Q … Quasimodo


Quasi modo. Two Latin words, translatable as ‘in the manner of’ or, more colloquially, ‘just like’. ‘Modo’ also gives us ‘mode’ as in behavioral mode or, alternatively, fashion. Fashions change, behavior can change, and models [another word derived from ‘modo’] for behavior can be consciously selected. The selections matter.

Consider Quasimodo, the hunchback in Notre Dame cathedral. He skulked in the shadows among the dead statues, indifferent to whether they were of saints or monsters. He felt at home among the gargoyles, considering himself deformed and ugly. But ugly is as ugly does, and in those shadows he had no impetus to behave in the more beautiful way of which he was fully capable.

Now consider America. Since the European conquest of North America, there have been two models for Americans; let’s call them the militant saints and the lurking monsters.

For centuries the saints dominated. The early settlers braved the Atlantic in search of a better continent and were determined to shape it to their will. They broke the soil, explored the waterways, moved West, fought for independence, fought again for democratic ideals, founded great cities, seized their place in the world, cut back the powers of corporate trusts, put the nation on wheels and those wheels on paved highways and railroads and airlines, faced down poverty and fear itself through the Depression, built dams and power stations, helped save the world from tyranny, went on to walk the Moon. Nothing was impossible. Deeds were to be done, sleeves rolled up, with lots of shouting and energy and differing opinions and methods to be tried out competitively. Most were immigrants or the immediate sons and daughters of immigrants, and they chose to behave just like Americans regardless of birthplace. That was the national self-image; independent citizens proud of their efforts, generally not particularly wealthy.

There were lurking monsters. Slavery. Unbounded avarice. Exploited laborers. Unnecessary violence. Corrupt politicians. Industrial pollution. Devil take the hindmost, which meant the poor, weak or sick. But these monsters were confronted; never eliminated, but essentially controlled.

The whole world admired America, often with envy, sometimes with aspiration, occasionally with amusement. But always with respect.

Recently those saints have been down-played and monsters have re-emerged; gargoyles have emerged from the shadows. The typical American self-image has been changed from independent maker of things to dependent consumer, from John Wayne to Facebook Friend. Fear and avarice stalk the land, hand-in-hand. Media, corporate advertizing, politicians and even many churches spread the same underlying message: if you do not acquire, display, consume things then you are a shameful failure. Men and women, who should know better, hang their heads in unmerited shame if they are a hairsbreadth less wealthy than their neighbors. Relative poverty is seen as a voluntary social disease, something like herpes, or even a form of crime. Whole industries rely entirely on generating frivolous fears; fear of lawsuits stops normal social behaviors like chastising unmannerly children, fear of rare diseases inhibits travel, fear of germs deters get-togethers, fear of violent crime keeps eyes from meeting on city sidewalks, fear of displaying ignorance stops the questioning of elected officials. Fear, usually bogus, sells goods and services: pharmaceuticals, attorneys advice, military hardware, guns, church services, new cars, children’s clothes, government programs. Fear of being different stifles intelligent discourse. Independent citizens have morphed into mere mass consumers.

What is the image of the typical consumer? He is fearful of seeming different or out-of step; he is cautious and risk-averse; he expects to be protected and whines loudly if that is not the case; he is self-pitying, unambitious, a kidult who does whatever he thinks is expected of him. Such people are easily misled. They are easy meat for whoever pulls the strings of the media marketing machine.

So what does the world think of America today? A powerful country, to be sure, especially in military terms. Rich, too. But not as rich and as powerful as it used to be; now it has a history of losing wars it should have won, and has piled up mountains of foreign debt that might have to be repaid one day. A socially backward country with chronic perfectly soluble problems that it seems unwilling to admit and address. And the American people? Individually very well-meaning, but woefully ignorant on important matters; collectively – well, they get the governments they deserve.

We are what we choose to be. We can be ‘just like’ the independent-minded, resourceful go-getter of the past, or we can be ‘just like’ the quivering xenophobic consumer of the present. Quasimodo can choose to live in the shadows or the sunlight, and how he chooses matters.  We too can choose to crouch in the shadows of block-headed denial, or stand tall and move confidently ahead.



Also find these older posts…
A … Autonomy
B … Bear
C … Corporations
D … Doggerel
E … Elephant
F … Francis
G … Gamechanger
H … Hope
I … Introduction
J … Judgment
K … Kelemenope
L … Liberty
M … Morning
O … Old Friend
P … Potholes
R … Review
S … Snoozers
W … Weather
Y … Yukon

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IP Doorman

Copyright 2016 Flight of Eagles

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Writer of Kern.

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