Friday, November 27, 2009

Giving Thanks For Falls and Failing

So, American Thanksgiving! I don't celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving either. I'm neither American nor Canadian. The Malaysian National Day and Malaysia Day passed by me without so much a whimper in my direction, mostly because I am rather on the other side of the planet from my tanahair (homeland).


I've been reading linkspam after linkspam about Thanksgiving and its racist origins and continual racist undertones that keep going unnoticed by general adherents. It's a holiday, and an excuse to spend time with family. I can't argue against that line of reasoning, but it's still a holiday that's founded on bloodshed and genocide.


And I understand, fuzzily, the idea behind celebrating it - to give thanks for, well, stuff, and basically, give thanks that America exist, on some level. To question it loudly is to question the might of America, undermine the faith of people in the nation, so on, so forth.


To which I ask, what's the problem with that?


This is the way of all empires: they rise, usually by dastardly, unethical means, and then they fall.


Falling, dying, is only another facet of life. Empires falling isn't necessarily a bad thing. People questioning their faith in a nation shouldn't be a bad thing either. It's like questioning your faith in religion. If you don't question it, how do you know it's faith?


Anyways, empires fall. The more I learn about history, the better I understand how to take the whole idea of nations crumbling. Because even as nations crumble, so too, do they rise. Nations are based on abstract concepts which, while important in the question of identity, are still ephemeral, questionable, and must suffer introspection before it can truly last.

Maybe I'm just cynical, because we learn about empires that have gone long past in Malaysia. Srivijaya fell. Majapahit fell. Persia fell. Rome fell. The Great British Empire has relinquished its control. Even China closed itself off, its monarchy system falling to ruins. In the words of the old man in Catch-22, paraphrased because I don't actually have it on me: "All great nations, now ruins. But the frog has lasted over a million years, and it is a lowly creature. Do you really think your great America will outlast... the frog?"

If, in the process of inspecting its national conscience, in revising itself because it has been forced to confront its racism, its intellectual dishonesties, its injustices - if America also falls because of all that, then I think it will fall more nobly kindly in a much nicer way than other empires have fallen.

All empires fall, just like all people die. It is the power-greedy old man who fumbles as he falls because he refuses to give up all the privileges he has been accorded as a result of his youthful strength, so instead of growing kind and gentle in his twilight years, he becomes querulous and mean, demanding respect while doling out abuse, because we have all been taught to prize certain things that arise from having a certain status.

America has failed its ideals. This sucks because it means a lot of people have suffered. America will fall, eventually. Who knows, maybe after everyone on Earth has had a taste of failure in their national history, we can all stop angsting about immigration, messing with national identity, myths and other such narratives, and take several steps towards intellectual honesty in how we deal with each other.

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