Part III of The Opening of the American Mind, starts with From Melting Pot to the Pluralist Vision, my version looks more like a tapestry.
Lawrence W. Levine starts with this:
“The United State themselves are essentially the greatest poem…Here is not merely a nation but a teeming of nations.” – Walt Whitman, Preface, Leaves of Grass 1855
When did we, the United States, become singular?
I think it was after the World Wars. We became a “super power” by the end of World War II, and ever since then I’ve read the “United States” as one nation, indivisible. But are we? Should we be?
“…by Alexis de Tocqueville in a letter to Ernest de Chabrol in the spring of 1831: ‘Imagine, my dear friend, if you can, a society formed of all the nations of the world…people having different languages, beliefs, opinions: in a word, a society without roots, without memories, without prejudices, without routines, without common ideas, without a national character, yet a hundred times happier than our own.’”
Gives me chills reading that. It sounds so amazing, like looking at a beautifully intricate tapestry. Each thread, warp and woof, laying next to each other, not blending, but standing independent of the other. And when you pull back you see the picture they create.
“The melting pot” is another way of describing it. You’ve heard that before. There was a Schoolhouse Rock episode of it, all the people of the world coming together, melting into one, and creating something different, greater than the sum of its parts.
I’ve never been a fan of that visual. I like the idea of a heterogenous people verses a homogenous one. A mixture of races, cultures, ideas and visions, all moving toward a common goal: freedom, prosperity, and pursuit of happiness. But that’s an unruly bunch to control, isn’t it?
“If American schools produced, ‘one general, and uniform system of education,’ (Dr. Benjamin) Rush argued, it would ‘render the mass of people more homogenous, and thereby fit them more easily for uniform and peaceable government.’”
I’m starting to love the idea of “multiculturalism” more and more every day. That’s what this book is really about, that universities are moving toward teaching in our own time what is important to the people of our time, along with the past greatness in the context of our own time.
Since this book was written in 1996, much has changed, some of it not for the better, at least from my vantage point. It seems we are all at each other’s throats, threatening each other, cancelling each other. It does not feel like we’re moving toward anything better than what we’ve had, one side against another fighting for dominance instead of equality.
But the author has shed some much-needed light on what’s going on, all the way from thirty years ago. I feel better after reading this, not worse, which is much appreciated.
I’m going to leave this book with the following quote:
“Every previous generation of Americans has had is profound difficulties accepting ethnic and racial groups who did not seem to adhere to some earlier model; every previous generation of Americans has spied in the new immigration of its own time the seeds of dissolution and chaos; every previous generation of Americans – composed of the children of earlier immigrants – has seen itself as the native guardians of the Pure and Original America. And every previous generation of Americans has been incorrect in its fears and its certainties because every previous generation – and our won as well – has understood only very imperfectly the phenomena of immigration and assimilation.”
Today, we still have vicious arguments over immigration, but we’ve added so much more. Sexual identity, lifestyles, medical choices, the list goes on and on. It seems we don’t want a “melting pot” or a “tapestry.” We want everyone all over the nation to act just like us, whatever that is. There’s no sense of “live and let live.” We’ve become a tribal mess.
The idea of a heterogeneous society is what I think we need; like Tocqueville described, a large group of people, from different backgrounds, races, and cultures, all living along side each other in peace. Sounds fantastical, but I think we can do it. At university, college, and even simply in high school and reading on the internet, we can learn about each other, speak our languages, find our commonalities, and celebrate our differences.
Here’s a crazy idea. What if the internet and even social media can facilitate that? What if each time you post a piece of yourself for the world to see, you invite more people to know you and your ideas and your culture? And each time someone reads that positivity, they adopt some of it for themselves or leave it alone for someone else. And what if we simply did not react to the naysayers. Let them nay say.
Honestly, I thought that’s what the internet would bring us. What happened?