The American Situation
The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides various definitions of the word “situation”. The one that is probably most relevant for this site is:
“A particular or striking complex of affairs at a stage in the action of a narrative or drama.”
This definition contains two aspects that are important today.
The first, indicated by “at a stage”, is time. We need to restore the concept of historical specificity. That is, we should seek to identify what is unique about our current circumstances.
We live in an age of a seemingly endless present. Thomas Jefferson (allegedly) said “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” I sympathize with that sentiment, but with respect to one of my heroes, I think we need a better understanding of both the past and possible futures if we are to make sense of the present moment.
The second, suggested by “narrative or drama”, is meaning. We have lots of facts and figures. We also create shorthand labels like “hyper-partisanship” and “Great Recession”. But we struggle to articulate the particular significance of events, and where we are headed.
Since the beginning of civilization, people have considered the great questions confronting them, such as, “why are we here, and what should we do?” This is sometimes referred to as the “human situation”. I think we should aspire to ask and answer these great questions collectively, through grappling with whatever big political or social issues we face. Moreover, we should renew the concept of progress - in its broadest sense, in material as well as social terms. Progress is not a given, there is nothing teleological about it, but it should be recognized as an overriding objective and something that needs to be fought for.
I see this site as a place to explore these themes in the American context. Like most web-logs, it is an on-going public notebook, and initial findings may need to be revised. Please join me in this. I’d welcome your comments on specific posts. You can also email me with feedback and suggestions at email@example.com.