Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Unfortuante Irony

Unintentionally, "Manifest Destiny" ranks as one of the most humorous books this semester for the sheer irony and hypocrisy it exposes. One particularly striking passage quoting a Jacksonian(!) philosopher in saying that it was a good thing "that the American system did not offer any 'pretext or excuse for such wholesale oppression, robbery, and murder'". Knowing that the same philosopher some how found little fault in the treatment of the Native Americans can only be wondered at. Stephanson's was trying to figure out how our past relates to us now, so what can this incident say about our culture? Admittedly, one thing it proves is that you can find someone to say something that is untrue and still have people support it (although it did mention that many of his papers had staunch opponents). Deeper, it comments on the population's blind eye to many hypocrisies, (although hopefully to a lesser extent) while simultaneously exalting ourselves and correcting (either internally or broadcasting) other countries and their practices. Although this sounds like it would be a judgment statement on Stephanson's part, in actuality, he is simply trying to illuminate rather than judge.

Another interesting point that he raises is the lack of inherent community the United States has. His view of the US community is that it was constructed and completely not inherent, although now Americans do tend to look back on our country as have been a community from the start. Although he does not put forth exactly how he believes the community was constructed, he seems to believe that the intellectuals, especially those in the north-east and those pushing Manifest Destiny, helped forge this identity from their perspective.

A perspective shift that this book also lent that we tend to blur is that before the civil war 'free states' were not trying to make African Americans free in the states, but rather be free from slavery, slaves and even African Americans all together. Also interesting is that Stephanson points out how many Americans thought that US expansion was inevitable and would proceed into Mexico because we would flow over the border, culturally superior and bleed into their society and gradually take it over. And ironically, now there are some in the US who fear that that the reverse is now happening.

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