The American Dream and the Written Word

So I am reading Daniel Boorstin, The Seekers, which is the third in a series that begins with The Creators and continues with The Discoverers. Boorstin is one of my favorite historians.

So in Seekers, Boorstin explores the philosophers and “idea-men” that helped to establish the foundations for Western political and social systems. What I found most interesting was the disdain the ancient Greeks had for the written word.

For Socrates, especially, the flame of understanding can only be passed through direct eye to eye mouth to ear contact between individuals. And have you ever noticed that the conversations you have with your brothers and sisters lead you to the Truth, but to write those conversations down is futile and silly? I have. It makes sense. Writing, for Socrates, impaired the memory, excluded dialogue and basically provided an inaccurate sketch of what it actually feels like when you make a breakthrough sitting around the fire with some friends, looking at the stars.

Socrates used the title “Poet” as an insult. I suppose he wasn’t thinking about us, when he did all of his deep thinking about the Sage-King, Wisdom and Ignorance. If Plato and Aristotle hadn’t written the “useless poetry” that survived the centuries, then Socrates’ contributions would have drifted as far as the borders of ancient Greece and no farther.

Ironically, Islam’s problems can be traced back to a related problem: Tyranny of the Written Word. Truly, Islam focuses the most upon the written word (Quran=Word of God=Law), but their great prophet Muhammad spoke to his people in Medina about Good and God. When he died, he did not leave written instructions as to how to lead the Ummah/Community. Only the Koran survived, along with an ever increasing collection of hadith, or lessons and interpretations. The wrangling over the written word led to the dissolution of the Community and wars between the factions and eventually war with anyone they met, including their cousins, the Bible worshipers.

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So, while I was listening to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings yesterday morning, I heard her rendition of “This Land is My Land” (awesome version btw) and It reminded me of a rambling post here about where America is headed and also about a conversation I had with a Chinese friend of mine the other day.

He asked me why Americans, who come from all sorts of different backgrounds, are willing to raise the red, white and blue and fight for a country they have no blood ties to. He said this in the context of the Mainland’s view of all people of Chinese descent: that they are Chinese first and forever. For him, it was self-evident that any Chinese in the USA would betray the USA if it came to a conflict with China. This is a very typical sentiment in today’s China. Now, I know plenty of Asian Americans who have a hard time when they go back to seek their roots and meet the ethnic nationalism of China, Korea and Japan. Its a weird place to be in, I am sure.

Anyway, my response to his “question” was, that being American is a state of mind, not a bloodline or an obligation. It is as close to a “choice” as one can get in terms of nationality. I tried to explain the Manifest Destiny as an example of this state of mind. Unfortunately, he wasn’t trying to talk about being American as much as he wanted to assert his idea of being Chinese. So I have to carry on this thread of thought with ya’ll.

The Mainland Chinese have a VERY hard time with non-Mainland Chinese who consider themselves American, French, Thai or whatever. These weird creatures are deluded at best, outright traitors at worst.


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