|The symbol of our separation.|
In the racially mixed Shaw neighborhood Thursday, the differences about what happened were as sharp as day and night. A day earlier, an off-duty white police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old African American, and whether the dead man had a gun was a hotly disputed question.Of course, it would seem like that's the only question that matters. If Vonderrit Myers, under house arrest for a felony weapons charge, really shot at a cop, then it's hard to make the case that his death is unjustified. If he did not shoot at the cop, then no matter his record it is hard to make the case that this was anything short of murder and conspiracy on the part of police. Whether a person believes one or the other tells little about the facts - which we don't know yet - and a lot about the believer.
However, the reaction of people, and not just the protestors, tells a lot about where I think we are going as a nation. And it's not good. But it's double-plus-ungood for the protestors. So let me back up a bit, because we need a big picture to give context to the little picture on the top right.
There are, in general, two kinds of sovereign political entities in the world: nations and empires. Nations are generally homogenous racially, geographically, and culturally, while empires tend to be a hodgepodge of peoples and cultures spread over non-contiguous areas. Obviously, any country need not be all 'nation' or all 'empire' - most are on a sliding scale somewhere between them and may even be perceived differently depending upon where one lives in it. Obviously an 18th century Englishman and Irishman would perceive the British Empire differently.
America began its life pretty close to the nation side of the scale but has been sliding to the empire side, faster or slower, since its inception. Obviously, we are no longer contiguous, but just as obviously, we are no longer culturally one people.*
Now, that becomes a problem, because while nations may be democratic,** empires cannot be. And the reason they cannot be is that once you have multiple competing cultures within a political entity, you have groups of voters who have no common ground upon which to vote. They do not agree on what government should do, nor how it should do it, and especially who it should do it to the most. What happens is that one group does it to another, and eventually the other gets sick of it and rebels. The groups have no reason to remain within a single political entity, except that it's to the advantage of the stronger party that they do so.
Disparate peoples are kept in a multicultural empire by political force. But as soon as that force is released, peoples go their separate ways, like Czechs and Slovaks, or Russians and Lithuanians, or Irish and Brits. As America becomes more empire, it will apply more and more political force to its subject peoples in order to remain one country. Even so, if the pressure from below is too much, there's nothing magical about America that makes us immune to the forces that broke up Bosnia and will break up Spain, Italy, and Canada next.
So what are the forces driving America towards empire? Strangely, they are different than for the Brits or the Soviets or the Mongols or the Assyrians. For the past half century or more America hasn't conquered peoples all over the world and subjected them to American government.*** We have actually done something far more dangerous. We have imported people from all over the world and not made them part of the common culture, but allowed them to establish little cultures, little nations, within the larger nation but owing it no allegiance. This is where the flag-burning symbolism is important. We are making ourselves into a multicultural empire, a geographical space within which several distinct peoples must vie for superiority. Because there is only one political entity - one flag - only one culture can win.
One of those cultures**** is made up of Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico south to Argentina. We have so many and are adding so many more that there is no need for them to acculturate. As they become a majority in any area you can expect that they will make it their own. After NWA came straight outta Compton, the Mexicans drove out many others who looked like them. That erstwhile black enclave is now 65% Hispanic and is growing more homogenous, not more diverse, every year.
If Hispanics were the only other significant culture in America we would still be doomed to eventual Czechoslovakian separation. But adding large groups of Somalis, Syrians, Bosnians, Ghanans, and Chinese makes the separation more faceted, more complicated.
But there is another culture, big but not as big as the Hispanics: the oppositional culture of the #ShawShooting protestors. Call them the Royal Crown Cola of American culture. This culture is not only hostile to the majority culture in America (and treated hostilely by the Hispanics) it is also a culture of dependence. That is important, because we are entering a period where dependence will become much more of a liability, both for the minority culture and the majority. America is entering an era where there will be less to share and less desire to share it. If you can't feed yourself, then you will have two choices: take food or starve. And no one wants to starve.
So given that we can expect in America's future
- More multiculturalism, leading to
- More political pressure intended to hold America together politically, leading to
- More violence used by the state against protest and disorder
- Less material abundance as the bills for our prior spending come due, leading to
- Less to share with the dependent and less desire to share, leading to
- More frustration and desperation from those who do not produce enough to meet their own needs
The Hispanics, being numerous and contiguous, will probably survive from west Texas to Sacramento. But Royal Crown culture, though numerous, is geographically separated into enclaves. Though frustrated and hostile - burning the majority culture's flag over a death that may or may not have been justified - it is also a culture that cannot support itself without those who hold that flag dear. It is this culture that will suffer most when things get nasty.
This is a reason that I believe, and have long believed, that the only way to thrive as a black person in America is to embrace the majority culture with everything you have. America can no more survive as a multicultural empire than did the Romans or the Huns or the Brits. We can no more stay rich by spending more than we earn than did the Spanish of the 17th century or the French of the 20th. We cannot do the damnfool things we are doing with our currency and budget and not end up in the poor house. We are on our way to becoming a poor nation. Check that: an impoverished, bitter, confused, cold, angry, hungry empire.
Tolerance, both of differences and of anti-social actions, is a virtue that only a rich nation can afford. Once we are no longer a rich nation, you do not want to be a member of a hostile, anti-social, and helpless minority culture, no matter the color of your skin.
* we have never been actually one culture - depending upon how tightly you want to draw the definition - but we were functionally one because most people subscribed to it and they had all the political power.
** But need not be. A nation can be a monarchy, republic, democracy, or one-party communist dictatorship.
*** influenced them, yes, warred on them, yes, but we have not made them a part of the United States.
**** or more accurately, groups of allied cultures.