Monday, January 18, 2010

Jan. 18, 2010

The thing that really stuck out for me in the reading and in the class discussion was the idea of generalized myths being cemented in people's minds as concrete realities. The idea of the rugged individual setting off into the wilderness with only his axe and his wits to live self-sufficiently off of the land is one that I never thought critically about before reading this book. I see a parallel to the myths of the 1960s where women were purportedly burning their bras or Vietnam War protestors were supposedly spitting on returning soldiers. The stories seem plausible. Perhaps there were isolated instances of such incidents occurring. What is important to keep in mind, though, is that these narratives have political functions. With the bra-burning and troop-spitting stories, a counter-culture gone berserk is illustrated. The public is admonished for ever having lent credibility to extremist elements and elevating them to the point that they at one time threatened to turn the country upside-down. In the narrative of the pioneer and his axe, a rugged, adventurous individual who has grown tired of the crowded cities sets out into the vast wilderness of North America with only an axe and a few other provisions (like a rifle). The political interest served here is the one that posits that it is unnecessary for governments or communities to provide relief or assistance for people in need. What is illustrated here is the notion that the United States after the Revolutionary War was built on the enterprising spirit of risk-taking individuals who shunned handouts and set out instead for the gratification of the rewards of hard work and determination. Again, it possible that there were examples that lent this narrative some credibility. But, as Nye points out, it was practically impossible for anyone to live out on the frontier without some connection to a larger community. In many cases, acres of forest were cleared not by individuals but by corporations. In almost all of these cases, American Indians were being dispossessed of their land which produced their counter-narrative. The counter-counter-narrative seems to be that the Indians attacked the pioneers first. The practical and cumulative effect of all of this is that what is cemented in the minds of people (particularly at an early and impressionable age) is the idea that these stories are the objective reflections of the best country God ever gave man.

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