Friday, August 10, 2012

celebrating diversity

I love the Olympics. Total sucker for all the hype, buildup, drama, personal stories, celebration of internationalism, all of it. But I don't have a TV, so I just finally watched a bit of the opening ceremonies on my computer.

Within about 5 minutes I was astounded by how British it is. That may sound silly: It's in Britain, so of course it will celebrate Britain, just like the Beijing Olympics celebrated Chinese culture. But I usually think of the U.S. and Europe as being close cousins, one a recent semi-direct descendant of the other, with overlapping histories and cultures as a result. I mean, that's certainly the narrative you get growing up, in which you study American history by first studying European history (focusing on Britain, in fact), up until the point at which they diverged, and again when they re-overlap during the world wars. But the opening ceremonies that Britain threw would never be done by the United States.*

Ours are/would be more radically inclusive (to borrow the phrase if not the elaborated meaning from Burning Man). We celebrate diversity, multitudinous heterogeneous experiences and stories, equality of opportunity, and nonjudgmentalism. We don't care where you came from or who you are, but what you make of yourself. We don't care what your cultural identity is, only that you reciprocate that indifference. We, like any other human group, do rally around our group identity, but that identity is critically defined by a lack of identity.

What other nation can say that their patriotism is defined by rejecting empty notions such as patriotism, while still being truly patriotic? It's a very difficult balance point that we struggle with in countless political controversies; many differences between Democrats and Republicans could be categorized as differences in the domains in which we push back against that founding principle. But at least we're trying.

*I mean, it was still fantastic, just very different from my expectations. (And there I go again, wanting to be sure you know I have no problem with cultural differences...)

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