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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Regrettable Past, Guilty Future

In her Utopian work of fiction, "Three Hundred Years Hence," Mary Griffith presents readers with a future version of the United States depicted as a dream by the protagonist, Edgar Hastings.  While discovering the new world Hastings presents many questions pertaining to the status quo and technology of his day.  Most of his answers are provided by a historical ledger called the "Recorder of Self-Inflicted Miseries."

On page 47 of the text the "Recorder's" purpose is explained to Hastings, "But I have a file of the Recorder of Self-inflicted Miseries, and you will see the regular gradation from the barbarisms of your day to the unenlightened times it has been permitted you to see" (Griffith 47).

What I am interested in exploring here is the ledger's title. It is a recorder. It records history. The process of recording something, such as an audio file, means that facts, histories, and quotations would be written verbatim--no editorializing, no paraphrasing, just cold, hard information exactly as it was presented originally.

The next portion of the journal's title is even more interesting.  The document means to record "miseries."  This would suggest that there would be no happy news in this record, just all the bad things that occurred throughout history.  Okay, so far we have an exact record of all the bad shit in the world.

What really changes the intent and the purpose of the "Recorder" is the fact that the "Miseries" it records are "Self-Inflicted."  Meaning, humanity has no one to blame for the bad shit that happened but themselves.  It does not seek to blame nature, fortune, or happenstance: it blames humanity.  Humanity, why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself? Why did you hit yourself? Why did you inflict "barbarism" upon yourself? You did. Really, you did.  We have it here: all the miseries as they happened, verbatim.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cupidity

In Adam Seaborn's Symzonia there is a mention of the "fatal sin of cupidity, which drove our first parents out of Paradise is almost wholly unknown to the pure and uncontaminated Internals."

This statement is a comparison of two utopias: Paradise (The Garden of Eden) and the native inhabitants of the island Symzonia.

I want to unpack this sentence for the sake of discourse.  The sentence is seemingly straightforward on the surface level but it hides its true meaning.

Cupidity, defined by the O.E.D., is "greed for money or possessions."  While greed or avarice is one of the 7 Deadly Sins, I wouldn't argue that it is the sin responsible for the fall of man.  The fall of man described in the Bible occurs due to Adam and Eve disobeying God's command to avoid the Tree of Knowledge and its fruit.  You could call it greed to eat the fruit, but I would call it curiosity or at worst, a hubristic longing for knowledge.

The sin, however, did not result in immediate death, but one could argue that it introduced mortality to humanity as a result of man's expulsion from immortal paradise.

The language gets trickier following this part.  "is almost wholly unknown."  Once again, we are dealing with knowledge both as knowledge of sin and as sin.  The word "wholly" signifies that the sin of cupidity is not known at all.  The natives apparently have absolutely no knowledge of cupidity, and yet, the author proceeds "wholly" with "almost." Almost means not entirely, not wholly.  There is a paradox how can something be wholly unknown and almost unknown at the same time? This exception suggests that the natives of Symzonia DO know the sin of cupidity, even if only a little bit.

My suspicions are confirmed by the last part of the initial quotation in which the author uses two different words with identical meaning: "pure" and "uncontaminated." The redundancy of this assertion suggests doubt of the notion that the natives are indeed wholly pure, but perhaps just almost pure.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Defining an American

It may be more difficult to define what or who an American is, what he or she represents, and create a paradigmatic figure out of a "typical" or representative American now more than ever before. One might say that attempting to define an American is an impossible task (even if accomplished to some incomplete degree) that would be limiting and narrowing in a manner that disenfranchises that majority of Americans.  The short answer, is that a representative American is many different types of people.  This symbolic American would have many facets including, but not limited to different: religions, cultures, languages, education levels, and economic statuses.  These are just a few of the major distinctions that humans make to differentiate themselves from others.  Creating this "us and them" sort of model may only be helpful to an individual seeking to firmly establish his or her identity, but labels leave little room for exceptions.  Given the endless combinations that the diversity of the United States can lead to, it is pointless to define an American. Certainly there may be similarities that most Americans share, but there are always exceptions.  The only absolute is that there are no absolutes.  Americans are many different shades of gray (much more than fifty) rather than black or white.

I bring up the question of this impossible definition because I want to address a revolutionary war era letter written by J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur.  In his Letter III from Letters from an American Farmer. Crevecoeur asserts that there is one type of American that has emerged so far from the newly minted republic- an agrarian.  While he does acknowledge that different ethnicities composed American society by noting that Americans are a "mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes. From this promiscuous breed, that race now called Americans have arisen," the author still insists that Americans are all of similar ilk.  

I understand where Crevecoeur is coming from in his letter and I can definitely understand his bias. The language of farming even comes through in his metaphors and verbs when he is not talking about farming specifically. However, I must contend with Crevecouer's assertion that Americans should be farmers and argue that this is not really how American society was back then, but merely what he envisioned for America. There is little room for economic diversity in this version of his America and American.  One might call it a utopia, I would not.