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No Land’s Man

by on June 2, 2014

No Land’s Man
by Marco M. Pardi

“Give us the child until the age of seven and I will show you the man.” Apocryphal. Attributed to the early founders of the Jesuit Order.

As various media outlets lunge from one civil crisis to the next, Columbine, Denver, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and on we hear and read increasing numbers of pleas for the American people to come together as a nation and address these problems. Yet, no one speaks to the unanswered (unasked?) question of what exactly is a nation. Perhaps the effort to answer would uncover some unpleasant realities of complex society.

The terms Nation and State are commonly interchanged, improperly so. Basically, a State is a geographic entity, bounded by borders. If we remove every person from a State we still have a State, just an empty one. Texas is a State. Whether life as we know it exists there is debatable, and such a debate is not appropriate here. A Nation, however, is a human entity with no geographic borders. The Cherokee Nation includes people from the Carolinas to Oklahoma, and beyond. Going to a Cherokee casino does not make one a member of the Nation.

Since the concept State is geographic, not human, the amplification of the concept to The United States still does not address the question of the identity of the residents. Are they United Statians? The term American is a term of convenience. Oh well, yes, there’s a North America, Central America and South America each including several geographically defined and discreet entities at the State level. But we are all supposed to know that America refers to the United States of…

Terms of convenience also dissolve quickly when applied, for example to people from Africa; African-American could as easily apply to an Egyptian Arab, a South African descendant of Dutch settlers, a San Bushman of the Kalahari, or a Masai of Kenya or Tanzania. I lived and traveled in Africa for about two years working closely with members of several tribes, or what some might call Nations. Does that make me more African-American than an “African-American” person my age who never left Atlanta? Should a “Caucasian” South African, when immigrating into the U.S. and obtaining citizenship not call himself an African-American? Or is that identity simply lost? Unfortunately, questions regarding these terms are often met with, “You know who we mean.”

In its early years Anthropology fell victim to the drive for simple answers to the question of who do we mean. Ruth Benedict, one of the early founders devised National Character Studies, conflating State membership with Nationhood and inadvertently giving great support to the convenience of stereotyping. Had we followed that road, Miss America would be seen as an archetype of young, single American women. Oh, wait….

Nowhere is this issue more obvious, and more covertly disguised, as in the ongoing United States controversy over immigration reform. In truth, other State level societies, particularly in Europe, are seeing a swelling resistance to the immigration which once brought them cheap and exploitable labor. The conflict seems based in the reality that immigrants, especially adult immigrants, do not easily assimilate into a different culture, different language and, pointedly, a different religion – even if they want to. Superficialities such as physical appearance and manner of dress mark them as outsiders (consider the meaning of the term “outlandish”) even before their language or culturally based behaviors give them away. Dress can easily be changed, unless it means contravening religious proscriptions. Names can be legally changed, as in the “Anglecization” of names among people entering the U.S. Of course, changing one’s family name is putting an end to one’s family lineage, at least in the public domain. Many see that price of admission as being too high. But physical appearance is far less amenable to manipulation. I’ve known several college students who were born and raised in the United States only to be told, “Go back where you came from!”

The United States is finally dropping the myth of The Melting Pot, and rightly so. It was a melting pot only for those who, to use the word applied to light skinned, Anglo featured Africans, could “pass”. The term du jour is: Salad Bowl. But a salad still has discreet parts. A bowl of lettuce is a bowl of lettuce. A salad, if the concept is to be satisfied, has certain proportions of other things. The discomfort over immigration seems to be the perception that one or more salad items are getting out of balance relative to the salad as a whole. Of course, old memes, like “melting pot”, die hard. People still speak of the American Revolution when it was a revolution in no sense of the word. Having no intention to overthrow the Crown, or sail to and march on London, the Colonists simply initiated a War of Secession, to secede from England and establish their own government. Ah, details.

Since, as we see periodically, frank and open “racism” is at least overtly frowned upon in the United States we have in recent years seen the banner of counter-terrorism waved to rally ludicrous and extremely costly measures to “secure our borders”, including solid fencing which does little to stem human immigration and a great deal to alter the ecological zones, migration routes and habitats of the flora and fauna that lived here long before humans learned to draw lines. And, when I was stationed in Miami to address the crack cocaine epidemic (during the debut of “Miami Vice”) I frequently saw bumper stickers saying, “Will the last American leaving Miami please bring the flag?” I wondered who the “American” was they had in mind. Well, you know who they are. The extension of this thinking, and it’s not much of a reach, is the vitriol spilled in the name of resistance to a presumed “World government”, the United Nations. I’ve seen in many homes and businesses the same color illustration of the United Nations building with a towering, distinctly Anglo Jesus coming to smite it. Why, next thing you know they’ll be claiming humans are all one species!

In Anthropology there is a concept known as the “conversion syndrome”, not to be confused with Conversion Disorder – a psychological condition described in the DSM, a text which I’m afraid to open. Conversion syndrome describes a particularly vulnerable stage in adolescence when young people are most prone to mental capture within a specific in-group concept. This phenomenon, the causes for which are unclear, has been known perhaps for as long as human cultures have existed. Even more powerful than the opening quote above, it can be utilized for various purposes including religion and politics. The Christian Confirmation, Jewish Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and similar affirmations are designed to signify that the child has successfully been shaped within the Umma (Arabic: Nation or community) or the faith. The most egregious example of such exploitation in recent decades was the Young Americans for Freedom, YAF, developed by the Republican party to enlist children to fanatically make phone calls, stuff envelopes, go door to door, and appear at rallies in support of candidates they were too young to vote for. That they did not understand that “freedom” and “society” do not mix well – ultimate freedom being anarchy, was irrelevant; they were at a vulnerable age in which they were easily indoctrinated into fanatical self sacrifice for someone else’s cause. When people emphatically expound “freedom” to me I usually respond, “The weather in Somalia is great this time of year.”

Of course, these recent examples of conversion syndrome are easily overshadowed by The Children’s Crusade, a historical moment on the to-be-forgotten list in which thousands of children were indoctrinated and sent to their deaths, or worse in the name of Christianity versus Islam. Recent examples of this abounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, with military leaders such as Lt. General Boykin pronouncing it a war against Satan and G. W. Bush using “evildoers” as a code name for the same. I still cringe when someone speaks of their “tour in EYE-RACK”. Tour is certainly a correct term. But it is also clear they were living in an impermeable American bubble through which even the correct pronunciation of the country they were standing in was unable to enter.

The conversion syndrome, and the efforts to capitalize on it live on in such organizations as The Campus Crusade for Christ, a nationwide last stand effort to ensnare young people before the degenerate liberalism of world community thinking ruins them forever.

More interesting still, recent attention to the spectrum of issues surrounding death and dying has disclosed another curious facet of the self identity-conversion syndrome: the commonly expressed wish, especially by actual immigrants to a new land, to be “buried in the old country.” One might rightly ask, “What difference does it make?”

The answer is not easily articulated. It speaks more from a feeling than from a considered thought. For some, ultimate identity seems based on a definable tract of land, a “homeland” as the Bush administration pushed it (Fatherland – Nazi Germany, and Motherland – Soviet Union had already been taken, and had a lingering bad after taste). Somehow, the interment of remains, be they whole body or cremains (there are no ashes in cremains; the powder is pulverized skeletal remains after heat desiccation of tissue) returns a person to the body from which he sprang. A more focused direction of this is the deposition of the body or cremains in “hallowed ground”, as in set apart and defined for exclusive use of a particular religion. At issue, of course, is the disposition of a spouse or child not of the faith. I’ve heard strange sounds in cemeteries at night (don’t ask) but I do not think I’ve heard expressions of dismay that a “non-believer is among us”. I think of children in the backseat whining “He’s touching me!!”

So, where do I want these partially Americanized Italian-English cremains to go? Planet Earth has many remaining places that come close to inspiring a wish to stay here. Close, but not a winner. Outer space would be nice.

In his very own expanded blog, The World As I See It, 1934, Albert Einstein said, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” Spotty. Colorful. And quite possibly deadly.

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  1. Your mother was wrong; you have a brilliant mind! You dissect and analyze thoughts and ideas that most of us take for granted, if we consider them at all.

    The life you have lived has given you the right to be called a citizen of the world (or at least a resident alien LOL), so perhaps we can begin to understand why you feel so little an attachment to any one part of it.

    Wherever your cremains find their resting place, you will not be entered with them. The part of you which matters; your mind, your heart, and your essential being are so vital that perhaps even the cosmos will be too limited a space to hold them. I’m hoping just a little bit will stay here with me.


  2. Thank you so much, Rose. I was a Resident Alien for a few years. Little did they know in that Naturalization Court that they couldn’t take that away from me. I know you and I have a bond, and we also have a pact to explore the cosmos someday. I’ll do the dissecting, if you will do the outstanding write ups of what we find. Marco


    • Dear Marco, real food for thought ! you always push my mind into new territories !
      Things i had never considered before now loom big on my horizon. I am noticing something for the first time !!
      And as an after thought…what would you call me ?? my father was born in Manhattan but of Italian origins, my mother pure `hard core` (;-) ) roman of seven generations, I married a Japanese and have been living in Japan for the last 37 years !!
      and OMG ! how about my children and grandchildren ??? got any plausible names ??
      Thank you so much as always for making my horizons widen ! and yes, I`d love too to have my cremains flying through space !


      • Thank you, FOAL. Here we discover yet another connection. Although my mother was raised in Italian, Swiss and French boarding schools she, too, was born in Manhatten to an immigrant English woman and an immigrant Florentine man, each from centuries old families. My mother, in Rome, married a Roman aristocrat whose mother was also British. Born before the war, my brother got derivative American citizenship. Born during the war, I had fully Italian citizenship. In fact, in 1965, while I was in Rome, I was tried and convicted of Desertion from the Italian Army for not showing up for the draft. However, I was in U.S. “government service” at the time to which a colleague at the American Embassy testified in closed hearings. The Tribunal had to convict me under the law, but gave me Amnesty once they were made basically aware of the nature of my service. I could have gotten 20 years in prison. I was given the opportunity to renounce my Italian citizenship, and refused.

        My only child issued from my marriage to a Scandinavian woman, and she (my daughter) went on to marry into a French family living in the U.S. A cousin of mine married a Colombian woman and had kids. My wife (Swiss-German) is quite uncomfortable at family get togethers when we lapse into various other languages.

        I long ago gave up on labeling people, but I used to wish my DNA would disclose that I truly was what Mussolini called Son(s) of the Wolf, in ways he did not foresee.

        I can just imagine a huge get together of our families, yours and mine. I spent some time beginning to learn Japanese, and wish I had really pursued it. Your language skills are truly inspirational.

        Maybe the grandchildren will one day see themselves as Earthlings. Marco


      • Dear FOAL. It seems to me Japan has been an unusually closed society. I imagine that, even though you have lived there 37 years, have probably mastered the language, are married to a Japanese, and have some citizenship standing you are still – and will always be viewed by some as “other”. It would be very interesting to read your experiences along these lines. Please tell us. Marco


  3. Well, Marco, yes of course you are right. Japan has still very much the so-called `Island` set of mentality and in many ways it can be not very open to the `Others`.
    But if you just dont go about criticizing its customs at any possible opportunity, they can be an extremely kind people.
    I must say that they have always been nice to me and the times they weren`t, i tried to make it a rule to blame it on the person rather than the nation (at least God knows i tried đŸ™‚ !).
    At the end of the day, I would tell myself, people from any country just love to say unkind things when they want to. Had i stayed in Italy, i am pretty sure i would have found unpleasant, criticizing and discriminating persons there too, despite the fact that it was my `native` country.

    At the same time, i must acknowledge the fact that being a Caucasian from Europe, and in particular from Italy, did help a lot. For some reason, Japanese love Italy, despite the fact (and they make jokes about this) that `we `italians were allies during the war, but said a quick goodbye when things turned for the worse ! đŸ˜‰
    So i guess i was lucky !! If i had come from another country, though, like any South East Asia country for instance, I may be telling you a very different story now.
    I have heard of big discriminations there, although i wonder if it really gets as bad as in many other countries.


  4. Dana permalink

    Benjamin Franklin, in a letter he wrote after a friend’s death: “Our friend and we are invited abroad on a party of pleasure— that is to last for ever. His chair was first ready and he is gone before us. We could not all conveniently start together, and why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow, and we know where to find him. Adieu.” Philadelphia, February 22, 1756

    Perhaps we can all have a party of pleasure one day in outer space. I can imagine no other people with whom I would like to hang out with more than the ones here at this blog.

    Naturally, our various animals will come along for the ride.


  5. That’s a date, Dana.


  6. Lory, Apparently much of the world still does not realize that Italy did not do an about face in the war. Several factions were fighting for power; the Fascists were finally overthrown and Italy could break from the Axis. My father was one of the high ranking Italian Officers who overthrew Mussolini.


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