How self-hatred happens and what we can do about it
Great analysis, as always, Erik. This resonates strongly for an immigrant to America 30 years ago, then again to Israel last year. Similar problem here, although of a slightly different variety. While my family and I are inherently grateful to have left Soviet Russia for massive opportunity in the U.S., far too many of my elite-formed classmates in college and then law school were busy bashing and biting the hand that fed and clothed and educated them. Alas.
Wonderful piece! Thank you for broaching this big topic. It’s still surprising to see how much backlash people can receive for simply voicing their appreciation for American virtues and democracy.
In addition to the points you made, I’d also add that our media has been a prime contributor to oikophobia. Many people raised on Disney movies come to believe that life should be easy and someone will always come rescue them. As they grow up and struggle to find the mythical easy life, many turn their blame and anger toward their country, as if America somehow reneged on some imagined guarantee. To your point on ‘weak men creating bad times’… when we’re no longer in touch with the true difficulties and hardships of life, entitlement and anger insidiously seep into society.
In middle age I'm increasingly convinced that the period from about 1990 on is now being revealed as, yes, beyond or outside history. An anomaly. That period is coming to an end as one overdetermining generation fades and another stumbles into the head office.
I wonder, too, when Americans *didn't* hate America. Whatever "America" is, or was. Both North and South hated America during the Civil War and its aftermath. Jackson, an unhinged demagogue, is a powerful argument for hatred of America during his tenure and, again, afterwards. The Founding Fathers *loved* America. Except for the whole Whiskey Rebellion thing. That was a problem. Oh, and Shay's Rebellion. Over, wait for it, taxes and the idea of a commonwealth or common cause you had to pay for.
Well then WWII! Everyone got on board for WWII? Actually, no. We may well have not gotten involved at all except for Pearl Harbor; an old prof of mine studied WWII pacifism and anti-war movements, a narrative conveniently buried at the time he took it up and which is now considered a major topic of interest in American political science. Also, for most of the 20th century everyone with a brain was behind the Soviet project and the Red Left, another fact we like to overlook.
America is like Minnesota. Sometimes it gets really hot, sometimes really cold. Most of the time it's kinda in the middle, with weird, unpredictable spikes of a few days here and there.
I find it a bit curious that America is becoming like Europe, but with a 30 year delay. I live in Sweden and I grew up with the derogatory phrase "typically Swedish" around me. Americans, in contrast, appeared to be proud of their country. Not so any more. America became a Western country like the rest, only a few decades later.
Reading stuff like this makes me wish we as a civilization could find a way to change human nature so we *aren't* required to agree to coordinate our efforts against a common enemy -- or believe in a nonexistent higher power -- to avoid oikophobia and civilizational collapse. It really depresses me when these are the only solutions people can think of (though I'm not saying you're going so far as to advocate for them yourself) -- it makes me think of this quote by Edward O. Wilson: "The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology."
Of course, every attempt throughout history to force our emotions and institutions to catch up to our technology and quality of life have led only to mass graves and mass trauma. Still, I refuse to believe such a thing is impossible; I believe we as a humanity haven't yet figured out and developed the means to diminish our need of a common enemy (and/or our pathological need for worship) -- thus reducing oikophobia and the crisis of meaning outlined in the last post -- that is both effective and ethical. After all, anyone living before 1950 using the technology they had to try to travel to the moon and back would've only ended up in a great deal of misery for themselves and those around them as well.
> “from shirt sleeve to shirt sleeve within three generations”... When people obsess over revitalizing an idealized past that might never have ever existed, that’s driven by the same force as what fuels oikophobia. The stronger oikophobia becomes, the stronger the nostalgia grows as a counter reaction.
Inversion: it is not that Americans are now very lazy, but the exact opposite, envy-driven mal-productivity AKA hustle culture and "grindset", that will leads to its downfall. "Overshadowed by his father's legacy", "Fake it til you make it", and "A fool and his money are soon parted" are hand-in-hand related tropes, albeit replacing money with youth or attention would work better. Arthur Miller was right with Death of a Salesman.
Continuing this line of thought, Mark Fisher is also right that nostalgia for the past is caused by the bureaucratization and calcification of present toxicities, and by extension the elimination of future potentials and free agency. Stifled innovation leads to zero-sum marketing tactics and toxic BS work.
> We are the richest nation in human history, have no obvious existential threats, and yet we’re seemingly in the midst of a civil war where the red and blue tribes are constantly at each other’s throats... Ironically, it’s the objectively freest countries that complain the most about a lack of freedom. The more leeway you have to express your opinion, the more we hear people expressing their dislike.
Inversion: it is the desire to be constantly in strife that builds up American immunity against external threats, and such force can only be used sparingly lest it becomes an auto-immune disease or hyperactive allergy. The opposing side of this is AIDS, but foreign influence has been moot in recent years.
Oversocialization necessitates the need for homogeneity in beliefs, and that the removal of personal spaces both online and offline did not help with this. Either people separate into ideological ghettos (counties and private communities), or increase the size of private spaces (public housing and blogs), to prevent increasing desire for conflict. Slate Star Codex noted the formula: Outgroup = Differences / Proximity
America should stop thinking in terms of "be better" but "be different" and "be wrong", since the former has always been what Mao did with self-criticism towards a bad utopia. Self-love first and not narcissism, fellas.
An old saying asserts that familiarity breeds contempt. So, for instance, when one learns that the religion of one's recent ancestors is all b.s., respect and love for those ancestors will vanish. If those same ancestors, or others like them, browbeat the skeptic to keep the faith, expect spite to fill the void.