I've been reading some interesting historical essays about Puritans lately. Seriously. I have been doing that.
It really explains a lot about America, in both good and bad ways. I have such a hard time expressing my feelings about this country, in a large part because any complaint about the United States gets translated into "I hate all good things," and you're forced to go on the run from lynch mobs on the one side, and joining a hippie pot protest on the other. (Okay, not really. But it feels like that sometimes.)
The Puritans, the original Massachusetts ones, were perfect examples of everything good and bad about this country. Perhaps, as some of my recent reading suggests, that is precisely because they have become these traits, the same ideas are being passed on, and we live in a flux between the ideals of Puritanism and opposing forces. I don't know, and I don't presume to guess. I'm not a historian, or an expert on the time period. But there is no denying that we see some of the same frustrations today, the polarization and the pathological individualism, that plagued the founding of the country.
The Puritans were not bad people, despite later attempts to paint them as such. They were idealistic, community minded, determined. These can be nice traits. When you look at the English colonial exploits in America and compare it to the Spanish and French, the Puritans look pretty good. They were less violent, more self governed, more interested in building their own society than simply filling the coffers of the church or crown. They weren't benevolent, especially by our 21st century standards, but they weren't that bad.
They believed in working hard, giving to the community. They opposed tributes to the crown, but not paying to keep the community afloat. I don't understand when modern people mean when they don't want to pay taxes or have health care. Isn't in our best interests if we do love our country that a certain, bare minimum level of public well being is achieved? We can argue particulars, of course, but do we have to argue the value of supporting each other and our own people?
The Puritans typified the ironic hypocrisy that frustrates so many Americans today; they were for religious freedom, and genuinely pursued that goal, while slowly growing more intolerant. They sought community, and founded solid social systems, while excluding everyone who didn't fit a narrow set of boundaries. It's the same strange paradox that we struggle to overcome today. "Love your country, dammit, but don't do anything that may have any slight social or cultural significance! That's UN-American!"
I want to love my country. In some ways, I really do. I mean I love a lot of the people. I love bluegrass and jazz. I love the land, and the beauty. I identify with the early Puritans, pushing away from England and looking for a new community of peers, spiritual and social. They turned to narrow doctrine and empty words before years had passed, and that has happened in a large part with the entire promise of America.
I'm an optimist. That doesn't mean I think everything is always great, or will be. But it does mean that I hold out hope that with intelligence and compassion, hard work and sincerity, it is possible for good things to happen. I don't know if I can wait for the promise of America to be met, but I'm willing to give it some time. I'm not totally closing the book on the country, despite the legacy of small minded people working against the best interests of the country. I'm also not sure, however, I can stand to read every page of the next few decades. Maybe I can cheat and skip to the denouement.
Oh wait, denouements are un-American. Damn.