Saturday, June 4, 2011
Isn't it funny that for many people, the concept of "bliss" is an empty green field where one is all alone, untroubled by any human or natural intrusion, often with visions of nearby alternate worlds one can easily escape to, at least in imagination if not in fact.
This is almost the Ur-Vision of "bliss" among Euro-Americans, and it underlies the constant impulse to spread "West" to new uncharted and supposedly uninhabited and unclaimed territory. And yet, the American Prairie -- which by all accounts was the realization of this vision of "bliss" -- literally terrified most of those Euro-Ams who encountered it in the early days.
It was what they thought they wanted, and it absolutely wasn't what they really wanted, not even on a bet.
Yet they kept heading out West, through thick and thin, no matter what, no matter how much they loathed their destinations, all to grab this piece of earthly Heaven -- before someone else did.
This Westering Urge -- toward some vision of Bliss -- was a constant driving force in Euro-American life from the beginning of European settlement in this vast and gorgeous land. The pretense that it was unoccupied and unclaimed was often made real by genocidal attacks on the Native Peoples and headlong slaughter of the animals that did occupy and claim it. This tactic proved highly successful, if somewhat morally suspect, in clearing the land for... "white"... settlement and future Progress and Prosperity. Only "whites" were thought to be capable of those things, and eventually it boiled down to a fine point: only Anglo-Saxon Whites, the pinnacle of Creation, were truly blessed with the wisdom and foresight that made Progress and Prosperity possible for anyone at all. The world was not just their oyster, it was their right and their bounden duty to claim and rule it in its entirety.
Bliss -- for a certain minority of a minority of a minority of Euro-Peoples.
Exterminate, liquidate, or confine the Natives, steal their stuff and claim their lands, call it Progress... and move on to the next conquest. Again and again, endlessly. For if this process ever came to an end the world might collapse in on itself, and that would be the End of Everything.
And as we know, the End of Everything is the opposite of Bliss. At least it is for those whose Bliss is found in the conquest and occupation -- alone -- of Other People's Places.
The wonder of it is that there is no one else -- at all -- in this Blissful World of the Individual Conqueror. An intruder in the scene above would simply ruin the Moment. Even a Beautiful Intruder. For the point of this kind of Bliss is to be absolutely alone -- King of All, King of None. In a world that never was and never will be.
If it hadn't been for the existence of all that Empty Land west of the Alleghenies and Appalachians (either already Empty or soon to be made Empty), I do believe Americans would have gone absolutely mad and exterminated one another well before the time of the Civil War in which so many "progressive and prosperous" Anglo-Saxons perished in the quest to end or preserve the peculiar institution of chattel slavery. Among other things.
We like to pretend that American History isn't what it is, but it is what it is, and still the Bliss of so many Americans, especially of "Anglo-Saxon" descent, is the vision above, an Empty and Green Paradise, for oneself alone.
We need a Better Vision.