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Melting plots…

October 11, 2016

other tales of derring do….

Who hasn’t heard the term “melting pot” used to describe our American society? I don’t recall the first time I ever heard the metaphor regarding our multinational and multicultural makeup, but supposedly the first time anyone heard it was around 1780 or so when everything we hold dear as Americans was being organized, or thought up and authored. The idea of equating the USA with a melting pot became a sacred part of our persona in the early twentieth century on the heels of a play by that name. It makes for good press, good politics, and good tradition. So does Santa Clause.

So, are we really unique as a “melting pot”, or do most large pieces of real estate with their own flag tend to be so homogenized? Even more interesting might be the question of are we really a “melting pot” at all as the metaphor is intended to convey? I think the vision being suggested is that of a natural process, like melting snow. I’m more inclined to think of it as a “crucible,” where material is stuffed into a container and a blow torch is taken to it to make it change.

***

My interest in history, American or otherwise, waned at about the time my peers and I stopped cutting out construction paper turkeys and it really didn’t kick in again until I took a Western Civilization course halfway through college. I had transferred schools and it was a required course. It was a summer semester and I was attending a small private university in Florida. Accordingly, I had arranged my schedule so that I only had classes every other day and I was always done by 1 pm to allow for maximum beach time. Sweet.

Anyway, the history course was taught by a visiting professor who was department head at his home school. He stayed in the dormitory during the week and went home on the weekends. He was reputed to have broken more rules than most students, in the meantime.

Now, as I said, this was a small, private institution. It exuded rather conservative values, had a strictly religious President, and even had a dress code, so when the good Professor showed up on the first day wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts, and flip flops, while nursing a large Dixie cup that some swore held Scotch, I kind of warmed up to the guy. When he told us to skip buying the recommended text book and that most of what we had been taught about history in public school was garbage, I started to like history as an academic pursuit.

That’s not to say it was an easy summer yawn between trips to the beach. It was actually  a lot of work, and I was surprised to find I had earned a high grade in spite of myself. He lectured, and all of our homework involved a considerable amount of library research and defending our own original interpretations of, and conclusions about, various topics. We didn’t talk about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, but we did learn that he had been a master at cooking the books.

So, I became a student of history when my schooling was nearly over, and I’m still fascinated by it. I also still retain the skepticism the Professor instilled in me, and I strive to guard the elusive boundary between feel-good stories and verifiable fact. Of course, as editor of the school newspaper at the time, that may have been part of my persona anyway.

***

Back to the matter at hand. Are we a “melting pot”, and have we ever been such? In my opinion, the whole “melting pot” shtick is one of those deniable fibs so prevalent wherever politicians and circus barkers tread. In other words, “sort of but not really,” which is no answer at all, of course, but since I am neither a politician nor a circus barker, I don’t have any qualms about declaring it “untrue”, or some metaphor to that effect.

It is an irrefutable truth that the primary instincts of humanity are survival and propagation of the species, which needs are often, but not always, satisfied by stealing the other guy’s stuff and illicit pajama parties, sans pajamas. While those who have always tended to do so were singing Kum-Ba-Ya, cutting out paper turkeys, designating melting pots, and other such activities, the general population was busy farming, making widgets, and killing people in other countries rather than thinking about homogenizing. I’ve always tended to believe it was more normal for us to play King of the Mountain than to Melt, anyway.

In fact, I doubt the first “Pilgrim” to step ashore had even taken his first dry land dump before plots were underway to screw the natives out of their stuff and mess with their squaws. I suspect the good natives had similar thoughts of their own, once they figured out that Europeans were neither demons nor gods, and had some pretty nifty stuff just ripe for relocation.

Let’s face it, construction paper Doctoral Theses, et al, notwithstanding, Europeans were one-way tourists to North America, and they didn’t step ashore with any intentions of being either Melters or Meltees.

”Nice place you got here….now, get out. It’s mine.”

We worked our way all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific with bullets, not kisses. The only thing melting for the next four hundred years was lead. It still is, and in spite of a rabid uptick in efforts to turn us into 326,000,000 pairs of legs with one head, we’re still melting about as well as Cinderella’s step-sister eased into the glass slipper. Given absolute freedom to associate, homogenize, or anything else as we might please, the majority of people would seek out others similar to themselves, for the most part, with no criteria out of bounds because of some ill conceived rule. You see, there are some intellectually challenged folks out there who have convinced themselves and a steady trickle of initiates that “if we can make it look like a duck, walk like a duck, and smell like a duck…voila! It WILL-BE-A-DUCK! .”

The Politics of Tofu

People don’t “melt” and become “one”, although that phraseology has a certain romantic appeal to it. People compete; both sides don’t win like one big happy family unless someone making the rules cheats. We form alliances, which requires cooperation, usually in order to more effectively compete against other alliances.

I mean, the “melting pot” myth is catchy and all, but I think our energies would be better spent just figuring out how to acknowledge and accept our differences as normal.   It’s a simple concept:  if you don’t stick your foot or your nose where it doesn’t belong, I won’t break it. Neither Kum-Ba-Ya nor brute force has provided the answer, and I don’t know that there is one.   As one of the Unmelted, my best chances for remaining so most likely hinge on my quiet oath to resist temptations to melt someone else.

Human nature isn’t likely to change any time soon, but I don’t have to participate in its less than savory rituals, or lend them my tacit approval.

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One comment

  1. Differences are more interesting than sameness!

    Like



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