Damn Yankees 


My sister’s husband in Tennessee recently accused me of being a “damn Yankee.EThe accusation befuddled me, not for the truth that’s in it, but for a larger truth, one that poet Joseph Brodsky observed of any of us with index finger pointing outwards.

Stretching generosity, my brother-in-law at least concedes that my sister’s and my family originally had some roots in East Tennessee.  These included Scotch-Irish who came into the Appalachian mountains more than two hundred years ago, when colonial governors of the time still forbid transmontane migration.  These settlers Etheir names included Boones, Crocketts, and Jacksons Ehad brought with them animosities against the English that dated from the 17th-century British Isles.  At that time the new Corn Laws and Enclosure Acts forced evictions of tens of thousands from their rural lands, so English landlords might apply then new sciences and scopes of hybrid agronomy and animal husbandry Eand enrich themselves and crown treasuries.

What happened to the rural poor then foreshadowed the parallel history of today, when millions around the world are forced out of their traditional cultures for the sake of IMF, World Bank, and multinational corporate development.  Today our migrations end up in cities Emonster megalopolises Edozens of over ten million each currently teeming across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  In the 17th and 18th centuries the large waves of predecessor migrations came to the New World Ethose Emma Lazarus later called “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.EVirginia and Carolina seacoast towns and farms of the day filled with Scotch-Irish who worked off their ocean passage as indentured servants.  Beyond the coast and piedmont, the Blue Ridge, the Smokies, Alleghenies, and Cumberland mountains beckoned.  Colonial edicts notwithstanding, the southern Appalachians soon filled up with Scotch-Irish.

This was a history that proved unfortunate for an English army marching up the Carolinas during the American Revolution.  In their plans to meet up with Cornwallis on the Virginia Peninsula, and so seal the doom of Washington’s Continental Army, the British officers felt an gratuitous noblesse oblige to insult the yeoman farmers in their otherwise isolated highland hills, mountains terraces, and river valleys.  The Hollywood film The Patriot shows some of this Ethough no Scotch-Irish settlers lived in houses quite as sumptuous as that film set for its Mel Gibson character.  Few Scotch-Irish owned slaves, either, out of presbyterian convictions and the pragmatics of small upland farms. The Patriot mixed the lowland exploits of Francis “Swamp FoxEMarion with those of the mountaineers.  It nevertheless intimates one central fact of early American history:  that, though outnumbered, a volunteer militia of mountaineers one September day on King’s Mountain did find and wipe out that entire English army.  This history repeated itself in the War of 1812, when a boy grazed by an English officer’s sword prior to King’s Mountain later grew up and, as Andy Jackson, at New Orleans routed another theoretically superior English army.  Similar surprise recurred a generation later at the combined battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto Eagainst another vaunting imperial army.  And again in the American Civil War, when through 1861-65 tens of thousands of southern mountain riflemen joined Yankee armies, rather than the more flamboyantly gallant and romantic reb.

Tennessee calls itself the Volunteer State for this repeated history of rugged individuals ever jumping for the chance to join fights against empire and pretension.  So although my mother and sisters were born in this state, by the time she was a child, and the Depression was on, she, her sisters, and mother all set out on another journey.  They went out of the mountains, out of one mythology, and into another, to golden California where, on old U.S. 66, John Steinbeck‘s The Grapes of Wrath chronicled many others Enbsp; Arkansans, Oakies, and Texans Ealso in migration.

One of my sisters ended up marrying back in East Tennessee, where most of my mother’s family had remained.  This sister had been born in Michigan, and raised Eme, too Ein suburban prosperity Ein what her husband calls damn Yankee culture for its commercialism and rootless ephemerality.  This Michigan family had ten kids.  With our parents we lived hundreds of miles from any relatives.  Suburban culture feeds on such dislocations Eboth to those on the receiving end of corporate benefits, and to the many more around the world yet in migrating sprawl.

My family in suburbia eventually ended up with some unusual doses of dysfunctionality.  Some had problems with alcohol Egenetic lineage perhaps from the Tennessee great-grandfather who for all his 93 years imbibed a love of bourbon, both on the Beaver Creek farm at the foot of the Cumberland mountains and in the big house on Fort Saunders Hill overlooking old downtown Knoxville.  Others in our Michigan family found problems in drugs, mental health, and various personal lapses.  Such things of course happen in southern families, too, but my brother-in-law views them as specially earned, pathetic fallacy parts of “damn YankeeEculture.

Others all over the world share this view Ethat those who stay in loyalty to traditional culture are guarding goodness.  This posture typically has the pious perceiving others as very “other.Enbsp; You can see this in almost any fundamentalist Israeli Jew pioneering one’s Occupied Territory settlement.  You can see the same imaginative coinage Ebut the other side of the coin Ein any displaced Palestinian looking up at the Zionist newcomers taking over their land.  It’s the same thing an Indian Hindi feels viewing Pakistani Muslims with their claims on Kazhmir Eand vice versa.  It applies to a Rwandan Hutu looking up at the taller Tutsi minority controlling their government.  Ditto Roman Catholics of Belfast seething at British Protestants among them and over them. In East Africa tribal blacks feel it toward the commercial immigrants from India who dominate them.  Rural Vietnamese, Malay, and Singapore see the same threat in the Chinese who hold the mercantile positions in their lands.  In Boston the Yankees, Blacks, and Italians have a similar wariness of each other.  Miami blacks have it toward prosperous Cuban immigrants, and L.A. blacks have it toward Koreans running all their neighborhood shops.  It goes on and on.  In France the conservative right balks at the millions of Algerians, Senegalese, and other former colonials now in the land of Voltaire and Hugo.  In Germany skinheads and their friends count the millions of Turks among them as a threat Eand many Turks aren’t bothering to learn the language of Goethe as earlier Jews had.  It’s the same story the world over:  Armenians besieged but defiant in Azeri Nagorno-Karabakh, Greeks and Turks divvying up Cyprus, French Canadians lambasting Anglos, Transylvanian Hungarians inundated by Roumanian resettlement Eand on and on.

The odd thing, however, is that my brother-in-law in Knoxville Eeven while he resents “damn YankeeEculture Every much yet lives by his cell phone.  He’s bought very much into our most modern, global network of transmission towers and related technology.  He has a wealth of videos for the half dozen televisions he has in his home Eincluding largest and best of the new flat screens.  He keeps two and sometimes three of these televisions turned on all the time, whether he’s home or not.  In the long southern summers he keeps his house thoroughly air conditioned, so even if he’s gone all day he can return in the hottest heat to the coolest cool awaiting.  He shops at WAL*MART, though he knows how it underpays its work force Ehow the largest employer in the world keeps its million-plus “associatesEat below living wage so the four heirs to Sam Walton’s fortune rank among the richest on earth Ehow every year each ranks among the world’s top ten wealthiest.  American shoppers consider this fair.  And like these normal Americans Elike any Yankee Emy brother-in-law (with my sister) owns America’s largest, most gas-guzzling SUV, along with a mega-big pick-up truck for work, and several vintage sports cars for play.  He and my sister eat out often.  They travel the nation’s interstate highway system and use any number of our biggest chain motels in visiting and seeking items in their respective collecting hobbies.

It goes round and round.  None of us is blameless.  None of us can escape certain immersions in reality.  The French, even as they enforce laws requiring percentages of French-only songs on their radios, yet rely on nuclear power plants to broadcast them E75% of that nation’s energy dependent on this most Yankee-modern of systems, even as they then export their poison wastes abroad.  The Ayatollah Khomeini depended on the best Yankee audio tape technology to prepare his followers in Iran for return to medieval Islam.  Saudi Arabia’s apostate son bin Laden and his Al Qaeda followers enlist the most Yankee-modern computer technology in their fight against the Yankee modern world  Israeli Zionists rely on the most modern of Yankee rockets, fighter jets, and military systems for their retreat to Biblical purity.  American fundamentalist Christians spend more time in shopping malls than they do in church, more money on their fleets of SUVs than everything in their churches.

Essaying Differences says we all exhibit the same humanity.  We all imagine “ourEpurism makes us different.  We love our closure in our Disneyland-style ethnicities and tribalisms,  our consumer demographics, and our work hierarchy positions.  Our intellectuals love their tenured closure in academia’s specialization departments all nicely-divided from each other.  These are all old stories.  The truest things about us all proceed from the workings of fictions that we all inhabit.

Essaying Differences says we needn’t anathematize “others.Enbsp; “They,Eafter all, subscribe to fictions as we do.  We can learn the skills to see the stories we inhabit.  It takes some skills to step outside of them Eto see how thoroughly we require tools to enact our stories:  the clothes we wear, the music we hear, films we watch, the means we use for travel, ornaments and accessories on us, cuisine we assemble, landscape around us, and architecture we live in.  Yes, stories repeat Emost stupidly repeat our wars and genocides.  Our “best and brightestEmost stupidly propel them.  They sell newspapers.  They field the sensationalism and celebrities of prime time TV.  They enrich specialist experts deploring it all.

Essaying Differences says don’t deplore but, as E.M. Forster urged, “only connect.E/span>

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