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The Problem with Theory and its Effects on American Liberalism 
1st-Mar-2006 02:24 pm
There were those clips of the Dukakis-Bush presidential debates. In "Donnie Darko." And directly after, the spheres of authority and coercion and bitterness and profanities among the members of the family. The tensions of different types, and gendered types, of authority versus the mute, unexpressible selfhood of the adolescent identity-into-being.

Theory, and multiculturalism, in our time has laid bare the social and political structures within which we are held in an ideologized, constructed selfhood. We understand the pain of it. The pain of adolescence. The pain of not being heard, of understood. Of being able to express none of the idealized, unencumbered selfhood of which we believe we are capable. In adolescence, we can succeed in a conventional sense by becoming part of a group which may be an American invention, the exceptional average. An exceptional example of the mass media's broadcast exampling of "America." Or we attempt to construct an identity directly based upon the media's idea of the teenage American. Or we adopt the identity of a subculture or gang or posse which itself has had its own stereotypes created for it, and individuality often even more stamped down because of the threat that the solidity of the original identity of the subculture, so hard-won, might be compromised.

That is important, but not central. The point is that Theory, understanding the pain of constricting structures, wishes them to be known, to be laid bare, so that one can break these shackles binding individuality. But because Theory understands the shackles it shies from creating any binding force. Theory unbuilds. But it won't build, or it can't build, because the pervading pessimism toward the constructs of the past makes newer architects cower in fear.

Contemporary Republicanism has learned Theory up and down. The triumph of Liberalism in the Culture Wars was a gift to it. For they understand the structures but have no problems using them, especially for self-gain. (Perhaps theirs is an object-lesson in reduced government despite themselves: power corrupts and therefore very few should be wielding it -- a proposition that immediately deconstructs itself.)

Which is a very roundabout and through-the-guts way of saying that the Democrats have no fuckin' backbone.

The inability of a multicultural Democratic party to structure itself...

Republicans have stridently adhered to the principal idea of America as a "melting pot," that late-19th and early 20th-century phrase immediately conjuring up the huddled masses in Ellis Island, the melting of cultural identities into a unified substance which has come to search for a "better life," meaning -- to them -- economic advancement. One's culture, therefore, is one you leave behind, in the Old Country. Your Old Country is nothing but one in which you faced persecution and/or poverty. Here you can be "free" (meaning: not persecuted by the government because of your religion or ethnic European background -- in theory this largely true but still mythical definition) and have a "better life" (owning your own property -- something Jews were pointedly unable to do throughout much of the time and space of the European Diaspora) -- feed your family, and educate your children for an even better phase of the "better life" which was then defined as "a car in every driveway and a chicken in every pot" and now probably amounts to "an Ivy-League education, a 64" plasma television, a Lexus in the driveway, and a pick of finely toned members of the opposite sex to choose from.") This period, the late 19th and early 20th-century period of European immigration and attendant mythical status, was founded in the necessity to create a singular myth of American identity after the Civil War.

This concept obviously fails for the modern Left since the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, and the Gay Rights Movement with their attendant Theories -- and their injustices broadcast throughout the US and the World with newer and newer modes of information technology -- and the standards of living in the First World having increased, since the Second World War, to encompass more than the basic necessities of peace, income, shelter, and sustenance for most individuals -- have plainly exposed, for all to see, that the "Melting Pot" is a largely obsolete term, dated in its application.

Beginning in the 1950s, when middle-class prosperity was achieved for a white majority (and its parts codified within this white majority) the expression of black soul began to be broadcast across the racial divide, in the jazz and blues clubs, with Little Richard and Chuck Berry on tv. Soul. The inner life of pain and longing and want -- sociopolitical pain and longing and want "sublimated" into musical expressions of sexual desire? With basic middle-class desires fulfilled following four decades or more of Depression deprivation and unified national purpose of a two-front World War, the door had now finally been opened toward the true fulfillment of that entirely neglected part of the American freedom to pursue happiness": the psychosocial. Soul was desired now, not just the freedom of existence and "prosperity." Soul: the expression of consciousness as a human. Soul: the expression of individuality and cultural identity. Culture: that thing of the Old Country that should have been dissolved in the Melting Pot, but couldn't be, now that the Melting Pot was seen -- partially, at least -- as that system of structures which had bound souls and cultures.

In the times that have followed, we have in fact done extremely well at the voicing of soul, until extremely recently, when we are now grousing at its lack among the televised America we, forced by the capitalistic market, have to see. But so much outgrowth of soul was accomplished until the last ten years, that our multiplicity of accepted cultures and subcultures no longer bears a strong resemblance to the Melting Pot America our grandfathers wanted us to be embraced by. We are adolescents at 18, perhaps 19, perhaps 20 -- held back a generational year or two because of 9/11 and the Bush administration -- and desperate to redefine how America sees itself, because the nation it has the potential to become and is becoming in its cities is something superior to the mere myth of the melting pot,

the boulliabaise.

(How good does anything taste in the melting pot? Except for cheese. Cheeeeeese. Cheese! Kitsch! Situated in the very heart of the melting pot, cheese tastes good. But on the lip of the pot it's crusty.)

We of the next generation are the Culinary School of the Boulliabaise. It is a more sophisticated school than your basic "Joy of Cooking" melting pot recipe. You need to be fearless when you set out to make a good boulliabaise.

We need a new cook.
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