Sunday, July 26, 2015

Left Dying On A Street In The Coney Island Of The Mind

Whoever made this meme -- apparently someone at Anti Media, one of those new web based media platforms, whose Facebook page it was posted to -- was appealing to one of the primary human motivators, which a psychologist friend described to me as "promoting our ideal image of our self."

That means we try to favorably influence how others see us, except that the "how they see us" is only something we imagine. It's not how they see us, but the image we think we're projecting to the world. It's that one last look in the mirror before we leave the house. It's all the things we've surrounded ourselves with and how we think those make us look. It's our remembrance of things we've said. It's why we do all that rationalizing. It's our "spin" on what we've said and done. It's ego driven. It's the same, or very similar to, the way we actually see ourselves in our heart of hearts, because our egos are very good at convincing us that that's who we are; i.e., of lying to us.

But the above meme doesn't mention you, or me, or any person in particular. It only works because we identify ourselves as "American." That's a complex set of images and associations that go back and forth from one thing to another depending on what's at the forefront of our consciousness, but which has a meaning to us nonetheless that is always going to center around a few basic things. America to most of us is this pretty big, pretty good nation that goes from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast and is a leader on the world stage -- something like that. Plus Alaska. Oh, and Hawaii. Oh, etc., as different thoughts come to mind after those first few primary ones. It's those first few primary ones that are generally how we see America.

The meme is trying to get us to compare ourselves as Americans with "those Brits" or with whatever concept we have of the people who live in the United Kingdom. It's an appeal to our nationalism, which we here in the US call patriotism. Appeals to nationalism are often very effectively used by politicians who want to build support for wars. Part of what American nationalism entails is the idea that the US is an exceptional country. The concept of "American exceptionalism" is sometimes debated by newspaper columnists but it's generally believed and is often used  as part of the spin that attempts to justify all kinds of foreign policy that's engaged in for reasons politicians don't want to talk about.

People who like guns and people who don't like guns may have different ideas about what "America" is. What America is, to each of us, as I say, is a complex set of images and associations. Many people can in one breath say America is going to hell and in the next breath insist it's the greatest country on earth. But since part of who we think we are is "an American" and because our ideal image of ourselves is that we are for the most part flawless, we reflexively react to a meme like this. Our ego tells us; Hey, someone is putting us down, it's threatening me, do something.

By the way, the meme was apparently made a couple months ago. According to Killed by Police, the source given for those statistics, as of today in 2015, the 206th day of the year, police in the greatest nation on earth have killed 661 people.

By the by, A Coney Island of the Mind was a collection of poems written in the late 1950s by beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Here's one:


  1. What a fascinating subject, and sub-subject. I've been aware and participated in a few 'who are you' things, it's one of the very few thing that I've put a socialist spin on, that is, what one says means....
    I've heard them all, or nearly....'I'm white, I'm american, I'm a man, etc, on and on. It was the carefully worded ones that focused it on nationality.
    Y'know, I have never had a pull towards any category, be it race or nationality. I don't think that's a plus, perhaps it's a minus, something I just don't have. Hell, I identify more as an Oregonion (fifth generation, IWW antecedents..) than a US citizen.
    I'd like to read some scholarly articles on this subject, I'll look some up if there.
    And your writing is quite good, sir.

  2. Thanks Mike. And thanks for the comment.

    That's interesting, about not identifying as this or that, or as what Americans generally do. I believe it though -- living here in New Mexico has been distinctly different than growing up in the Midwest and living in the South, in many ways but one is that in both of those, nationalism is more pronounced than here. People look back at a different past, for one thing, but I wonder if the act of going West, and also being West, separates one from something psychically.

    Another thing that occurred to me was Vietnam. I think the idea of what American is underwent a shift. Some people became less nationalistic, but some people may have become more. What do you think?

  3. Awful statistic. Awful revealing. Starting with Sherlock Holmes down to PD James I like the British clever criminals and the way the British crime fighter seem to give them their just desserts by outthinking them rather than out shooting each other....:)

    1. Yep, I guess we're still pretty raw and uncivilized in many ways in comparison, David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher, the Royal Moochers, etc., notwithstanding. Thanks for the comment!