By Daniel Rigney
Laura (“Blue in Texas”) recently posted a piece in Open Salon about right-wing demagogue Pat Buchanan and his stubbornly tribalistic view of the world. I responded with a comment that while I think tribalism aptly describes the American past (and the kind of nineteenth-century thinking that Buchanan himself represents), the American and international future are more likely to resemble what I’ll call a “swirled world.”
Let me explain.
The metaphor here is to the mixing of paints. While Buchanan and his fellow tribalists (including Al Qaeda and orthodoxists of all kinds) strive to keep their primary cultural colors pure, the forces of globalization continue to throw people and ideas and cultures together in unintended and unexpected ways to produce new colors and cultural syntheses. Cultural and ethnic cleansing are getting harder and harder to accomplish.
(Excuse me while I enjoy this Polish taco with curry sauce.)
When you’ve mixed several colors of paint together, have you ever tried to unmix them? Swirling, both on the palette and in the polis, may be an irreversible process, for good or ill, and I don’t think we’ll ever squeeze our pure primary colors back into their original tubes.
A potential implication of the paint metaphor is that in the long run, a thoroughly swirled world might eventuate in some homogenized and uniform brown goo – kind of like an American freeway with its franchises and strip malls and big box stores, which are more or less the same whether one is in Florida or California or Your State Here. That is not a future I would look forward to. In fact, it’s the future I live in now here in Houston.
Fortunately, though, all analogies, including the swirled paint analogy, ultimately fail. In the end, culture is not paint. Yet we may still hope that in a swirled world, colors and flavors can mingle distinctively with each other without thereby becoming thoroughly homogenized and bland. Swirled flavors can be delicious.
I have just two words for you: Chunky Monkey.