched empire after empire since Cuneiform script was impressed in clay tablets along the Euphrates. It is the land people, this place that has formed us as much as we formed it. Time to repay the lesson and get to work doing what we do best, living the constantly re-inventing but grounded American life and recasting it to great success and benefit in response to the demands at hand. Its a little messy, a bit noisome, more violent and brassy than it needs to be but it really is different because we are all, at this time, lucky enough to occupy about twenty four degrees of latitude that beats all.
It’s nothing personal, Canada or France or Mexico, Brazil and China. Go ahead, be yourselves and rub our noses in our mistakes, make us compete again, shame us with some social program that seems to work for you. But don’t expect us to ignore that thing we seem to disregard now because it is separated from our touch by four computer balanced and aligned radial tires. Stop what you are doing right now America, whether it is in a city, a suburb or emptied out province. Stand out on that balcony or porch and breathe this free elixir in deeply and then find a neighbor and shake their hand and point to that horizon even if it is behind twenty three stories of speculative building.
We were a frontier and now we are not, at least in the conventional sense. But that is by far the good news, because with this garden of ours, we can create a frontier and meet it before doing it all over again. In fact , the current challenges constitute the biggest frontier we have yet encountered. Don’t let anybody make you think otherwise. We do not have to surrender to historical inevitability. That helping hand you are looking for is at the end of your own damned arm and the only way we’ll be able to use that arm to help our fellow when they need it is if we keep it in fighting trim. The way to do this is through the challenges of reinvigorating this land and casting off the industrialized yoke of historical inevitability. They say that politics is the art of the possible. Well, it ain’t. It’s the sport of the liar. Time to stop listening to the liars and resort back to the truest thing we have ever had, this land, this lovely redoubt, this fruit of accident wed to hard work.
You want predictability and safe answers? Not here my friend, not in this crucible of mud made by sweat and soil. Just so there is no confusion here, though it sure helps, one does not need to be a farmer to be an agrarian. It is a state of mind and a spirit of husbandry. It is knowing limits, embracing them in fact and knowing the lay of land within which you operate. It is planning ahead and soldiering on. It is helping a neighbor raise a barn when needed. Blow a horn, nail a stud, split an infinity or master a genome, we all have our furrows to plow in this remarkable benediction we inhabit.
We did not create this land, it created us. What it created is something as simultaneously recalcitrant and benevolent as the larger landscape itself. We think we might have tamed it but we have not, we simply became altogether too familiar with it and in this familiarity, we have lost our respect for the hard work of a democratic republic. As the spring begins to creep up from the south , it is time that we get serious about who we have been and what we now are while remembering that this gift of the land created a messy but fruitful form of government. We need only begin to look at it again as that yeoman farmer of yore looked at the land, as something that takes a combination of respect and work between damaging bouts of quixotic weather. Its not about compromise, its about the harvest. Some years are full of bounty while some are disappointing. The land remains, this thing of true beauty, this lovely bride America. Utopia is like plastic surgery, it purports to sell perfection but in reality, it coughs up a Kewpie Doll fit only for horror and a bitter reckoning when the staples surrender to gravity. I’ll take the old gal with a few well-earned wrinkles that fit soft and snug like a favorite glove. It’s the land, stupid, and boy is she a thing of stunning beauty.