Friday, October 28, 2011

We the People

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the infamous French philosopher, once said that “The body politic, like the body of a man, begins to die as soon as it is born. It contains the seeds of its own destruction.” Rousseau's metaphor is more spot on than he realized: biologists believe that living being are in the process of death via the shortening of their DNA. But regarding the political aspect of that statement, now seems like the time to talk apocalypse, since certainly between preachers having two miscalled apocalypses, pundits complaining about the end of capitalism, Linh Dinh writing an entire book about the twilight of America and even the release of the movie In Time, it seems obvious that suddenly, we have become obsessed with ends.
The poor economy has gone on so long now that I am terribly bored to bring it up once again, but it still stands true. Everyone feels like they are losing something if not everything and unsurprisingly, it is the least of us who are feeling it the worst.
Particularly today I find myself thinking about fallen states. When I was in college, I happened to look at the back of my roommate's copy of Margaret Atwood's beloved A Handmaid's Tale. There was a section detailing the fall of the United States written as a historical Q&A. I remember being totally shocked by this, which I realized almost immediately was because of the superiority rhetoric that Americans are so intimately familiar with. Among other things, these images and ideology lead us to believe that America will last forever. This has lead me to briefly consider other states now gone.
Which in itself is problematic, because it privileges the existence of a state, any state, over the existence of people. States encourage us, after all, to group people by national identity, even though there are many more identities out there, almost all of them being without nationalism or with only tedious ties to a nation. The study of the history of a polity or polities can easily turn into justifying the existence of governments without evidence.
And so, in turn, what we really need to be worried about, when we consider the end of the nation state or a particular country is the people. We should be worried not for the existence of the previous state or even for what possible future government that may come in but how these changes affect the people. Their history is the history that matters.

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