The “American Way”

In my modern history class we have been reading the book In the Name of God and Country by Michael Fellman. It argues that terrorism has been a constant and crucial driving force in America from the Civil War to the present day. This thought sits like a lump in our throats. We don’t want to think about the ways our ancestors have used violence aimed at inspiring terror in order to impose political agendas. Even now, Americans tend to relate terrorism to foreign nations, an act conducted only by our enemies. Americans prefer to see terrorism as external to the “American way.”

In Theory Toolbox, Nealon and Giroux’s explain modernity’s ordering logic as “the desire to classify and distinguish, to set things and people apart through acts of segregation and discrimination- to master and subjugate.” (238). This is exactly what motivates terrorism in America, more broadly recognized by wider patterns of social inequality and domination. One example of this is how Christians justified political violence by making distinctions between civilized modes of fighting and savage warfare. By placing moral and legal constraints on violent acts, it was acceptable to many in America’s history to treat any non-white, uncivilized, or unchristian person as inherently “unnatural.”

Nealon and Giroux challenge the idea of “natural” and “unnatural” as fixed concepts. They instead point to nature as a kind of mirroring reflection, revealing much more about the observer than what is objectively out there (236). When deconstructing these terms as inherently meaningful, it’s very clear how different perceptions of “natural” have shaped human action and behavior toward it. It seems that race and class dominion are very much linked to the cultural perception of what’s natural. In society, nature is made to fit the interests of security and stability (237). Nealon and Giroux write: “How nature is theorized over time and in different cultural contexts has everything to do with how the natural world is acted upon by humanity.” (235). It’s so important to reflect on how we understand “natural” in our society today. Without stepping outside these walls we may be doing some of the very same things early American settlers did.

3 Responses to The “American Way”

  1. burkekm February 2, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

    Even further, the way in which our culture’s views on “natural” and “unnatural” greatly influence our perception of the past and the present. As we live in a generation of much change and many boundaries pushed, we more readily understand the differences between what is now perceived as natural and what may once have been deemed unnatural or deviant, giving us even more of an understanding of individual people and events from the past and patterns in our history as a whole.

  2. Andrew H. February 2, 2016 at 10:09 pm #

    “Natural” is such a difficult word to say in this day and age; it almost feels artificial to say. With the rise of technology in recent years, the morality or lack thereof we find on social media platforms such as Facebook have to be having some kind of adverse effect on our perception of living “naturally”… then again, it is tough determining what is natural. I really like how you brought a sense of urgency with this blogpost, calling us to find the positive root or nature of our existence. Technology can either really help us or be the bane of our existence when it comes to finding out more about human beings’s true nature.

  3. Prof VZ February 7, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    Great post and comments. This is certainly one area where “theory” is necessary–any time an idea emerges as simply “natural,” simply “self-evident.” As you writes, “When deconstructing these terms as inherently meaningful, it’s very clear how different perceptions of “natural” have shaped human action and behavior toward it.” This came up in our conversation about the children’s book And Tango Makes Three, which holds together two registers of “nature” together at once: “nature” as related to the natural, animal world, as a world untouched by “culture,” and “nature” as defining a sort of morality imposed on human beings by more conservative cultural mind-frames. In the second case, it is an ideologically informed sense of morality that is disguised by one’s claim to a “natural” or “unnatural” way of being. So many ideas of what “nature” means are active there, and so many strange anthropomorphic projections, it hurts one’s brain to think about it!

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