Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Emerson, Thoreau, Mark Twain and Modern Progressivism

Thoreau and Emerson had a discussion in May of 1846 about the Mexican War--our first war in the European sense of the word that set us on the course we still track today. Conquest of nation-states and the inevitable Imperialism that follows.  Emerson counseled his friend that we can supersede the transgressions of a well-meaning State by the Muse. Thoreau wasn't so sure that the State was so well-meaning or that the Muse alone would be enough to supersede it. But he tried both the Muse and "other means" to our everlasting benefit. Civil Disobedience, in the American sense, has always been his child, in large part because he raised it to the level of Literature. "Other means" requires the Muse to be lasting and effective, and vice versa. How would anyone know what the hell you were talking about otherwise, let alone emulate what you're trying to do?
The problem with Progressives today, I think, is that we let other people--Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, Sun Myung Moon--tell our stories, and those other people do not mean us well. We don't plug our "Muse" into our political discourse very much, and that's a big mistake. Mark Twain didn't make that mistake, and he was among the first American Writers to use the new-fangled typewriter. Why do we children of Twain, Emerson and Thoreau make that mistake now with our new-fangled computers?
For all their faults, Murdoch, the Kochs and Moon understand that people are story-based critters, like it or not, and I think we progressives should like it. By definition, people make many important social (read: political) decisions based largely on who's the best storyteller. It’s in our nature, and Corporate Media is a classic example of how Nature abhors a vacuum. We’ve collectively created a cultural ‘narrative’ vacuum by allowing ourselves to be so easily entertained by—Corporate Media! And Nature hates that. She’ll allow the same garbage responsible for the vacuum (Corporate Media!) to be sucked in and to rattle around until it ruins our cognative motors before she’ll let that sad state of affairs stand. Consider: Rupert Murdoch (Fox News) is from Australia and lives in China. Sun Myung Moon (The Washington Times, UPI) is from Korea. The Koch Brothers, of course, are from the sheikdom of Texas. All four are so obscenely rich they (apparently) believe they own America because they paid for it, and we collectively let them define who among us are “real Americans”?! C'mon!
Although it helps to strive toward the goal, progressives don't have to be great writers. We simply have to acknowledge that we have the better stories and we’re sitting on our best ones. Our truest ones. Rupert Murdoch has better versions of American Liberalism and Progressivism for us than the real ones told by real Americans? Us? We shouldn't put up with that. Why do we?

Like any historic attempt, we need to find our Voice. Significant action will come only after our contemporary political muse matures, which it hasn't yet. And by the way if history's still a guide--and I hope it still is--when that political muse matures it generally becomes the baseline for much of Western Civilization’s meaningful and therefore lasting literature.  
This blog merely represents my call to elevate our critical modern discussions out of Fox-news-landia back to where intelligent Americans can find their feet and fight back, either with the Muse, by other means, or both. It’s not up to some politician to change the narrative. That’s up to us. So by definition we still have as good a chance as we ever had. Don't lose hope. It’s always been this way. At least in literate societies.
In other words, like Emerson advised and Thoreau partially agreed with: stories matter, and may the best Muse win.