18 July 2008

Personal Manifest Destiny

To quote Wikipedia, Manifest Destiny, for those of you unfamiliar, was "the belief that the United States was destined to expand from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean."

I've always thought that this was a rather anti-climactic definition for what was otherwise a really cool-sounding concept. Kind of lame, even. Say it out loud: "manifest destiny." Sounds super cool, right? And then you find out that it's just about acquiring territory in the birth of our country, and while that's impressive, I want to use the phrase for something different.

I am therefore proposing a new concept, which I will refer to as "personal manifest destiny." This is my belief that the people of the United States are destined to expand their minds and capabilities from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean. This is a rather fruity way of saying that I think Americans are capable of a lot more than what we're doing right now. Maybe it's NAFTA, and the export of jobs to China and India that have got me thinking.....we're supposed to be a society of self-starters, entrepreneurs, and innovators. And lately - OK, in the last 30 years or so - I feel like people have gotten lazy. This is not an accusation or a criticism on any one group or thing in particular, but just a philosophy that I've come to settle on. I feel like one of the reasons that Americans have evolved into such voracious consumers is because we have no idea how much it takes to produce whatever we consume. We've outsourced those jobs and most of us never see the inside of a manufacturing facility.

All of this meandering thought on my part is to say the following: I think Americans have forgotten what hard work is like. I think we could benefit from learning a trade, taking an apprenticeship, picking up a hammer, or getting a little dirty. I think there are many people in this country with unrealized skills or gifts that would flourish in jobs they may have never considered before. And I think this realization is going to be critical in the months ahead as the country flounders in - just admit it - a recession like we haven't seen in a long time.

Our grandparents made it through the Great Depression AND fought a war that saved the world. What have we done lately? Gone to Starbucks? I think it's time we roll up our sleeves, take a deep breath, and get to work. Embrace your personal manifest destiny, and find the work that is fulfilling to you, and hopefully it is helpful to society as well. Americans are capable and intelligent people* and we'll come out better for it on the other end, as long as we persevere.

*I can't vouch for people who voted for Bush twice. I wouldn't describe these folks as intelligent.


Donna said...

Excellent post, and I totally agree. Watching the TED talks video, The FUture We Will Create, made me so optimistic that the world is filled with really smart people who really want to do good work. I think lots of geniuses are out there, but they are not thinking and instead are, as you said, just "going to Starbucks".

I still have hope that things will get better. The philosopher I heard recently, Harry Pickens, said "you don't find yourself, you create yourself."

nambypambics said...

There are millions of people in America who are working really, really hard - all the time. They may not be working in what are traditionally considered "skilled" trades and crafts, but they're working 2 jobs or more, doing hard physical labor, or generally exhausting labor of some kind. Of course, many of these people don't show up on census data...

I've worked like that, and honestly - you do just want to consume your readymade dinner (not the $4 drink at Starbucks, can't afford it!) and come home because you are exhausted. This could be more specific - like maybe privileged (typically white?) Americans who don't have to work very hard in order to make ends meet would benefit from working harder and being closer to the processes of production.

Manifest Destiny is also generally synonymous nowadays with "subjugation and genocide of first nations peoples in order to steal their land" and it disturbs me that this is referred to here as an innocuous, "impressive" acquisition of territory (acquired from whom, and how!!!) but if the term can be optimistically re-claimed from its genocidal history... ok then?

I love you ladies both... but lots of things in this post remind me of attitudes held by stereotypical Bush voters, very much in the line of "not thinking and just going to Starbucks," and there is one sentiment that I do share with the typical Bush voter - that environmentalism tends to be by and for the privileged - even if sustainability goals (sustainaiblity, broadly, not just in terms of material ecology) ultimately should be inclusive of social justice issues alongside the ecological restoration issues.